Any text on health and safety will have some comment, section, or instruction concerning the critical nature of accurate incident reporting, including near misses.

There are dozens of incident and problem-solving models in the safety business that help you determining the cause of an accident, injury, or a close call. Understanding the root causes behind these incidents is, of course, essential to preventing similar events from occurring in the future.

(Learn more about Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them.)

No matter the model, system, or methodology you use to get from an incident to the implementation of relevant control measures, reporting the incident needs to be part of the process.

Major unions call incident reporting the first step in protecting workers. That makes it a no-brainer, right?

Sure, unless workers don't report the information. Or worse, don't or can't report it accurately.

There are many reasons workers might decide not to report an incident or fail to report it accurately, but we won't be taking a look at those. This article isn't about why people don't report; it's about the things you can do to get them to report, each and every single time.

A New Approach to Incident Reporting

Old school adages like "removing fear of consequence" and "rewarding good behavior" are just that, old school. They focused on incentivizing workers to report. OSHA has made it clear that this is far from sufficient.

If that's the old school way of thinking, what's the new school of thought when it comes to incident reporting? Basically, understanding that consequences are literally part of the model. It has to be, since there are all kinds of consequences to a company and a worker when someone is involved in an incident.

We know what those consequences are. Almost everyone in industry knows that the costs associated with incidents can be enough to put a company out of business.

And for years now, worker unions and associations have fought tooth and nail to remove any thought of discipline being applied to an injured worker. Safety pros have listened, and they now shy away from any mention of the "D word."

Coming from the executive union side, I've made that argument for years. I banged on the negotiating table to get that kind of language into the collective agreement. But then realized that without a consequence or accountability factor built into the formula, incident reporting would never be where it needs to be.

It's time we understand incident reporting for what it really is. At the highest level, it is a corporate value. Why? Because reporting allows the whole incident management system (IMS) to work effectively.

Imagine having a state-of-the-art ISO-certified quality program in place but you never look at incident and non-compliance reports from your clients, customers, and workers. What you have is a nice certificate on the wall, pretty enough to photocopy and include in your bid package, but you might as well put a match to it if you don't have a system in place for treating incident reports seriously.

EHS and OHS require clean, accurate data about incidents. Not so you can punish workers, point fingers, or cover anyone's rear end. You need them so you can implement effective changes to your systems, correct failures, and change processes, procedures, tools, equipment, suppliers, and staff if needed.

(Learn the 5 Metrics EHS Departments Should Be Tracking.)

Encouraging Better Incident and Near Miss Reporting

So, how do you get people to report – all the time, accurately, and in real time?

Here are 10 things you can do to achieve that goal.

1. Make Incident Reporting Part of Corporate Mission, Vision, and Value Statements

It's one thing to tell workers that incident reporting is important; it's another to have it clearly laid out in print. When it's right up there, up front, and framed in the CEO's office, there are no more doubts that this is an important process.

2. Make the Concept Part of Your Corporate Culture

Your official policies matter, but they carry a lot more weight when they're supported by a positive corporate and safety culture. Make incident reporting just part of what you do as a company.

3. Introduce Incident Reporting from the Very Beginning

When I say beginning, I mean right from the hiring and onboarding process. In fact, you can even mention it in your job ads. Put it in everyone's job document and talk about it during performance reviews and evaluations.

4. Educate, Educate, Educate

Educate your workforce and do it right from the get-go. Make incident reporting awareness part of every activity related to EHS or the business of the organization.

5. Keep It Simple

We reached the point several years ago where communication became global and practically instantaneous. From our device to the world in only a few simple steps.

Well, how about from our device to the IMS?

Make sure workers have an easy, quick, and accurate way to get information into the incident management system. And when they do, take the time to thank them personally.

(Read more about the Benefits of Expedited EHS Reporting.)

6. Apply Standard HR Consequences for Non-Reporting

Consequences can't be the only thing in your arsenal, but they do have their place. A worker who fails to report incidents puts their coworkers, the organization, and the public at risk.

There is no acceptable reason not to report. Make reporting a condition of employment, and treat workers accordingly if they fail to do it. And yes, that means firing them if you have to.

7. Share the Results

Even if the results aren't upbeat and positive, communicate them to your employees. Not telling them what you learned from your incident reporting will give them the impression that you're not using the data. And no one wants to do the extra work of reporting information unless they think it's going to good use.

8. Put It on the Agenda at Your Board, Senior Management, and Company Meetings

Reinforce the need for complete, high-quality, and up-to-date information. Talk about it on family appreciation days, at company events, and during client contacts.

9. Make Sure the IMS Pros Use the Data Well

Your IMS safety pros should be looking at the data, reporting their findings to senior management, and communicating it to the workforce. The information people need to have about incidents needs to get out there fast, and get to everyone before the water cooler gossip does.

10. Make Reporting Positive

No one wants to get in trouble for doing the right thing, and no one wants to feel like they're causing trouble by filing a report. Some workers worry that there will be some kind of negative consequence (to themselves or others) if they report incidents. That's why it's important to keep a positive tone and message when discussing incident reporting.

Teach everyone that incident reporting is the only way to ensure safety initiatives work the way they should. Reporting is the gasoline in the engine of safety – without it, you won't get anywhere.

Final Thoughts

One of the best things you can do to encourage reporting is to normalize it. Make reporting a fact of everyday work life. Emphasize what a positive change factor it is.

And please remember, when you emphasize and implement this kind of change, your incident rates will spike upwards. Don't panic; it means you're doing something right. That spike means workers are reporting incidents that went unreported before. It means you're just starting to get accurate data.

Reporting is a fact of work life, a best business practice, and a driver for your IMS. Great Companies do it, great workers do it.

Safety professionals and practitioners require incident reporting, it is the bricks and mortar of a comprehensive, state-of-the-art safety system. Help them help you by giving them the data they need.