Kevin Ian Schmidt
how to write effective incident reports

Incident Report Writing Guide

Objectivity is vital when writing a report. A judge or investigator probably won’t dismiss the validity of a report if you’ve made a grammatical mistake. But if your report lacks objectivity, it may be viewed as a document full of opinion over facts.

Providing specific details is the key to writing an objective report.  When you arrive at a scene or conduct an interview, descriptive words immediately come to mind: suspicious, inebriated, aggressive, disoriented, and similar words.

But professional report writing practices require you to omit these categories and conclusions. You state only facts and details, leaving it to your reader to draw conclusions.

These requirements seem to defy common sense–but there are good reasons for them. Facts and details:

  • Facilitate follow-up investigations: Recording exactly what a witness or involved party says can be a huge help to anyone reading the report.
  • Prevent challenges: People can’t argue that you jumped to conclusions if you list the behaviors and actions that preceded the incident.
  • Avoid embarrassment: If you announce in a report a definitive list of actions based upon opinions and witness testimonies, a defense attorney or insurance reviewer might point out errors in your reasoning. Just state the fact: describe the scene(include pictures/video when possible), describe the incident exactly, describe any injuries.
Check Out: Ten Safety Tips at Work
Here’s a comparison of generalizations you should avoid and details you could use instead:

  • confused (Better: could not state location or details clearly)
  • afraid (Better: whispered the answers to my questions, hands were shaking)
  • reckless (Better: driving too fast for conditions, crossed into pedestrian walkpath)
  • careless(Better: sign posted for team lift, employee picked it up alone)

While you’re thinking about objectivity, it’s important to be aware of some myths about reports. Writing in third person instead of “I” does not guarantee objectivity. (If only it were that simple!)

Similar outdated expressions like “Victim 1” and “Witness 2” are equally useless. They create confusion and waste time, especially if you’re preparing for a court hearing six months after the incident occurred. Use real full names whenever possible.

What about objectionable language? Insensitive labels like “crazy,” “crippled,” and “lazy” don’t belong in a professional report, with one important exception: If you’re directly quoting an involved party or witness who used them. The same principle applies to obscenities and slang..

Following these guidelines testifies to your professionalism, and they can provide a valuable service to your companyn as well. Train yourself to observe, remember, and record exactly what you’ve seen and heard: That effort will pay off again and again in your criminal justice career.

 

Report Writing Checklist

1. Think about the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why. If you’re writing on paper, most of this information will go into your opening sentence. If you’re writing on a laptop or using a template, make sure you’ve filled in the spaces accurately and thoroughly.

2. Include full names and contact information for witnesses, victims, and suspects (if available). If you interview someone who may be important to the investigation, get a backup phone number, such as a relative, friend, or workplace. Many people change phone numbers frequently, and an alternative number can help solve a case.

Check Out: The Challenge of Employees to Report All Incidents

3. Include the results of each investigation you did: temperature measurements, distances, recreations, etc…. Omitting results is one of the most common mistakes that investigators make. Result: Confusion, wasted time, and sometimes a missed opportunity to solve or prosecute a case.

4. Start each sentence with a person, place, or thing UNLESS you have absolute confidence in your writing ability. Keeping sentences simple prevents a multitude of writing errors.

5. Avoid outdated report practices. Old-fashioned words like “abovementioned,” “ascertained,” and “respective” waste time and cause confusion when you’re preparing for a court hearing. For example, what did you mean when you said you “ascertained” something? A witness told you? You saw it? You came across a useful piece of evidence? Explain in detail.

The EHS Center has a Sample Accident Analysis Report

6. Clearly state who did what (in other words, use active voice). Contrary to popular belief, passive voice doesn’t magically make you honest, objective, or professional. Those are qualities you have to commit to and work on. Passive voice can create confusion if several officers are working a scene: Six months later, in court, are you going to remember who did what at the scene?

