Incidents are unwanted and undesired – we all know that. We also all know that recording an incident can be a mission in itself. Nor would anyone ever say that the incident reporting process is fun. It can be a complicated, laborious and even tedious process. Yet safety practitioners make the same mistakes in their incident reporting – again and again. Here are five of the most common mistakes – to be avoided at all costs:
1. Don’t be exclusive
Very seldom should an incident report be undertaken by just you or any other sole person. In fact, make that never. There are certain incidents, like near misses or most minor incidents, that can easily be completed by that single person to whom the incident pertains – or to a designated safety person. Big mistake. It need not be a mass of people, but the more professionals involved in the process, the more thorough and inclusive it is likely to be. Accountability for a documented process is a commendable undertaking, but exclusivity here is not desirable. An apt quote: “Respect the burden.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)
2. Don’t be minimalist
The under-reporting of incidents by employers is one of the chief complaints by OSHA. The same can be said for far too many incident reports. Overkill in incident data is not necessary, of course, especially if an incident were minor. However, less is not more when completing an incident report. Thoroughness is the holy grail for any incident reporter.
An apt quote: “People forget how fast you did a job; but they remember how well you did it.” (Howard W. Newton)
3. Don’t be shy
An incident needs to be shared – yes, shared. That means be shared with fellow professionals in your organisation, whoever they may be – the engineer, the artisan, the nurse, the accountant, your boss, perhaps everyone in an organisation. There is no coyness in incident reporting – after all, you’re all in it together, right? An apt quote: see Napoleon Bonaparte above.
4. An incident is not an island
An incident is not an isolated event. Not only can it have multiple impacts in your organisation, it is indicative of a system failure. Does your incident reporting speak to your non-conformance management system and thereafter to your safety system? And does it relate to your organisation’s management ecosystem? If not, change it – immediately. An apt quote: “Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
5. Don’t forget the green and the red
If a safety portfolio includes health and the environment then there is a very strong chance that they are getting short shrift in the incident reporting system. All too often health and environment are the ‘poor cousins’ to safety, which can reflect tellingly in incident statistics. That is why the effort to overcome that safety bias must be a conscious and comprehensive one. To disregard health and environment in the workplace is, ultimately, to disregard safety too. An apt quote: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” (Stephen R. Covey)
Incidents are the bane of a safety professional’s life. Management is always a-looming, colleagues a-harping and even auditors a-lurking, especially when incidents are large or serious. Incident reporting is the paper chase that can allow a safety person to sink or swim. That is why it is so important to get it right and to not fall into the typical, tired traps of incident reporting.