Accidents and near misses can wreak havoc with a good workflow at your business. They can result in lost production, workers’ compensation claims and unwanted visits from health and safety regulators. Workplace incidents do not just happen in manufacturing facilities. They can occur with offices, retailers and other service organizations and they are not limited to what happens inside a building. Anything that goes wrong on a property or with a service vehicle could be an incident. If these incidents are reported and addressed on a timely basis, their impact can be minimized.
Defining an Incident
Workplace incidents include both accidents and potential accidents. An accident involves personal injury to an employee, loss of production or property damage. In an accident, something goes wrong and a person is hurt, equipment is broken or workflow is interrupted. A potential accident qualifying as an incident might include improperly disposed materials or equipment that overheats without actually breaking down. Incidents can be caused by an improperly-performed task, equipment failure or environmental issues such as temperature, poor ventilation or excessive noise.
Why Employees Do Not Report
Employees fail to file incident reports for a variety of reasons. They may feel the incident was minor and did not warrant a report. If the employee caused the incident, he may not want it to be known, fearing embarrassment. Filing a report might expose the misconduct that caused the incident and could result in disciplinary action or even termination if the infraction was severe enough. If the incident involves a coworker, he might not want to incriminate that person -- doing so might result in being socially ostracized or subject to harassment.
Why Reports Matter
Monitoring workplace safety and uninterrupted production are the main reasons for filing incident reports. Employee safety is paramount. If an accident happens once, it can happen again unless the cause is identified and addressed. Without reporting, there can be no corrective action. In addition to these factors, legal protection is essential. If you do not address the causes of workplace incidents, you may be liable if an employee files a complaint against you and you will almost certainly be inviting an inspection for violation of workplace regulations.
What to Do
As a business owner, you have a responsibility to establish reporting policies and see that employees are trained to react properly when they observe an incident. Prepare forms that are readily available for employees to use. Instruct employees with the procedures to follow, which will vary according to the nature of the incident. Designate a person -- one on each shift if necessary -- to be the incident coordinator to investigate each report. Then follow through with corrective actions to assure the conditions that led to the incident will not occur again.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.