6 Key Elements to Include in a Good Incident Report

Is your organization is aiming for a ‘zero’ target on all accidents?

If so, you’ll appreciate the importance of having a good incident reporting system in place.

A strong system will help you track, monitor and respond to accidents and incidents as and when they occur, helping you create a safer working environment for your staff.

But what should a good incident report look like? What should it contain? And how much detail is ‘enough’?

In this post, we’ll answer those questions and more by outlining the six key elements that every good incident report should contain. We promise to show you exactly what to include and, just as importantly, what to leave out.

The six key elements to include in a good incident report are:

  1. Holistic
  2. Accurate
  3. Objective
  4. Comprehensive
  5. Data-driven
  6. Cloud-based

Before we start discussing these elements in more detail, let’s start with the basics.

What is an incident report?

Incident reporting is the process of documenting any critical event that occurs on an organization’s premises. Incidents could involve company employees, contractors, visitors or even the general public.

A good incident report should help the organization document all workplace injuries, accidents and near-misses, no matter how minor or complex.

What is considered an incident?

‘Incident’ is quite a broad-ranging term.

It could mean:

  • An event
  • A condition, or
  • A situation

Most commonly, incidents are thought of as an event, such as a trip, a fall or a workplace accident.

For example, Australian businesses must comply with the model WHS Act which stipulates that regulators are informed about notifiable incidents such as the death of a person, a serious injury or illness or any dangerous incident that exposes any person to a serious risk.

But an incident could also be a condition – such as a manufacturing error that necessitates a product recall.

An incident could also be a situation such as an unsafe area of an organization’s premises flagged up in a safety walkthrough.

So, how do you define what is and what isn’t an incident?

As a rule of thumb, an incident will be something that:

  • Disrupts or interferes with an organizations’ business
  • Affects the operational systems of an organization
  • Poses a risk to members of an organization, or contractors, visitors or customers.
  • Creates negative attention (public perception or media attention)

A good incident report should help document all of these incidents and more!

What makes a good incident report?

An incident report is an important tool that is used to document any event, condition or situation that may cause injury to people or damage to an organization’s property.

Incident reports can be paper-based or electronically generated and are a way of capturing and documenting any of the following things:

  • Accidents
  • Injuries
  • Near-misses
  • Property damage
  • Equipment damage
  • Health and safety issues
  • Security breaches (physical or electronic)
  • Workplace misconduct issues
  • Potential risks (when used as part of a Safety document), and
  • Uncontrolled hazards

6 Key Elements to Include in a Good Incident Report

What separates a standard incident report from a good one?

Critically, a good incident report will help a company in three key ways.

These are:

  • Investigating incidents
  • Analyzing incidents
  • Predicting/reducing the chances of future incidents occurring

To do this, the report must have enough information so that organizations can:

  • Determine the root cause of an incident
  • Decide the best corrective action for eliminating the risks
  • Taking steps to prevent future occurrences

Now that we’ve covered the groundwork and we’re all on the same page, let’s dive right into the six key elements that make up a good incident report!

Element 1. Holistic

The first key element of a good incident report is that is should be holistic. Key stakeholders in any organization, such as managers, HR personnel, and safety officials, must be aware of various situations and events that occur.

It’s no good if the incident report only deals with one type of incidents such as physical accidents, or near-misses – it should be holistic and provide a way for incidents of all types to be reported quickly and effectively.

When we talk about a holistic approach to incident reporting, there are two main types of indicators:

  • Lagging indicators
  • Leading indicators

Let’s look at these two indicators more closely!

Lagging indicators
Lagging indicators refer to incidents that are reported after they have occurred, such as:

  • Recorded injuries
  • Citations
  • Employee compensation claims

As lagging indicators are reported retrospectively – after the fact – your organization must use the collected data to inform decisions about what actions to take in the future to prevent them from occurring again.

Leading indicators
Leading indicators, on the other hand, are those that are recorded before actual accidents or injuries have occurred.

These include:

  • Near misses
  • Behavioral observations
  • Safety meetings
  • Job observations
  • Training records

Leading indicators can be tracked to indicate the likelihood of incidents occurring in the future. Most of these metrics will not be reported on an incident report form. However, where we need to focus our attention is on ‘near misses’.

Some organizations would include ‘Near-misses’ as a lagging indicator as they are recorded after the fact. When we talk about a good incident report form being holistic, we mean that it covers all types of incidents, including near misses. This data can be used to reduce risk and prevent future incidents from occurring.

Holistic also means that the incident report form covers the four main types of incidents.

  • Near misses
    These are situations where people could have been injured, but, luckily nothing came to pass. These are like ‘free passes’ that give you the opportunity to learn from and correct poor situations without having to suffer the consequences of a workplace incident. Near misses need to be reported as important lagging and leading indicators.
  • No harm events
    The second type of incident that needs to be reported is ‘no harm events’. A good incident report form will help communicate and raise awareness of these incidents across an organization to raise awareness of what might happen. For example, if two types of chemicals used during a production process are found to react together adversely, this would be classified as a no-harm event. Staff across the entire organization should be made aware of this operational risk.
  • Adverse events
    Adverse events are related to medicines, medical devices, and vaccines. They occur during patient treatment or management, rather than from a preexisting condition.
  • Sentinal events
    Sentinal events are unexpected events that resulted in any type of harm (physical, psychological, etc) such as trips, falls, vehicle accidents, the outbreaks of diseases, and natural disasters.