7. Make sure the disposition part of your report is complete: If you found useful evidence at the scene, did you thoroughly cover the chain of custody? Did you describe injuries in detail? What was the outcome for victims and suspects?

8. Avoid generalizations and hunches, which can open you up to challenges in a courtroom later. Statements like “I knew Harris was lying” and “Johnson seemed nervous” don’t belong in a professional report. Stick to factual descriptions: “Harris told me they were heading to Porter City, but his wife told me they were going to Hicksville.” “Johnson’s hands were shaking, and he looked over his shoulder 10 times in less than five minutes.”

9. Avoid slang and insensitive language unless you’re quoting someone’s exact words. Sexist language, vulgarities, and other unprofessional terminology can embarrass you if a district attorney, newspaper reporter, judge, or community leader reads your report.

Preventing Tech and Mechanic Injuries

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics injury and illness report, automotive techs and mechanics experience 13,150 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in valuable time away from work. Auto mechanics and technicians work with dangerous machinery, tools and chemicals, often in cramped spots, which puts them at greater risk for a workplace injury.

Just one workplace injury can have many negative repercussions beyond the employees’ injury.

For business owners, these could include higher wage replacement or medical costs, repairs to damaged equipment and increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums.  Business owners can help keep employees safe by understanding the common causes of auto shop accidents, providing regular training and requiring all staff to follow important safety procedures. There are many private organizations that can provide local on-site training and materials. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides comprehensive standards information online to help business owners keep employees safe and stay in compliance.

For injured employees, these could be the loss of wages or worse a life altering injury. Employees should also strive to work safely, and ask for guidance of tasks in which they are unsure on how to work safely. To get this buy-in from employees, it requires a strong safety culture built around reporting all issues, and hazard identification.

Below are the most common injuries and illnesses  mechanics and technicians experience at work, as well as practical steps to mitigate auto shop injuries:

  • Sprains, strains and tears. These are the leading injuries sustained by auto mechanics and auto technicians. Repetitive motions while working under the chassis or hood can increase the likelihood of a sprain or strain. Lifting and lowering machinery and heavy tools can also contribute to these types of injuries. A few minutes of morning warm-up exercises can make a big difference in the health and safety of workers.  Consider implementing a low-cost workplace stretch-and-flex program. These 10-minute, low-impact exercises can help reduce sprains, strains and tears.
Check Out: EHS Center – Safe Lifting and Carrying Training
  • Eye injuries. Each day, approximately 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a work-related eye injury that requires medical attention. Working under cars and hoods puts auto shop workers at particular risk for these kinds of injuries. The best way to prevent them is to make sure workers wear safety glasses at all times.
  • Chemical burns. Flammable and hazardous liquids and chemicals should be properly labeled following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Labels are required to have a pictogram; a signal word, like “danger”; hazard and precautionary statements; the product name and the supplier identification. They also need to include safety handling information and what to do in case of exposure. It’s also important to routinely check containers around the shop to make sure lids fit tightly and there is no spillage or leakage. Workers should wear protective gloves and glasses any time they handle chemicals.
Check Out: Hazard Communication Plan
  • Loss of limb or digit. Working with power tools like angle grinders and electric metal shears can increase the risk of losing a limb or digit. Train employees to always follow proper equipment operating instructions, keep guards in place and wear proper protective gear when working with power tools. Safely stow all tools when any job is complete, and conduct routine inspections to make sure tools are in safe operating condition.
Check Out: EHS Center – Hand and Power Tool Safety Plan
  • Slips, trips and falls.  Oil changes, transmission flushes and other routine vehicle maintenance procedures that involve slippery or greasy fluids can make the shop floor slick, increasing the risk of accidents. Make sure technicians wear close-toed, anti-skid footwear. Keep the floor clear and uncluttered and clean up spills as soon as they occur. Place cones or signage to warn workers of slick areas.
Check Out: EHS Center – Slip, Tri, and Fall Audit

By taking proactive steps to address potential workplace risks, auto shop owners can reduce the likelihood of an employee injury or illness and keep their businesses safer.

