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How to Write an Incident Report: The Comprehensive Guide

In an ideal world, every working environment would be perfectly safe and there would never be any workplace incidents. But no matter how effective your risk management system may be, accidents can still occur.

And if a work injury or near miss does happen, it is always good to be prepared for the aftermath. The incident needs to be investigated thoroughly and a clear, detailed incident report needs to be prepared.

An incident report is a form that documents any event at the worksite that may or may not have caused illness or injury to workers or property damage. It is also used to capture data about safety and health issues, security breaches, equipment damage, and workplace misconduct.

This article will cover everything you need to know about incident reports, including why they are important, when they must be completed, and how to create a useful incident report.

The Importance of Incident Reports

Incident reporting is meant to record an incident, determine a possible root cause for it, document corrective actions implemented (or to be implemented) to prevent future occurrences, and communicate all this information concisely to stakeholders. An incident report can also be used as a safety document to indicate risks and uncontrolled hazards in the workplace. 

Here’s why incident reporting is important:

  • When an incident occurs, documenting and reporting the details via an incident report form creates accountability and ensures that corrective actions are taken immediately. This can help prevent similar or even worse incidents in the future.
  • It allows for effective communication of hazards and threats (e.g., equipment malfunction, employee misconduct, absence of PPEs, etc.) in the workplace. This raises awareness among both workers and management and everyone can work together to institute preventive measures to mitigate the hazards.
  • It serves as evidence of compliance in case of issues related to health and safety regulations.
  • A database of incident reports enables you to analyze trends and patterns and find overall gaps in your safety programs.
  • It creates a habit of safety accountability, which is a key aspect of a strong safety culture in the workplace.

When to Write an Incident Report

Incident report: 2 people administering first aid to a person that collapsed

Ideally, an incident report must be completed as soon as an incident occurs, with minor injuries and near misses given as much importance as major injuries or adverse events. This ensures that the people involved as well as witnesses can remember details clearly enough to fill the incident report form accurately. Investigating the incident can take a while, so the incident report may take days to complete, but an initial report should be started immediately.

Also, depending on the OSHA regulations in your region and the severity of the incident, you may be legally required to report an incident with OSHA or your local law enforcement within a given timeframe.

There are four main types of incidents that must be reported:

  1. Sentinel events or unexpected events which result in serious injury or death (e.g., slips, trips, falls, natural disasters, disease outbreak, etc.)
  2. Near misses or non-emergencies where the event had the potential to cause harm or injury but did not do so
  3. Adverse events that occur when a medicine, vaccine, or medical device causes an adverse reaction and thus harm to the people involved
  4. No harm events which potential incidents that might occur due to certain hazards and risks in the workplace. These need to be communicated across the organization to raise awareness about the hazard.

How to Write an Effective Incident Report

Every organization has its own incident reporting process. For example, in some companies, employees may have to file a report directly with their HR or immediate supervisor, while other organizations may have an online incident reporting system. But as a minimum requirement, you should provide an easily accessible incident report form that every employee can complete and submit.

5 Qualities of a Good Incident Report

A good incident report must be detailed, accurate, and convey all information clearly to anyone reading it. Here are some qualities that make an incident report effective.

1. Accuracy

Only an accurate incident report can serve as a guide to prevent future incidents. However, inaccuracies are typically easy to fix as they are often typos and simple errors such as incorrect details about people involved including names and phone numbers, time of the incident, etc.).

To prevent such issues, proofread your report thoroughly before submitting it and double check small details. Also, make sure to provide specific details and avoid vague statements to prevent confusion.

2. Objectivity

A good incident report is objective and supported by facts rather than emotions or opinions. Avoid including anything subjective in the report such as opinionated or biased statements and make sure to include all sides of the story. Where possible, include quantifiable measurements. If you include statements from people involved or witnesses, quote them using their full names to make everything verifiable.