A good incident report will cover all four types of incidents listed above to offer organizations a holistic view of all incidents that occur on their premises or affect their staff.

6 Key Elements to Include in a Good Incident Report

Element 2: Accurate

The second essential element of a good incident report form is accuracy. To be effective, an incident report should be specific and concise. It should avoid vague or easily misinterpreted language and phrases that may cause confusion and instead keep things on point.

The report should always be proofread to check for typos and spelling errors. Many companies are moving towards incident reporting software that automatically spellchecked reports when they are created.

However, some errors can only be spotted by humans. These include:

  • Details of peoples’ names
  • Dates and times of the incidents
  • Contact numbers

For this reason, it’s worth having a second person proofread the report to spot and correct glaring errors.

Here’s an example of how a good incident report could be structured to keep it concise:

Enter job description:_______________________________________

Date and time of the incident

  • Date:________________________________________________
  • Time:_______________________________________________

What was the Incident/ Near Miss?

Were there any injuries?

  • Yes
  • No

Was there any damage to property or plant?

  • Yes
  • No

What caused the incident?____________________________________

A clearly laid out incident report will help keep all details concise and will avoid confusion.

Element 3: Objective

The third key element of a good incident report is that is should be supported by facts and be objective, rather than being biased. Reports of incidents should be free from bias and opinions, an should instead focus on the facts at hand. Rather than appointing blame, the incident report must create a picture of both sides of the story.

How?

There are several ways to put objectivity at the heart of an incident report.

Firstly, your organization could stipulate that the person who submits an incident report form must take photos of the surrounding environment including annotations. This centers the report around visual evidence of the event or incident, instead of based on opinionated and biased statements.

Secondly, if the report includes statements from patients and/or witnesses, you could stipulate that the person completing the incident report quotes them, instead of paraphrasing.

This is important because, depending on the severity of the incident, the incident report should be submitted to an investigation team to further study and look for the root causes. The primary purpose of this investigation isn’t to find fault but to develop corrective actions to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

In the event of negligence and/or criminal culpability, this will be referred to the relevant legal authorities. The purpose of the incident investigation is to collect and analyze the information and evidence. This process will be far smoother if safety professionals have photographic evidence and witness quotes to work from.

Element 4: Comprehensive

The fourth key element in a good incident report is comprehensiveness. The report must cover all related essential questions including:

  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why, and
  • How

This includes not just the names of people who were injured or affected, but also details of people who witness and reported the incidents.

The report should cover:

  • The names of witnesses
  • The names of those who will conduct further investigate
  • Significant details that may be needed for further study and investigation

Element 5: Data-driven

The fifth key element of good incident reports is that they are data-driven. They should make use of as much data as possible to create the fullest possible picture of what happened.

For example:

  • Photos
  • Annotations
  • Diagrams
  • Illustrations
  • Audio recordings of witness statements
  • Electronic signature capture

These types of data will help build a complete picture of the nature of the injuries, damage, or surrounding environment at the time of the incident and will complement the written evidence provided in the report.

Giving your employees the ability to capture signatures electronically is extremely helpful. Those involved in the incident (e.g. victim, witnesses, manager, reporter, etc.) can sign off to testify and validate the accuracy of any information they submitted to the incident report. This helps to confirm that the incident report is truthful and accurate.

A good incident report will include space for the following details:

  • Actions to be taken to eliminate future repeats of the incident
  • Management comments
  • Employee sign off
  • Supervisor sign off when corrective actions have been adopted and monitored.

Element 6: Cloud-based

The sixth key element of a good incident report is that it should be cloud-based. All incident reports should be properly stored as an important record for every organization. Paper-based incident reports are time-consuming to store, access and manage – and that’s where cloud-based incident reporting software offers undeniable advantages.

Cloud-based incident reports can help streamline an organization’s entire incident reporting process, from recording, storing, tracking and investigating all types of incidents, dangerous conditions, and near-misses.

This is extremely helpful when it comes to ensuring regulatory compliance. According to guidance from Safe Work Australia Australian businesses must immediately notify their regulator about notifiable incidents such as the death of a person, a serious injury or illness and a dangerous incident that exposes any person to a serious risk.

Cloud-based incident reporting systems help by offering the following benefits:

  • Paperless incident reports can be generated by a range of hand-held devices, regardless of type or platform.
  • Report takers can attach unlimited photographic evidence with notes and annotations to their incident reports.
  • Software incident reports can include a wide range of supporting types of evidence not available to paper-based reports. This includes audio files of witness statements, electronic signature capture, photos, and video files.
  • Paperless reports can be generated without employees having to leave the site and then uploaded and shared in real-time with all members of the organization who have permission to view.
  • Cloud-based incident reporting solutions offer unlimited storage space for easy record keeping.

Taking your next steps

If you were curious about the six key elements of a good incident report, that’s about it.

Good incident reports will feature all of these six key elements and help ensure that organizations keep on top of their incident reporting. If your organization is looking to make smarter incident reporting decisions, drive operational excellence and create a culture of continuous safety improvement, having a good incident report form is essential.

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