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From Incident to Prevention: How Effective Reporting Can Save Lives and Dollars

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Fire fighter at a fire with fire truck

Are you frustrated by the fact that, try as you might, some incidents just keep showing back up in your workplace? I know I’ve seen that happen, and it isn’t a good thing for anyone involved. The reason why you keep getting repeat incidents could boil down to how effective your reporting is. It’s easy to slip into the mode of just reporting incidents. But there is a very important function served by incident reporting. It shows you a problem, and it gives you the opportunity to get to the bottom of it. That way you can prevent it from plaguing your workplace again.

Depending on the specifics of the incident and your industry, the costs to your organization can be as severe as death and dismemberment and/or millions of dollars in damages and legal costs. There’s good news. This article covers the benefits that effective reporting has towards preventing incidents, protecting your workers, and protecting your bottom line. Without further ado, let’s get started in using incident reporting as the beneficial opportunity and tool it is.

The Importance of Incident Reporting

Filling out an accident report

Put in simple terms, incident reporting is the altering and documenting of events that fall outside of operational norms. Such incidents can take many forms, including near misses, minor to severe injuries, and damage to property. For incident reporting to be effective, it first needs to be timely and alert those necessary to respond to it. It’s important to report in a timely manner as some of the evidence needed to solve the problem may not be present if someone isn’t quick to report and investigate. The goal of reporting isn’t an exercise in the joys of paperwork (digital or otherwise). The goal is to figure the problem out so that you protect your valuable resources, minimize your costs, and enable the organization to do what it’s in business to do.

Effective incident reporting helps to determine if a problem is in the overall system of how things are done, or if it is more of a one off. Determining this tells you where to look and how to approach the problem. As part of the reporting process, which can include investigation as well, you may find evidence that shows conditions favorable for another incident to occur. This gives you the chance to nip that in the bud before it gets the chance to bite you and your operation. It’s a smart move to have a system in place that allows for the capturing and analysis of data so you are able to find trends and patterns that help predict where an organization may be vulnerable to an incident. The greater the trends and patterns, the more attention an area of the operation likely needs to keep it running efficiently.

Guess what? Your operation probably has significant regulations that dictate how work needs to be done. This is true at least within certain boundaries. So, improving in your reporting efforts can save you more than you think. If your incidents are going down due to you solving the underlying problems, this generally means that you are more compliant with applicable regulations. This protects you from potential citations by regulatory bodies that can be applied on top of whatever costs were associated with the incident itself! That’s nothing to scoff at.

The Consequences of Poor Incident Reporting

What is Poor Incident Reporting?

Poor incident reporting is going to fall into one of two categories. They are failing to report incidents and ineffective reporting. In the case of failing to report an incident at all, that means only some at an individual site know of the problem. The company doesn’t. So, how well do you think someone can fix a problem they don’t know exists? Not very well is the answer I’d give. If you have a work culture where when an incident happens, the first thing to do is to clean it up so the bosses don’t see, you’ve got a very big problem on your hands.

As for ineffective reporting, that one is a bit more complex. In essence, incident reporting isn’t just incident reporting. You do need to collect the initial information of what happened. But you also need to investigate, find the root cause of the event, and develop corrective and preventive action to solve the problem.

See, if you treat reporting just as documenting what happened, and then not do anything more, the problem isn’t solved. Unsolved problems tend to recur and can get worse. Timely reporting, which includes alerting those in authority, gets eyes on the issue. Those same eyes will be looking at causes and solutions. But some evidence is fleeting whether due to the nature of the materials or the intervention of employees to respond to things.

The Results of Poor Incident Reporting

Whether something is beneficial or detrimental, there is a cost associated with it. The thing is, the cost associated with beneficial things, like producing a useful product, are generally considered worth that cost. You get the benefit, which is desirable. In the case of detrimental things, you usually pay two prices. You pay the price in the form of the detrimental thing occurring at that time, and you pay a price for not correcting it in the form of it happening again.

With that in mind, practicing poor incident reporting can lead to serious problems that can affect individuals as well as organizations. In particularly high-risk industries, incidents can result in serious harm, death, and catastrophic damage to the company and surrounding areas.

Poor incident reporting can also lead to financial losses for organizations. In industries like aviation and manufacturing, incidents can result in equipment damage, product recalls, and even lawsuits. In some cases, these incidents could have been prevented if they had been reported and addressed in a timely manner.

Last, but certainly not least, poor incident reporting can damage a company’s reputation. Customers and stakeholders expect companies to provide safe and reliable products and services. If a company fails to report incidents or address safety concerns, they risk losing the trust of their customers and stakeholders. The loss of that trust may cause sufficient damage to the company such that it cannot survive as a company.