3. Completeness

An incident report should cover all angles about an incident, as well as the causes and corrective actions to be implemented. Cover all the essential questions (who was involved, what happened, and when, where, why, and how did it happen). Ensure that you capture information from anyone who was involved as well as witnesses and the incident investigation team.

4. Graphic Details

To make the report clearer and easier to understand, include photos (of the injury, damage, and environment), diagrams, illustrations, and graphs to supplement the facts stated.

5. Validity

To ensure that your report is valid and objective, all relevant stakeholders (victims, witnesses, manager, etc.) should sign off to validate all the information mentioned in the report.

10 Things to Include in an Incident Report

Person holding a form while taking a photo of a damaged car

Your accident report must state all the essential information about the incident, including descriptions, witness and victim statements, and more. Here’s some information that every incident report must contain.

1. Basics

The specific date, time, and location of the incident is fundamental to any incident report. This is necessary for clarity, and may prove valuable if further investigation into the incident is needed.

2. Environment

Record any physical and environmental conditions that may have contributed to the incident, including potential hazards found in the area. Examples include inadequate lighting, malfunctioning equipment, a glare or blind spot obstructing visibility, or a leaking ceiling.

3. Context

In addition to the environment, consider the events leading up to the incident. Consider what the people involved were doing and how they were feeling (relaxed, stressed, sick?) at the time. This is important as some of the factors may have contributed to the incident’s occurrence, while others may have been caused by the incident.

4. Victim(s)

Mention the details of everyone involved in and/or affected by the incident. The details would include the names, job titles, department, and the supervisors/managers of the people involved in the incident.

5. Injuries

The incident report should contain detailed descriptions of all injuries that occurred, including the body part(s) injured, the nature and extent of the injury, and the severity of the injury.

6. Treatment

Make sure to mention any initial or first aid treatment (including bandaging, medications, etc.) administered on the affected people. This information is especially important when understanding how the employee recovers from the incident.

7. Damages to Property and Equipment

Record all assets, materials, facilities, and equipment that were damaged by the incident. This helps to get an overall picture of the impact caused by the incident. It would also be useful while analyzing the event for corrective action and identifying what needs to be repaired or replaced in the aftermath of the incident.

8. Witnesses

Get detailed accounts of the incident from any witnesses to understand their perspective. Since these are subjective accounts, it is important to ensure accuracy by confirming details with the witnesses. It also helps to review the report with them once it’s complete to confirm that they agree with what you have written.

9. Actions of People Involved

Use statements from victims and witnesses to create a picture of what people were doing when the incident occurred. This description must be detailed and include quantitative measurements if possible. For example, if an employee was injured by an object falling on them, include answers to questions like:

  • What was the employee doing (lifting the object or walking past as it fell)?
  • If the employee was lifting the object, was there any precaution they could have taken to ensure it didn’t fall?
  • What kind of object was it and what was its weight?
  • What body part did the object fall on?

10. Descriptive Account With Supporting Evidence

Based on all the information collected and analyzed, create a story describing what happened and how and why it occurred. To back up the story, include photographic or video documentation of both the event and its aftermath.

While the above list is by no means exhaustive, it contains most of the general information that every incident report must contain. Besides this, specific information related to your workplace or industry and the incident itself would need to be added.

Use an Online Platform to Make Incident Reporting Easier

Filling up an incident report quickly but accurately is prone to errors if done manually. Besides, if you keep manual incident report forms at some part of the worksite, they may get lost or be inaccessible if the workplace is large and the incident has taken place far away.

Using a platform such as Pulpstream’s Incident Management Solution can make the process easier. With Pulpstream, you can:

  • Collect and store data related to the incident in one place
  • Create a convenient online incident report form that employees can easily access on an intuitive dashboard
  • Analyze your data easily using sophisticated analytics tools
  • Store incident report form templates and samples so that employees have a better idea of how it should look
  • Disseminate the incident report to all stakeholders and store it in a common location, accessible by all relevant employees
  • Schedule follow-ups on the investigation or the corrective action implementation, if necessary

You can access all these capabilities and more with Pulpstream. Book a free demo today!