The problem with incident reporting in most organisations

Incident reporting is a part of the culture of almost all organisations. The logic being that if we capture incidents and investigate them, we can avoid similar occurrences. But is it working? I propose that, in most organisations, it is ineffective because we are focussing on the wrong thing.


For a start, focussing on incidents is reactive, not proactive. Focussing on near-misses is not much better – they are just incidents with a bit of luck thrown in. What we should be concentrating on are the hazards and hazardous behaviour.

Let me give an example.

You work at a site where exceeding the 15 kph speed limit is commonplace. An incident occurs. The investigation identifies excessive speed as a contributing factor. The driver is blamed and cautioned, but nothing is done about the general hazardous driving behaviour.


Blaming someone for poor behaviour or an incident is not helpful, rather it promotes a culture of blame. What needs to be investigated is the underlying reason why the behaviour or incident occurred, and whether there are wider implications across the organisation.


But, you might argue, risky behaviour should be reprimanded. OK, let’s look at ourselves. Have you ever walked across a road against the lights, or answered a mobile while driving? If so, is it fair to point the finger at a colleague cutting corners at work? The sorts of questions that need to be asked are: why do we cross the road against the lights? How can we avoid handling the mobile while driving?


Instead of pointing the finger at the worker who cut corners, let’s direct our attention to developing a more collaborative organisational culture. Let’s develop a culture where we look out for each other’s safety and feel comfortable pulling up others whose behaviour is putting themselves or others at risk. My fear is that reporting to senior management via an incident report may undermine this type of culture.

Here are some simple things you can do now to change your culture from blame to open discussion about hazards and behaviour:


  • Encourage workers to collaborate in identifying hazards and hazardous behaviour, and deciding remedial actions (with management support when needed)
  • Encourage workers to inspect/audit themselves and their workplaces
  • Provide workers with the appropriate safety training to identify hazards in the workplace.
  • I’d love to hear other views on this subject, so please make a comment.