Ignoring Workplace Safety

Most companies put up safety information but the workers don’t believe in it. They walk into the lunch room or locker room and see safety information plastered all over the walls. The workers seem to ignore these signs as they fail to put on their safety glasses, don’t use their work gloves and play with chemicals like they were washing their car.
The worst part about this is that many companies don’t seem to care much about safety either. As managers and labor relations representatives walk through the shop floor they conveniently ignore violations. Thus people come to understand that safety really isn’t that important because the company doesn’t believe that safety is important.

The cost of workplace injuries every year is around 45 billion dollars. This doesn’t include any cost associated with unreported injuries or those injuries that develop over a lifetime(i.e. carpal tunnel). With the high cost of injuries the total cost of workman’s compensation can rise. As this cost rises it means that the company is losing revenue unnecessarily.

As managers and labor relations representatives ignore these problems they may also be putting themselves into a situation where they can be sued. For example, let us say that the proper OSHA training is not given, none of the safety procedures are enforced and people who violate these procedures do not receive discipline. It will be perceived as though the organization is being negligent and forgetful.

How to Improve Workplace Safety:

1.) Postings: Make sure that postings and safety instructions are listed within your workplace. You will also want to include emergency procedures that any employee is empowered to use if there is a serious injury.

2.) Training: Train your employees on how to handle equipment properly, put them through a safety classes, and give them basic first aid training. By doing this you are showing that you, as the employer, are being proactive with any future safety problems.

Check Out: 10 Reasons Why Safety Training is Often Ineffective

3.) Documentation: Keep excellent OSHA documentation so that you have a list of injuries. Make sure that this documentation is up to date and has enough information to be useful for tracking high risk areas within the building.

4.) Enforce the Policy: Employers have a responsibility to enforce the procedures as much as they possibly can. That means not ignoring the problem or letting the problem linger. Each and every time you fail to write up a person for not wearing their safety glasses you are risking a lawsuit.

Process Safety Management Basics

Unexpected releases of toxic, reactive, or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals have been reported for many years. Incidents continue to occur in various industries that use highly hazardous chemicals which may be toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive, or may exhibit a combination of these properties.

Regardless of the industry that uses these highly hazardous chemicals, there is a potential for an accidental release any time they are not properly controlled. This, in turn, creates the possibility of disaster.

Record Disasters

Several major disasters involving highly hazardous chemicals drew international attention to the potential for major catastrophes; the public record in the U.S. is replete with information concerning many other less notable releases of highly hazardous chemicals.

Hazardous chemical releases continue to pose a significant threat to employees and provide impetus, internationally and nationally, for authorities to develop or consider developing legislation and regulations to eliminate or minimize the potential for such events.

 

On July 17, 1990, the U.S. Dept. of Labor, OSHA issued the “Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals” (PSM) (29 CFR 1910.119), containing requirements for the management of hazards associated with processes using highly hazardous chemicals to help assure safe and healthful workplaces.

OSHA’s PSM standard emphasizes the management of hazards associated with highly hazardous chemicals and establishes a comprehensive management program that integrates technologies, procedures, and management practices.

The Clean Air Act Amendments and the PSM Standard

Shortly after the publication of OSHA’s proposed PSM standard, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) which contained revisions to the Clean Air Act of 1990.

Section 304 of the CAAA requires that the Secretary of Labor, in coordination with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), promulgate a PSM standard to prevent accidental releases of chemicals that could pose a threat to employees.

The CAAA also requires that the PSM standard include a list of highly hazardous chemicals which includes toxic, flammable, highly reactive, and explosive substances.

CAAA Requirements for the PSM Standard

The CAAA requires that the standard include a list of highly hazardous chemicals which includes toxic, flammable, highly reactive, and explosive substances. These requirements have become widely known as the “14 PSM Program Elements.

