by Sunil Sohani, Saskatchewan Research Council Sunil Sohani, Saskatchewan Research Council

Don’t skip this important step for optimal workplace safety

Many aspects of safety management have evolved over the past few decades, but one of the things that has remained at the forefront is safety reporting. Safety professionals today still struggle to get the point across to the workforce that it is important to report hazards, unsafe acts and conditions. 

The general attitude 

Before getting into why employees should report hazards, let’s look at the general attitude towards reporting. When asked why they don’t report, employees working at different levels of an organization have a number of responses. The most common answer is, “When I see something unsafe, I fix it immediately and there ends the matter. Why waste time reporting it when it is not unsafe anymore?” (Some of the worst answers include “I don’t care” and “Nothing is going to change in this place anyway so why bother?”)

These answers are all wrong. On the surface, the first answer may seem correct. However, there are significant advantages of reporting hazards, unsafe acts or unsafe conditions, and this article is going to examine those next. 

Why people don’t report safety hazards

The reasons people don’t report can involve human factors or the reporting process itself. Human factors range from having no trust in the organization to address the unsafe act or condition, reporting being seen as “spying” or “blaming,” a feeling that it’s a waste of time, not being aware or not understanding the benefits of reporting, laziness, forgetfulness and so on. 

Process factors are important, as well. If there is a long and complex form to fill out and copies aren’t available close to the work area, employees may not be inclined to take that extra effort. Sometimes, employees do not have time even for a few minutes to be away from work. In some situations, management may even discourage reporting to save time or try to hide the conditions.  

Benefits of reporting  

Why report? The main thing people say, even from those who have very positive attitudes towards safety and who follow all procedures correctly, is that first answer mentioned above – it is only important to fix the unsafe act or condition. It is true that once fixed, a hazard is being removed and an accident is being prevented from happening. However, reporting what was seen and what was done will prevent not only that one incident but many other incidents, too. 

How? The report can be communicated to others so they take similar steps in their work areas or activities to fix the situation and, therefore, prevent incidents from happening in their areas. All the reports collectively create a profile for a particular work site or the organization. The profile can be analyzed to identify trends that can help prioritize resources and form specific strategies. 

For example, if there are a large number of reports related to employees lifting objects incorrectly, then training sessions can be arranged to educate on the right lifting technique. 

Every report involves a lesson learned, whether it is the way people have behaved or the conditions or equipment that has been maintained. 

This lesson can be communicated to others so they can take necessary actions. Communicating lessons learned from one incident and followed by others will prevent more incidents.

The number of reports indicates awareness and attitude of the workforce and can be a leading indicator in measuring safety performance.

All this would not be possible if the report was not there in the first place. 

Every report involves a lesson learned, whether it is the way people have behaved or the conditions or equipment that has been maintained.

How to increase reporting

The first step is to educate the workforce about the benefits of reporting. This provides context and increases awareness about why reports matter. However, the single most effective measure is creating trust in the workforce: trust in management and the process that, once reported, things will change for the better and hazards will be removed. 

This can happen only if management, supervisors and occupational health and safety committee members take every report seriously and meticulously address the issues. Acting promptly goes a long way in reassuring the workforce that their reporting efforts are not wasted.

The education provided should also note that reporting is not “spying” or “blaming.” This message must be backed by actions (or no actions) by management, to encourage and recognize those who report. Recognition could be in the form of a simple “pat on the back,” a mention during the safety meeting or even establishing an award program to recognize the efforts to report and the quality of reporting.

Trust is a major motivating factor. Making reporting easy and convenient also helps a lot. A simple reporting form where minimal information is needed is helpful. Once workforce trust is earned, it is easier to get “reporting” into the culture of the organization and part of everyday work habits.  

Create a safe workplace

When a hazard is seen, resolving it in the best possible manner is only the first step. It is just as important to follow with the second step: reporting it so others are aware and benefit as well. Spread the news around to help everyone create a safe workplace!