Safety incident reporting rates remain persistently low, despite the costs (measured in eventual safety incidents) being so high. The question for Safety teams is why, why are their safety reporting rates stuck in the doldrums?
Well, the research shows a strong correlation between serial underreporting and working environments with poor organizational safety climates, i.e. where supervisor safety enforcement is inconsistent. The clear link indicates that safety culture matters, and that supervisors need to step up with consistent enforcement.
The causes of underreporting go deeper, though. For one, organizations with proactive safety cultures and/or public compliance postures usually have lower rates of underreported safety incidents, but they aren’t perfect – not by a long shot.
Why? Low reporting rates might have something to do with the nature of safety reporting itself. Frontline workers don’t always know what conditions should trigger reporting, doubly so in the case of near misses. The manuals or other sources of critical information that would inform them (if even centralized) aren’t always available to frontline workers in the field.
Also, frontline workers, on the whole, generally dislike filling out incident reports. Who wouldn’t? And when workers do fill them out, the reports often provide too little (or no) insight on how to prevent the incident from happening again. One of workers tout: bureaucratic inertia means that they don’t receive substantive feedback on reported incidents.
But they’re more practical reasons why underreporting is rife. Some Safety organizations inadvertently make reporting difficult. Paperwork can be confusing and safety processes can be needlessly convoluted. As such, workers, especially the perennially time strapped, become less inclined to fill out reports, even less so if they don’t feel that the firm is handling reports and investigations seriously or that the actions resulting from investigations are unsatisfactory.
What’s more, frontline workers, particularly in construction, agribusiness, and mining, often don’t have the ability to report observations, near misses, incidents, and hazards from the field. If not completely manual, a lot of safety management tools don’t provide mobile functionality that’s usable outside of the office, i.e. on the actual work site.
That means workers have to wait until they’re back in the office to report on the incidents or near misses they’ve experienced in the field. It’s only natural, then, that workers would forget important details of the incident, details that would help spur insights into how to prevent the event from happening in the future. Sometimes, workers forget about the incident or near miss altogether. In both scenarios, reports aren’t generated in real time, when the incident actually takes place.
Despite the challenges, boosting your safety incident reporting rate is doable. It just takes a shift in culture and a smart investment in the right technology. To learn more, download our guide to addressing the underreporting of safety incidents.
Tahira Michelle Probst and Armando X Estrada, Accident; analysis and prevention: Accident under-reporting among employees: Testing the moderating influence of psychological safety climate and supervisor enforcement of safety practices.