Incident Prevention Strategies

Playing chess

Unfortunately, if you’ve had an incident, it’s too late to prevent it. That is, it’s too late to prevent the incident that just happened. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prevent further instances or similar ones. The process starts with effective incident reporting. But there’s quite a bit more to preventing things. You’ll need to investigate, get at the root cause, and develop solutions to the root cause to make sure the immediate and long-term issues are solved.

After you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, there will be some implemented solutions that will aid in continuing to prevent incidents by catching them before they rise to the level of an incident. Some of them include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

- Conducting regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards before they can become operation hindering incidents.

  • Providing adequate training and resources to employees so they are set up for success.

  • Perform compliance and competency focused job observations to ensure employees can do the work safely as well as following the rules.

  • Implementing practical safety protocols and procedures

  • Conducting regular safety audits and inspections of mobile and stationary equipment areas.

  • Encouraging a culture of safety and accountability. There need to be steps the organization takes to ensure that the floor people hit is disciplinary action instead of things like loss of limb.

By combining incident reporting with proactive investigative, corrective, and preventative strategies, organizations can reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring and minimize the impact when they do occur.

Creating an Effective Incident Reporting System

To create an effective incident reporting system, organizations must consider several factors. These include:

  • Clear policies and procedures for reporting incidents

  • A system for collecting incident data

  • A mechanism for analyzing incident data and identifying trends

  • A process for addressing incidents and implementing corrective actions

  • Regular reviews and updates to the incident reporting system

Organizations also need to ensure that their incident reporting system is accessible to all employees. This includes providing training on how to report incidents and ensuring that employees feel comfortable reporting incidents without fear of retaliation. Disciplinary action should never occur for reporting an incident per company policy.

The Role of Technology in Incident Reporting

Technology can play a significant role in incident reporting. Many organizations are now using digital tools to streamline their incident reporting processes. These tools can include mobile apps for reporting incidents, online forms, and incident management software.

Digital tools can also help organizations analyze incident data and identify trends. For example, software can automatically categorize incidents by type, location, and severity, making it easier for organizations to identify common issues. Software can also provide real-time data on incidents, allowing organizations to respond quickly and prevent further incidents. Really consider taking advantage of software solutions that allow you to work smarter and faster in reporting and analyzing your incidents.

Incident Reporting Best Practices

To ensure that a chosen incident reporting system is effective, organizations should follow these best practices:

  • Emphasize the importance of reporting incidents, no matter how small they may be.

  • Assure employees that no discipline or retaliation will occur from proper reporting.

  • Ensure that all incidents are investigated and addressed in a timely manner, including near misses. Get the initial report out, and then update it as the investigation yields more information.

  • Use incident data to identify trends and implement corrective actions based on those trends.

  • Regularly review and update the incident reporting system to identify and improve any weaknesses that may be present in it.

  • Be prepared to include analog methods with digital ones as your specific operations may require. Not every employee has access to a computer as part of their job.

By following these best practices, organizations can create a culture of proactive reporting, where incidents are reported and properly addressed quickly, and the likelihood of future incidents is reduced.

Training and Educating Employees on Incident Reporting

Training and education are critical components of an effective incident reporting system. Employees must understand the importance of reporting incidents and how to report them. Organizations should provide regular training on incident reporting, including what types of incidents to report, how to report them, and what happens after a report is filed.

Organizations should also ensure that employees feel comfortable reporting incidents. This means creating a culture of safety and accountability, where employees are encouraged to report incidents without fear of retaliation. It’s important to help employees understand that they are protecting their fellow workers and the organization by reporting. They are not “snitching”. Organizations should also provide employees with clear guidelines on how to report incidents anonymously where appropriate.

The ROI of Effective Incident Reporting

Return on investment/capital gains

The return on investment, or ROI, of incident reporting comes from the larger process of getting to the bottom of your incidents. Even relatively minor incidents can increase costs simply by reducing productive time for the people or equipment. More serious incidents can result in valuable, knowledgeable employees having medical costs, overtime costs for the company due to other employees covering injured employee shifts, or the repair/replacement costs for equipment that is substantially damaged. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.

Investing in effective incident reporting and solving the issues that caused the incident to arise help keep costs low enough so that the organization can maximize long-term profits. The better shape your people and equipment are in, the more productive you can be. This helps lead to sales as a price significantly higher than the cost to produce. Not tending to your incidents can flip that on its head to the point where it may not be worthwhile to continue to produce.


Effective incident reporting is a critical task for preventing incidents, reducing costs, and improving safety in high-risk industries. By adopting a culture of proactive reporting, organizations can identify potential hazards, address issues before they become incidents, and create a safer work environment for employees. By following best practices and using digital tools, organizations can streamline their incident reporting processes and maximize the ROI of their safety programs.

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