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Risk Management: Knowledge is Power

by Brian Sims
Helen Down

Helen Down

Encouraging incident reporting in the workplace is a great tool for managing risk and creating a safer, healthier work environment, writes Helen Down. Whether an incident resulted in injury or a near miss, employees should be encouraged to report on all workplace incidents such that the risks they face on a daily basis can be understood and managed by the business.

The importance of reporting an incident, no matter how small, should never be underestimated. Aside from personal harm, accidents can also have a detrimental effect on a business in terms of reputational damage, compensation, fines and other penalties.

However, statistics show that incident reporting isn’t always happening. One industry where under-reporting appears to be rife is the housing sector. According to a survey conducted by Inside Housing in June this year, four-in-ten respondents who had been assaulted had not reported all incidents to their employer.

Furthermore, 17.5% of those individuals questioned believe that doing so would be “a waste of time as nothing is ever done”. Around 7% said they don’t have the time to report assaults because of the amount of paperwork involved. Shockingly, three respondents said that reporting was “discouraged” in their organisation. A further 20% accept physical and verbal abuse as “part of the job”.

Undoubtedly, this trend extends to other industries but, by its very nature, under-reporting is hard to measure. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

In other cases, employees may not realise the potential consequences of under-reporting. Take, for example, an employee working on a building site. A piece of tiling comes loose and the builder loses their footing. They regain their balance and continue with their task. Days later, another builder is sent to the site to carry out work on the same building. This time they fall and injure themselves. Had the first incident been reported, steps could have been taken to ensure the building environment was safe and the accident may have been prevented.

In another scenario, a community nurse has been working with a client for several months. The client has been mildly verbally aggressive on several occasions, but the nurse accepts this as ‘part of the job’ and continues to carry out home visits alone. One day, the client becomes increasingly irritated and lashes out at the nurse, physically attacking them. Had a report been filed previously, the business may have chosen to carry out a risk assessment on the client and ensured future visits took place in a safer, controlled environment.

Creating a safety culture 

Encouraging employees to report on risks is the best path towards better understanding of the work environment and incident prevention.

A 2012 study by the Perelman School of Medicine found that reporting can improve safety measures, safety performance and employee’s perceptions of safety. As part of the study, a Conditions Reporting System was put in place within a Radiation (Oncology) Department. All employees were encouraged to report on any incidents and errors they came across no matter how small.

Although the purpose of the research focused on improving patient safety, the study found that through this increased reporting an open, healthy ‘safety culture’ had been created among members of staff. Not only was the employer able to learn from reported events and develop improved safety measures, but the staff members were more engaged in maintaining a safe working environment.

Why is a safety conscious culture so important? An open, safety conscious culture is likely to improve employee satisfaction, well-being and productivity. Employees will become more alert to workplace risks and, in turn, take extra steps to ensure that both they and the host business are operating safely.

Knowing that their employer will take action if a risk or incident is reported creates a sense of security and confidence that they’re being cared for and, of course, reduces the number of accidents that occur.

Legal reporting requirements

In many countries, reporting accidents and fatalities as a business is a legal requirement. The information provided through incident reporting is used to assess whether current controls are adequate, to identify trends and, ultimately, focus efforts on reducing areas where incidents are high. Records can also be used in legal procedures to ensure the right people are held responsible for an accident or fatality.

Encouraging your staff to report incidents will allow you to meet your legal requirements as a business and aid in the prevention and reduction of workplace incidents.

If you’re unsure as to what legislation you are accountable for, the Health and Safety Executive provides a breakdown of the legislation and guides on what should be reported and by whom.

Challenges of encouraging incident reporting

Unfortunately, changing a work culture resistant to incident reporting is easier said then done. In many businesses, a complacent culture exists wherein minor incidents are not taken seriously.

For some, aggression or violence from clients may be seen as part of the job, while others may feel that their employer wouldn’t do anything anyway.

Perhaps there’s a belief that reporting a colleague’s mistake or behaviour may be seen as whistleblowing.

Changing that culture can prove to be difficult, but there are steps that can be taken to encourage reporting.

*Educate all staff members (including managers and supervisors) on the importance of reporting

*Brief all staff on the types of risks they should look out for and what to report on

*Reiterate that no perceived or actual risk or incident is too small to report

*Ensure everyone knows how to report an incident, when and to whom

*Consider creating an online, anonymous method of reporting incidents (or you may choose to hold a weekly meeting where incidents are openly discussed)

*Don’t punish employees for reporting an incident and avoid assigning blame. Instead, focus on removing the risk rather than fault finding

*Track and record all reports

*Provide ongoing feedback in terms of how you’re dealing with an incident so that your employees can see that you are doing something with the information they provide

*Consider implementing an incentive programme when first introducing a new reporting system to encourage employees to become involved with the new process

Helen Down is Director of StaySafe


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