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Effective Incident Reporting Guide [Free Templates Included]

Before we begin, it’s essential to understand that safety legislation may differ from country to country and state to state. Always check against your local legislation before making any big decisions.

Creating an incident report form is pretty straightforward. You could probably set it up if you had an hour and a few cups of coffee. We’ve still included two free templates a little further into the post.

The more challenging part of incident reporting is getting employees to fill out the paperwork. The modern workplace is rushed, even frantic, at times. Busy site workers don’t have time to mess with a simple near-miss. 

This article will dive into the details surrounding incident reports and look at some ideas to raise those incident reporting rates, which would lead to a safer workplace for all.


Grab The Templates

Before we dive in, why not grab your printable templates below (click the images to download a PDF)? However, before you print, consider a paperless solution like Appenate (more details as we go along).

Incident Report Form Template
Minor Incident Report Thumbnail

If you’d prefer an editable version in Google Sheets, save a copy of the Employee Incident Report Form or Minor Incident Report Form to your drive, and you’ll be able to edit them to your will.

What Is An Incident Report?

An incident report is a document that contains specific details about an unplanned and unfavourable event that occurred at the workplace. Employees must hand this document to the site supervisor or safety representative in order to action next steps and make sure a minor incident doesn’t become a major one.

Quite a mouthful, but that sums it all up quite well.

Incidents can be anything these days, from a simple trip to a severe injury or even loss of life. An injury used to be classed as an accident, but no longer.

OSHA has changed the way it refers to accidents and incidents. Here’s the scoop (skip the next section if you’re already up to date).

Difference Between An Accident And Incident

Years ago, an incident would be anything that had to be reported but where no injury occurred. An injury that resulted in time off would classify as an accident.

Nowadays, the consensus is to lump everything under incidents – but you should still keep visibility around whether an incident ended in injury or not.

What’s behind the change? The word ‘accident’ implies that the event occurred by chance. If this were true, there would be no one and nothing to blame and no way to prevent it from happening again. The fact is that the majority of incidents are preventable. 

The Effects Of Incident Reporting On The Workplace

“The value in increasing incident reporting is to gain valuable data and insights into where work might be causing damage and how to learn and improve on the way we work to reduce harm. Incident data should be used to challenge our risk assumptions.”

Ksenia Wagensveld, Principal Consultant, Actum Solutions – Brisbane, Australia.

There’s little doubt that higher incident reporting rates lead to a safer workplace. Anyone actively working in safety will agree.

To drive this point home, let’s explore two scenarios.

First, Mr. Allan tripped over an exposed cable and broke his arm. Instead of watching where he was going, his eyes were fixed on the passing forklift. He wasn’t keen on getting run over – so it’s just an unfortunate event, right? Freak accident, maybe?

What no one knows is that two days prior, a young apprentice tripped on the same cable – but he didn’t lose his balance and so just carried on with his day. If he had reported it and got the supervisor to sort it out, Mr. Allan wouldn’t be wearing a cast and be off work right now.

That’s a fictional story, but similar events happen all too often. The following example is from a real-world safety induction training I attended many years before.

Second scenario…

A couple of employees were working at a height of approx 20 metres (about 65 feet). Their tools were scattered around the platform on which they stood. One of the workers accidentally nudged a hammer as he was backing up, causing it to plummet to the ground.

I’m sure you’ll agree that a falling hammer is a pretty serious health risk to the average employee.

This event would likely have gone unreported if not for the visiting executive, whom the hammer narrowly missed. Said executive immediately reported the incident, and it was later decided that safety netting would need to be installed on scaffolding above a certain height.

There’s no real way of knowing how many lives and injuries this simple solution has saved since, but if it’s saved just one life, it’s more than enough.

Three Ways To Increase Incident Reporting Rates

A hard hat lies on the ground with the quote "Higher incident reporting rates are critical to workplace safety"

Getting employees to take safety seriously can be quite the challenge. We want even minor incidents to be reported – but how do we get our incident reporting rates up? 

Let’s take a look at a few methods. 

1. Better Employee Education

Many work sites require employees to do mandatory safety induction before they’re allowed in. If you comply with OSHA or your local safety standards, your workplace likely has something similar. 