OSHA’s Final PSM Standard

The final PSM standard was promulgated in 1992 and requires the employer to incorporate each of the 14 key elements in a formal PSM program. The key provision of final PSM standard is process hazard analysis (PHA)—a careful review of what could go wrong and what safeguards must be implemented to prevent releases of hazardous chemicals. Employers must identify those processes that pose the greatest risks and begin evaluating those first.

PSM clarifies the responsibilities of employers and contractors involved in work that affects or takes place near hazardous processes to ensure that the safety of both plant and contractor employees is considered.

The standard also mandates written operating procedures; employee training; pre-startup safety reviews; evaluation of mechanical integrity of critical equipment; and written procedures for managing change. PSM specifies a permit system for hot work; investigation of incidents involving releases or near misses of covered chemicals; emergency, action plans; compliance audits at least every three years; and trade secret protection.

Benefits of an Effective PSM Program

Effective PSM helps ensure the proper development of plant systems and procedures to prevent unwanted releases which may ignite and cause toxic impacts, local fires, or explosions in plants and installations.

PSM can also improve:

  • the operability, productivity, stability, and quality of the outputs of hazardous chemical processes; and
  • the design and specification of safeguards against undesirable events.

Effective PSM results in tangible benefits such as reduced exposure to lawsuits, OSHA penalties, public liability claims, and hikes in workers compensation insurance premiums.

Other intangible benefits include higher morale, increased trust, and an improved corporate image – the community sees the company as a responsible corporate citizen.

The final PSM standard mainly applies to manufacturing industries – particularly, those pertaining to chemicals, transportation equipment, and fabricated metal products. Other affected sectors include natural gas liquids; farm product warehousing; electric, gas, and sanitary services; and wholesale trade. It also applies to pyrotechnics and explosives manufacturers covered under other OSHA rules and has special provisions for contractors working in covered facilities.

The various lines of defense incorporated into the design and operation of the PSM process should be evaluated and strengthened to make sure they are effective at each level. Process safety management is the proactive identification, evaluation and mitigation or prevention of chemical releases that could occur as a result of failures in processes, procedures, or equipment.

Check Out: Ignoring Workplace Safety

What is a “process?”

To understand PSM and its requirements, employers and employees need to understand how OSHA uses the term “process” in PSM.

  1. Any group of vessels which are interconnected, and
  2. Separate vessels which are located such that a highly hazardous chemical could be involved in a potential release

For purposes of this definition, any group of vessels that are interconnected, and separate vessels located in a way that could involve a highly hazardous chemical in a potential release, are considered a single process.

What industries does PSM focus on?

The process safety management standard targets highly hazardous chemicals that have the potential to cause a catastrophic incident.

OSHA’s standard applies mainly to manufacturing industries–particularly those pertaining to chemicals, transportation equipment, and fabricated metal products.

Other affected sectors include those involved with:

  • natural gas liquids
  • farm product warehousing
  • food processing
  • electric, gas, and sanitary services
  • wholesale trade
  • pyrotechnics and explosives manufacturers

It has special provisions for contractors working in covered facilities.

Who is Not Covered by the PSM Standard?

The PSM standard does not apply to the following:

  • retail facilities;
  • oil or gas well drilling or servicing operations;
  • normally unoccupied remote facilities;
  • hydrocarbon fuels used solely for workplace consumption as a fuel (e.g. propane used for comfort heating, gasoline for vehicle refueling), if such fuels are not a part of a process containing another highly hazardous chemical covered by this standard; and
  • flammable liquid stored in atmospheric tanks or transferred which are kept below their normal boiling point without benefit of chilling or refrigerating and are not connected to a process

To control these types of hazards, employers need to develop the necessary expertise, experience, judgment, and initiative within their work force to properly implement and maintain an effective process safety management program as envisioned in the OSHA PSM standard

 

The Challenge of Employees to Report All Safety Incidents

Incident reporting is a vital component of creating a safer workplace. For the purpose of this article, an incident is any event which results in plant and equipment damage, injury or a “near hit.” The organization can only learn and change when there is a culture of full reporting. Prevention can only take place when there is sufficient knowledge to introduce change to the circumstances which created the incident. The importance of “near miss” cannot be emphasized enough. It is this behavior or the circumstances that are the precursor of an event causing loss.

