From Liability to Safety Reporter in 5 Easy Steps

Worker oblivious to obvious hazard in the office

Do you feel like your employees only report a problem in the workplace when the joint health and safety committee walks around the facility? And even then, are they really reporting every hazard or near-miss they’ve encountered?

It’s not just hazards that aren’t brought to management’s attention. As many as 69% of injuries and illnesses go unreported, as the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses illustrates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a number of reasons that injuries and illnesses are underreported:

Some workers don’t want to get caught up in the slow difficult workers’ compensation process. Others aren’t aware that their injury or illness is work-related or reportable, or do not report because they are afraid of being stigmatized.

Young workers may feel powerless to report and even seasoned employees might refrain from reporting for fear of reprisal from employers. Employees might also feel like reporting an incident makes them looks weak or there may be a safety culture in place that tacitly suppresses reporting hazards, injuries and incidents.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to educate employees on their rights and responsibilities for reporting health and safety issues. (Note that legal rights and responsibilities may be different from one jurisdiction to the next, and everything outlined in this post is for general guidance only.) It only takes a second to report something that doesn’t seem quite right—but employees need to understand their obligation to report and should feel like their feedback is listened to.

The one major challenge of getting employees to regularly report safety hazards is that sometimes corrective actions need to be put in place that can often negatively impact employees—or at least that’s how they see it. Be sure to keep the messaging focused on the reason for the correction and employees will soon realize it’s for the greater good.

All hazards and incidents, whether a near miss or an injury-related event, should be investigated. OSHA states the primary purpose of these investigations is to prevent future occurrences. A safety culture can be built by collecting near-miss and incident reports to identify and control hazards, reducing risks and potential injuries.

Employee participation is vital. Here are some key tips for getting employees to become safety reporters:

  • Allow anonymous near-miss reporting—this will eliminate fear and encourage more close calls to be reported.
  • Avoid naming people who may have contributed to a near miss, regardless of who reported it. There are two common fears: being listed as a factor in a near miss and being seen as getting others in trouble or look like a snitch. Because the close call itself is most important information to acquire, knowing the key players is not absolutely necessary to prevent future incidents.
  • Make reporting easy. Workers should be trained on how to properly identify and recognize potential hazards and report them. It’s important to have a quick and easy reporting system (paper or electronically)—if it takes too much time or effort, employees are less likely to complete the form.
  • Give the reporter the benefit of the doubt. Keep an open mind and trust them to provide the details. You can’t presume to know what happened and by allowing everyone involved to provide their account without blame will create trust and ultimately make workers more comfortable reporting an incident in the future.
  • Quickly address issues. There’s nothing worse than having the courage to come forward and report an incident only to find it was all for nothing.