Incident Reporting has long stood at the forefront of HSE programs throughout several industries. It typically reigns as a significant contender in the safety curriculum and even finds itself discussed in simple visitor orientations. After all, no matter if an individual is an employee or not, they are still susceptible to hazards. That sudden release of pressure is not exclusive to employees only, and anyone walking by could be met with injury.
Various reasons can be voiced regarding the purpose of incident reporting. Still, as if conducting a Root Cause Analysis using the Five Why Concept, one can drill down on all of those possibilities to arrive at identification. Incident reporting is crucial in eliminating the repeating of unsafe behavior. When the hazardous act or event occurs, it must be reported to “identify” it. After it is identified, corrective actions can be implemented.
In keeping with this thought process, one can determine that if an incident goes unreported, it is not identified to management. If it is not identified, then the incident will likely reoccur as no action to prevent it was ever developed. But what happens when it is reported and the workforce never witnesses any action?
The widely popular failure of incident reporting is when the workforce does not utilize the process. This is often not the case, and instead, the issue resides with management not following through with the process itself.
It is not being presented as an excuse, but management is human and susceptible to poor decision-making. As a safety professional, I have witnessed the incident reporting process from start to finish at multiple levels. I have seen an employee immediately report an incident and cooperate through the investigation process. The investigation concludes, and a Root Cause Analysis follows. In the end, the final report with corrective actions has not been used to its most total capacity.
Instead of presenting the findings across the company, it becomes an informative source that only finds its way into a pile of forgotten paperwork or banished into a dark and lonely file cabinet, never to be retrieved. In these cases, management took a shortcut and discussed the issues with the individuals directly involved in the incident.
Although this course of action proves dangerous, as although the involved personnel may have been educated, a pitfall in the company’s process might still be waiting to rear its ugly head once again. The remaining workforce has not been outfitted with that same education to identify and avoid unsafe conditions, behaviors, or acts.
This shortcut enters into play to save time, but in the end, it can cost more of it and money as well. Incidents that go unchecked lead to more significant problems down the road that demand more time and money.
Protection to a Fault
Many companies fail to navigate the incident reporting process to the very end when it involves upper-level personnel or those met with exceptional circumstances. Management might attempt to cover up a mistake made by one of its own to protect that individual’s image. A frontline supervisor might receive the same consideration to prevent the workforce from losing confidence in leadership.
To preserve that image and confidence, management might attempt to reprimand and coach an individual of this level more discretely. Still, in the end, someone else was involved in that incident and will publicize the events. It is nearly impossible to keep the incident particulars hidden. When the information surfaces, loss of confidence is almost sure to be felt, but now to an even more intense level.
One Standard for All
As a safety professional, I often subscribe to the school of thought that a safety culture would be so much simpler to follow in a black or white fashion. The behavior is either compliant or non-compliant, and the proposed act is either safe or unsafe. It is the shades of gray that derail the safety train. When we leave a method or program up to interpretation, problems can mount.
Companies should avoid potential mishaps by streamlining their processes. A one size fits all mentality should be embraced when it comes to safety culture and incident reporting. The pressure to contain an incident would no longer be an issue as justification prevails because one is just following policy. Following the playbook turns out more manageable than trying to manipulate it.
As for shortcuts, management must practice what it preaches. When the workforce shortcuts a job task, management condemns the results. Subsequently, management should adhere to its policies equally. Safety programs and policies can serve as an intuitive checklist of sorts. Should management succumb to complacency and try to institute a shortcut, a simple reference to the company’s safety program can thwart that behavior.
Those fearing judgment or reprimand feel pressured to deviate from the incident reporting program to protect another can put the monkey on the shoulders of company policy. It is much easier to justify following a policy that has been developed and instituted directly into place for your company than explaining why you think deviation is the wrong play.
Incident reporting should be embraced as an aid in learning and avoiding future unwanted issues. Management should set the example and foster a continually positive safety culture. If it adheres and promotes the company’s incident reporting program, then the workforce will be much more likely to equally accept and utilize it for the purpose it was devised. In the end, if incident reporting is used at all levels of the company to it its fullest capacity, everyone is rewarded with both a safe and productive workplace.
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