Getting employees to report all incidents can be quite challenging. Plenty of companies have rules and policies that require the reporting of every single incident. The employee are clearly informed that they have been told and told frequently that accidents and incidents must be reported.

They are told that if they fail to report an accident or an incident, they will lose their job or be punished in some way. The threat of punishment is designed to make them comply with the rule. This creates a problem with the consequences of reporting an incident. The employees believe that reporting an incident will end up in a witch hunt so that blame can be apportioned. T

This is why it is so hard to get people to report incidents consistently and frequently.

The consequences if they don’t report are severe and the consequences if they do report may potentially be even worse. Given these choices is clear that by not reporting they have a better chance of avoiding consequences. When there is a system of reporting, maintaining it is just as difficult. Getting people to report depends on two major factors.

Firstly, it must be easy for them to report.

Secondly, work must be carried out to minimize anxiety.

Making it easy for people to report means that reporting forms are easy to find and accessible at all times. The design of the report must be simple and easy to complete either in a hard copy form or online. The questions must be set up in a logical fashion and pass the common sense test. This is a true system whether using paper forms or an online reporting system.

Check out this simple accident reporting form over at the EHS Center

When the system of reporting is installed there will be considerable anxiety until people are reassured by the consequences over a period of time. Initial anxiety can include, what will happen to the report? Who will see it? Am I damaging my career or career of others by submitting the report? Will I be subject to legal action if I report an incident?

To counter that anxiety, it is important that there is a written policy clearly explaining to everybody in the organization everything they should know about reporting. The policy should include what the consequences of reporting could be, what obligations people have to report, what rights and privileges they have and what protection they may expect. Without a written policy, uncertainty will prevail, and with uncertainty, reporting will be minimized.

Remove the Risk and Create the Right Environment For Incident Reporting

When the company safety culture encourages reporting using positive reinforcement, the rate of reporting increases. The people who are reporting the incidents are certain that they will not be blamed or punished because of their errors of judgment or mistakes. When this environment prevails, the staff within the organization understand that they can benefit much more by learning from the mistakes that have been made rather than being subjected to blame.

In most organizations, people do not feel that they can safely report incidents because reporting them can carry with it an element of risk. The risk lies in the possible consequences initiated by the supervisor, the manager, as well as the organization. People will be reluctant to report when they are unaware of their rights and obligations. There is also a sense of nervousness regarding the information being used outside the organization. When people feel this way, they will actively avoid reporting. These fears and doubts have to be eliminated to create the correct environment for incident reporting. Not only does it have to be said but also practiced because people will believe and trust the behavior before they believe the words.

The reasons why reporting is so difficult to initiate are deeply embedded in the culture of the organization. This is why the organization must develop a consistent approach to the consequences of reporting. People avoid reporting not because they’re dishonest but because they simply don’t know the consequences of reporting, so they are uneasy about these unknown consequences. The organization and its management must be consistent in setting down what the consequences are for reporting and then stick to them.

The other barrier to comprehensive reporting is that the people know the consequences and believe that there is no point in reporting because the organization will not respond.

For the organization that is intent on creating a safer workplace, there is some serious work to be done in creating an environment which encourages people to report incidents. They have to make clear what the procedures and rules for reporting entail, the reporter’s rights and obligations and how the reporter will be protected when they report.

