Incident reports help find out why accidents happen, but also why they do not. Data and lessons are shared, feedback keeps staff in the loop, and, in fact, incident reporting schemes are cheaper than the cost of an accident.

Reports are a reminder of hazards and organizations can use information to change processes for the future. It’s really a no-brainer to have the systems in place.

But what good is having EHS processes if workers just don’t report incidents? Before any manager or director can analyze trends, there needs to be engagement of the workforce.

We've taken a look at common barriers to incident and near-miss reporting and picked 5 that EHS Managers and Directors have the power to tackle.

1. Difficulty

If reporting out an incident is going to take too much effort, chances are workers will avoid it. Their time is valuable and reporting an incident or near-miss may just equate ‘headache’.

By implementing mobile reporting this issue should no longer be a cause for concern. It’s possible for employees to access forms with their smartphones, by either having an app downloaded or scanning an on-site QR code. Mobile forms can even be pre-populated with GPRS location, and images can be attached for clearer explanations.

This is one way EHS Managers can neutralize the difficulty excuse.

2. Classification

The issue of classification of the type of incident that occurred is another common barrier to reporting. “What do I even report this as?”

Provide forms with a severity matrix, enable tooltips, and ensure all reports are reviewed after submission. This can be slightly tricky as classification is left up to interpretation, but if an explanation is not satisfactory e-forms can be easily sent back to the witness for clarification.

Additionally, you could make sure descriptions of each possible type of event are included within forms. Classification also varies per region, so make sure employees are equipped with the local knowledge of what certain incident types should be reported as.

3. Embarrassment

There are two types of embarrassment here: being embarrassed about causing an incident or a near-miss, and being embarrassed to report one.

Workplace culture should accept that people make mistakes, and employees should be made aware of the consequences of not reporting an incident.

Although in some hard-hat industries having ‘battle scars’ merits respect, it's pretty safe to say that anything more serious would not be so admirable. Hold a monthly safety meeting to keep staff involved, to remove the embarrassment associated with safety incidents and to educate them on the consequences of complacency.

4. Fear

In many industries employees have a fear of retribution for reporting an incident. Unfortunately, a blame culture still exists in companies where workplace safety is seen as a burden or a drain on efficiency.

In fact, it’s proven that implementing an effective EHS system is closely tied to achieving operational excellence, so the stigma around safety should – in theory – be eradicated.

This one is down to management. Reporting both near-misses and incidents should always be encouraged in order to reduce accidents, and whistle-blowers should be met with praise rather than punishment. Not to mention RIDDOR in the UK, which requires all near-misses or close calls also be reported to the HSE.

If the fear of retribution still plagues your workforce, you might consider implementing an anonymous reporting model.

5. Lack of interest from organization

This is probably the biggest one, and could otherwise be known as an organization’s safety culture.

There are numerous ways management can prove to employees that their safety and reports are valued: share safety performances, encourage reporting, instigate a safety committee, invest in training for staff, take opinion surveys, or implement an easy to use EHS system.

In an article by Pro-Sapien Director Murray Ferguson, health and safety is compared to a black box – everything should be recorded, and then it should be learnt from.

EHS starts at the top: the board and management need to show their commitment before employees can be expected to follow suit.

What to do now?

Now we have identified the barriers to incident reporting, the next step is narrowing them down to the ones that affect your own workforce. Some ways in which this can be done is through surveys or focus groups that will involve your employees, as they will be in the best position to give you the right insight. Once this stage is completed, the next phase is to target and solve them.

EHS software can be a useful tool at this stage, especially for the Difficulty and Classification barriers. A user-friendly interface can be key in making reporting easy and efficient, and pre-established forms and incident types will simplify their categorisation.

Check out our Health and Safety Employee Engagement Cheat Sheet to find new ways to engage with your employees and encourage the right safety culture.

Health and Safety Cheat Sheet Check out 9 tips to improve employee engagement


  • An inescapable fact is that what is optional to report is optional to leave unreported. Any reporting scheme that authorizes reporting something harmful without mandating the reporting, also authorizes not reporting it .

    Observation: When a pre-existing pre-known harmful condition is revealed, it is proof positive that all measures that could/should have resulted in reporting the condition between its creation and its revelation failed.

    Observation: Most workers in the high hazard industries have no spare time. Optional reporting can be deferred until spare time is available for it.

    Quotation: “When you see something, say something.”-A law enforcement/ security maxim

    Quotation: “Tell me if you see something dumb, dangerous, or different.”-Part of the implied Fire Boss Briefing

    Quotation: “A word to the wise is deficient.”-Bill Corcoran

    Quotation: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:8-10

    Observation: Optional reporting is not a measure “to assure that conditions adverse to quality are promptly identified and corrected .” Optional reporting assures nothing. Optional reporting supports plausible deniability.

    Observation: The Honor Code at the U. S. Military Academy (West Point) comes close to creating an affirmative duty to report lying, cheating, and stealing. It is unusual in the more usual culture of Omertà .

    Observation: Any punishment of a person who reports creates a chilling effect on others who may have something to report. This applies as well to informal cultural punishments such as ostracism, kidding, and the like.

    Observation: Even the publication of the punishment of retaliators such as the United States Steel Corporation Case sends a chilling effect message to others who might have something to report.

    Observation: Often when impairment is part of the causation, the causation also includes chilling effects that impede victims and others from speaking out about the impairment. The 2016 Navy Blue Angels Crash appears to be such a case.

    Observation: Mandatory reporting is becoming more widespread, mainly with respect to harmed children .

    Observation: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has imposed mandatory reporting involving fitness for duty and trustworthiness for security, but not for safety.

    Observation: The requirements for mandatory reporting on co-workers aberrant behavior often loses out to chilling effect stronger influences, which could include workers’ group loyalties and their distrust of management .

    Observation: Those who have knowledge of the complexities of an area of endeavor are often those who view the area through lenses tainted by years of benefiting from the uncritical participation in it. This is an inherent chilling effect.

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