This training is an excellent opportunity to drive home the importance of safety. I’ve had my fair share of induction training, and the instructors would often be rather flat. They’d cover the course material and move on.

Others would take a slightly different approach. Before covering past incidents and how they could be avoided, they humanized the persons involved. They told an intriguing story

Some faceless humans getting hurt or even losing their lives is no big deal to most people (cold as that sounds, it’s a fact). However, if you create a likable character in a story – someone your trainees will like – their injury seems far more real. 

It’s a bit of a shock tactic, but it made my young mind far more aware of safety protocols – even if it meant taking more time to get the job done. We were all young, and we know the feeling of invincibility that often accompanies this phase of our lives.

The point here is this. To have a more effective safety training program, start with your instructors. Ensure they understand the storytelling aspect and why it’s vital to convey a strong message. 

You might even consider regular sit-ins to ensure best practices are followed within your induction program. 

2. Leadership Should Set The Example

Your safety personnel, site managers and supervisors should make it as easy as possible to submit incident reports.

Go one step further and instruct leaders to ask questions. An ex-supervisor of mine used to do this. At the start and end of each day, there would be a 15-minute ‘toolbox talk’ where we could raise any and all issues we experienced during the day. 

He always stressed that even a tiny cut, a chemical smell, or a trip or slip should be reported ASAP (he repeated this every time). He was even kind enough to take care of the paperwork for us, and we’d just sign as witnesses. 

I do not doubt that this saved us many injuries during that time, as safety concerns were quickly solved. This man single-handedly raised the incident reporting rate amongst his team – and your site supervisors can achieve this too. 

The one issue is that we often reported incidents at the end of our shift and not immediately. There’s every chance an injury could occur between discovering and reporting the incident. If only there were a way to report an incident immediately – without even leaving the site…

3. There’s An App For That

Following on from the previous point, our supervisor was smart. He pre-printed incident report forms, so he always had more on hand than would be necessary. Not environmentally friendly, and we’d still have to wait until the end of the day to complete the report. 

Days can be busy, and small but necessary details can become hazy. 

Plus, by the time a safety representative was able to investigate the site of the incident, conditions might already have changed. 

What if you could pull out your phone at the moment of the incident, snap a photo, enter details and send it straight to your safety team? It would save so much time – and it would, indeed, raise incident reporting rates. One of our consulting partners has already tested this and found favourable results. 

Read more about this story here

When To Submit An Incident Report

An incident commander attends to a fire with a sign board that reads "the time is now"

In short, ASAP. 

By OSHA standards, you have 24 hours to report an incident.

I double-checked this with a practising safety officer, who advised that incidents should be before the end of a shift, if not immediately.

Anyway, moving on. 

Which events qualify as incidents? Pretty much anything. A good rule of thumb is to ask your safety officer or representative whenever you’re in doubt. 

I’ll draw from the previous incident regarding the dropped hammer again. If no one stood below, the hammer thudding into the ground would’ve seemed insignificant. No one would have reported it, and someone might have lost their life due to a future (preventable) recurrence. 

I mean, sometimes these scenarios can seem like a stretch, but anything can happen when it comes to safety. 

Be sure to report: 

  • Trips, slips, or falls.
  • Cuts or abrasions (yes, even a paper cut. It seems silly, but anytime the skin is broken, you’re at risk of infection. Get your wound treated and reported, no matter how small).
  • Near misses.
  • Unsafe practices.
  • Even report missing personal protective equipment (PPE) signage or ineffective PPE measures.
  • Also, report your defective PPE immediately.
  • Chemical smells – depending on the nature of your worksite, there could be an active gas leak that protocols failed to pick up. 

This list is by no stretch an exhaustive one. There are so many scenarios that most wouldn’t consider an incident but that you should report. Engage your safety team and make sure employees are aware of all the specifics you care to mention. 

What Should You Include In An Incident Report?

As with all facts in this article, it’s best to check your local legislation for rigid rules and requirements. 

That said, no safety incident report should be without a few core fields… 

  • Time, date and precise location of the incident.
  • A complete and detailed description of events leading up to and including the incident. 
  • Injuries or damages occurred, if applicable. 
  • Photos and/or video when available (photos should always be included – most employees can take pictures with their smartphones). 
  • Names and contact information of all available witnesses. 
  • Risk mitigation going forward – how do we prevent future occurrences? 

