How to write an accident or incident report [+ good and bad examples]

February 18, 2021

An incident report is a way for companies to measure and track safety issues that arise in the workplace. These events may or may not lead to injuries and illnesses and are used to capture near misses, injuries and illnesses, property and equipment damage, theft, harassment, and other misconducts in the workplace. Many people may ask, "Do I need to perform incident reports? Aren't they going to be a waste of time and money?" 

While there are many ways to document an incident, we'll outline best practices to set your organization up for success.

1. Why do I need to do incident reporting?

In some cases, it will be mandatory to fill out an incident report such as filing OSHA 301 and 300 logs. According to OSHA, companies with over 10 employees must file an OSHA incident if an employee gets injured during work and must be kept on file for a minimum of 5 years. A solid incident reporting infrastructure will allow you to convert your incident report into an OSHA 301 and 300 log.

Beyond OSHA reporting, it's important for companies to keep record of issues in the workplace in an attempt to understand driving causes of injury, theft, and other issues in the workplace. For example, when we talk to a client regarding our Arc ergonomic solution, we'll ask where they are seeing the most ergonomic issues, what jobs they affect, population, and why they think that's the case. If a client has a comprehensive incident reporting system, they'll be able to look up on their portal the locations, jobs and even down to the task of what s causing the most back injuries. However, if a client doesn't have good incident reporting such as documenting incidents and near misses it becomes a guessing game of which areas of the workplace experience the greatest amount of trauma and why there's ergonomic issues to begin with.

2. Data that should go into an incident report

As stated above, the purpose of an incident report is to document the facts surrounding the workplace incident and investigate what caused the behaviors that lead to the incident in an attempt to prevent further like-incidents from happening. Therefore we must ensure data coming into the incident report must allow the investigator to gain these insights.

  • Type of incident: Injury or Illness, Near Miss, Theft, Equipment Failure, Harassment, or Property Damage
  • Location: Where the incident occurred?
  • Time: When did the incident occur (Date and Time)
VIT's Incident Reporting Tool
  • Affected People: Which people were impacted by the event, their title or position, and department or job
  • Description: What happened during the incident? Did someone fall and hurt his/her arm?
  • Treatment: What, if any, treatment were given to the people involved? This could be first aid, send home, send to the hospital, etc.
  • Injury: What was the nature of the injury?
  • Root Cause Investigation: Root cause type, Task type, Corrective action, Body part(s) involved (if applicable) 
  • Witnesses: Any people(s) that saw the event
  • Documentation: Pictures and videos at the incident

An important note here is making sure you create a system that can standardize your data for the categories treatment, injury, root cause, affected people and witnesses. There's been buzz in the last few years surrounding predictive analytics and how they apply to safety and risk to help companies predict where new injuries may occur. However, many companies we talk to have data held in discrete locations and do not have complete or standardized fields. Without having a single database of incidents as well as standardization across the company it is impossible to run any predictive analytics with accuracy. It's also important to note that for best practices you should submit a new incident report for every single person involved even if it includes duplicates. This allows the company to eventually match up the incident to an OSHA log and medical records should they need to seek medical treatment.

3. What to do after submitting an incident report?

After logging an incident report, the report itself should be submitted to an investigation body such as a safety team. This team will dive deeper around the incident, interviewing both witnesses and affected people to gain a better understanding of the incident at hand. The team ideally is well-versed in health and safety fundamentals. During the follow up process, the purpose is not to find blame or just check a box but truly understand the root cause analysis leading to the incident and create corrective actions to prevent incidents from happening again. If the purpose evolves into trying to find blame, employees are likely to provide inaccurate accounts of information, cast blame and may not even participate in the company's investigation.

4. Example of a bad incident report

A warehouse had dropped a crate of wine bottles that fell, shattered, and spilled liquid all over an aisle. The employee, Erik, went to find a supervisor to report and the supervisor, Robbie, went out to file an incident report.

During Robbie's incident report, he noted the type, time, place however left out any personnel involved such as Erik. In addition, Robbie also misspelled the location Pittsburgh as Pittsburg. In the description, he rushed the work and only wrote down

"Liquid spilled on aisle 11a".

The issue with only describing the incident as a liquid spill is that it leaves out wine bottles, the potential hazard of glass pieces laying all over the floor, and the quantity of liquid as it affects cleanup.

Robbie proceeded to note that the root cause analysis was

"Misplaced the crate causing the crate of liquids to fall and spill",

There were no treatment, no witnesses, and had no pictures. All in all, the process took Robbie only 15 minutes to walk from his desk, take notes, and file it away in a paper filing system.

While the process was time efficient, there are some obvious issues with this report such as failing to

  • Effectively describe the nature of the incident
  • Provide any corrective actions moving forward
  • Incorrectly spelling of the location
  • Provide witnesses
  • Free hand writing the root cause analysis

The issue with free writing sections is that it prevents data from being collected to provide analytics at a future point. For example, if Robbie's company wanted to see how many spills there were in the last year and where they are most prevalent and why they happened it would be impossible to provide a clear picture.

5. Example of a good incident report

Instead if Robbie should have taken an extra few minutes to include

  • Erik as the affected people
  • Include notes on what Erik thought happened: why did Erik think the crate fell? 
  • Better describe the situation such as "Erik was fulfilling a pallet order where he needed to open up a crate to take out 5 bottles of vineyard wine. During the process of transferring the 5 bottles of 750mL wine to his pallet, he rushed the part knocked off some of the remaining bottles on the pallet and caused the bottles to fall onto the ground, shattering and spilling liquid on the ground. 3 bottles fell onto the ground."
  • Erik chose from a pre-selected menu of root cause analysis such as: "rushed work" as the Root cause type, "material handling - palletizing" as Task type
  • Erik chose from a pre-selected menu of correct actions such as: "training - improved"

Notice how in this description, Robbie quantified how many objects and the size of the objects Erik was trying to carry prior to the incident. In addition, he described what happened after the bottles dropping to the ground and how many fell. By selecting from a pre-curated menu this allows data to be standardized instead of free writing which allows the company to then run predictive analytics on top of.

6. Improve your reporting infrastructure and prepare for predictive analytics

Incident reports should be easy for employees to perform and set up the company for success when it comes to predictive analytics. At VIT, we help companies port over old historical losses such as OSHA logs and old incident reports with our data ingestion AI. Our AI can help standardize your data and show any data quality issues from past logs and reports. Once old data has been migrated, VIT's incident management portal allows companies to easily file, setup business logic, and report incident reports as they come in and standardize all company's data so they can also see how they compare with like industries. VIT then runs our safety AI on top of safety data to project future incidents, what areas they are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and total losses anticipated. With our system companies can expect to save over 12X the costs associated to workplace incidents and have a peace of mind with a modern application that utilizes our web-based application, mobile app and safety AI.

The best part? It's free to try! Safety analytics and predictive AI doesn't have to be out of reach or expensive for companies trying to protect their workforce. Set up a meeting below to see how we can help your organization create the right incident reporting infrastructure and prevent injuries before they happen.

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