Having all of these fields present will ensure your incident report is actionable. Action is the core reason incident reports exist – we must be able to remedy the problem and make sure a near miss doesn’t become an injury – or even a fatality. 

This is why a digital tool comes in handy. Paperwork gets lost, and people forget. If there’s a clear and actionable digital record, the chance of remedial tasks going unattended is far less. 

Ensure Fast Turn Around Times

Whatever system you put in place needs to ensure the resulting tasks from your incident reports are taken care of quickly. The information needs to be transferred rapidly and get into the right hands ASAP – whether by app, spreadsheet or paper document.

So if you’re running a traditional paper-based system, having a team that is skilled at following up is critical. While we’re on the topic, let’s look at conventional ways vs. something like Appenate.  

Incident Reports: Traditional Methods Vs. Appenate

An injured man is attended to, along with a snapshot of an incident report form on a tablet

To help paint a clear picture, let’s look at a hypothetical situation involving a near-miss. 

Let’s say a team is on a rigging job, getting an electrical motor in place. A passer-by gets in the way and narrowly avoids being struck by the suspended motor. A minor argument ensues, but no more. The rigging supervisor makes a mental note of the incident and moves on. 

Why not report the incident immediately? Because that would entail going to the office, printing out a form and then filling it out. Then someone would have to leave the rigging site to submit the form, all while delaying the job. 

That evening, as the supervisor finishes his shift, he remembers the incident, fills out the form, and then leaves for home. The safety personnel will now only get the incident report a day after the incident occurred. What if dealing with the issue in this case (insufficient temporary demarcation) could have saved someone’s life during the night shift? 

A safety officer aware of the incident sooner might have been able to assign extra tape or temporary signage to the nightshift team to prevent another occurrence. 

Let’s think of the alternative. Instead of making a mental note, the supervisor pulls out his phone, opens an app and selects the incident report. He snaps a photo, captures the details of the incident and ships it off. 

The safety department gets the notice, and they immediately dispatch someone to take a look. The safety team identify the lack of sufficient demarcation and remedy the situation immediately. 

The downside is that the job could be delayed until the issue is corrected. However, it’s a small price to pay to safeguard human life. 

Encourage A Culture Of Safety

As we near the end of this article, we must mention how important it is to encourage a culture of safety. 

It starts with your leadership. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, employees often won’t report small matters for fear of reprisal. 

We all know the site manager who scolds employees for wasting his time. For not getting the job done on time. Etc. And this sort of drive is sometimes necessary, but it holds no priority over safety, which must come first. 

Your leadership needs to lead by example and be patient and understanding in matters regarding safety. A positive attitude towards workplace safety is critical. 

From there, a healthy and positive safety culture can filter down the ranks. 

That said, not everyone will automatically hop on board. There must be zero tolerance for safety matters. Breaches must be dealt with decisively.

In cases where an absolute disregard was shown for critical safety procedures, it’s better to lose a good employee than have a fatality on site. So while a positive attitude is necessary, the disciplinary code must also be in place to protect lives. 

Specialized Software Or A Multi-Leveled Approach? 

Before we conclude this post, I’d like to discuss one last thing. Assuming you want a better safety management solution in place, what should you go for? Should you find a specialized system or go for something more generalized? 

It solely depends on your requirements. 

A specialized tool can be helpful but limited in its functionality. For example, it might be great at pushing safety tasks but terrible at integrating other departments. 

Something like Appenate, on the other hand, can be rolled out to multiple departments on-site. The main reason for this is that we are a user-defined software. You create the apps or forms that you need – incident reports, maintenance checklists or even stock-take apps. 

With a tool like this, you can serve other departments while also helping safety. 

It’s a great move toward total digitalization or, put more simply, going paperless on your worksite. 

Try Appenate For Free

If you’d like to give Appenate a shot at making your workplace safer for all, sign up for a free trial today

We recommend the guided trial, which gives you the standard free trial – but you’ll also get a free proof of concept app and unlimited training and support throughout your lifetime with us. 

We sincerely hope you succeed in creating a culture of safety (with or without us) and saving countless lives to boot.