Check Out: Tips to Improve Accident Reporting

Punishment is an Ineffective Leadership Strategy

The measure of a leader is their ability to create an environment where followers produce their discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is probably best described as, “The behavior that a person chooses to do, but they wouldn’t be punished if they didn’t.” Without a doubt, it has been clearly established that discretionary effort is the outcome of positive reinforcement and never punishment. This means that the organization that uses punishment will never achieve significant levels of discretionary effort from their staff. From a leadership point of view, punishment is counterproductive, yet it can be seen every day in the workplace.

One of the byproducts of punishment is that the workplace behavior becomes less stable and predictable. On the other hand, positive reinforcement will create stable and predictable patterns of behavior. Look at your organization. During the goal setting process is negative reinforcement factor? If it is, any improvement or development will be limited to the goal. Just enough to avoid any negative reinforcement. The logic is inescapable. Positive reinforcement must be the preferred consequence in business for the simple reason that it is the only consequence that produces discretionary effort. Negative reinforcement has some unpleasant and unwelcome side effects. When it is used to as the predominant consequence, things start to go wrong. Absenteeism increases, staff turnover increases, disputes increase, blame becomes endemic and morale sinks.

When you look at the two methods of reinforcement, either positive or negative, it’s clear that the way to achieve anything is the use of positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Regrettably, negative reinforcement is by far the most common method of delivering consequences in today’s workplace. The majority of managers and leaders don’t know they are doing it. Groups that are managed by negative reinforcement, don’t say anything in case there is some form of retribution. Often, they won’t even give their opinion anonymously for the same reason.

Frequently, leaders may think that because they have very few face-to-face interactions with their teams, that they can’t possibly be negatively reinforcing them. Unfortunately, when there is no active, frequent and consistent positive reinforcement the effect is the same as constant and consistent negative reinforcement. This is how the group members perceive the way that they are being treated. The neglect of positive reinforcement creates negative reinforcement. This is clearly shown by the person in a leadership position who says, “You get on with the job and you will only hear from me if it goes wrong.” Obviously, this will not generate any discretionary effort and the person doing the job will take no risks, use no creative methods and to the barest minimum. This is obviously not very good formula for high performance.

The Seven Biggest Opportunities for Cost Savings in a Supply Chain

Within supply chains there are areas that some would call the “seven deadly sins” (according to quite a few articles I have read), but I would prefer to see these as cost saving and improvement opportunities that would make a supply chain more competitive. They are in short the ability to reduce overproduction, the ability to eliminate delays or waiting times, the ability to cut out any form of unnecessary transportation, the ability to reduce any kind of motion that people engage in that is unnecessary, the ability to reduce inventory, the ability to optimize the use of space and the ability to minimize the corrections needed or returns handled.

7 Biggest Opportunities for Cost Savings in a Supply Chain

  • Mismatched processes. Within an overall process, such as order supplies and produce finished goods, there may be several different processes, such as the supplier’s own process to deliver, the reception and stocking process within the client enterprise, and so on. If the end of one process does not dovetail with the beginning of the next one, there may be interruption and duplication of work, both of which increase costs. For example, if a supplier’s product codes or pallet sizes do not match those used by the enterprise, products will have to be recoded and reorganised. In the consumer packaged goods sector, this problem is big enough to have prompted the use of collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment (CPFR) between manufacturers and retailers. The same idea can be applied in other sectors too.
  • Streamline Ordering Process: You need to make your ordering process as efficient as possible. This means at least a couple of things. Use a single software package for completing requisitions or else you might encounter situations where employees using different applications end up ordering too much of specific products or inventory supplies. Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to implement an approval process so that nothing gets ordered without the consent of designated officials.
  • Transportation: Reducing your transportation costs can also boost your supply chain savings. Developing a transportation strategy allows you to consider multiple factors that could lead to reduced costs including, but not limited to, crowdsourced P2P transportation services, in-house product movement via drone, and on-demand shipping container services. From autonomous semi-trucks to warehouse robots, the world of transportation is changing. The more you pay attention to each aspect of your transportation strategy, the better positioned you are to discover cost-saving opportunities.
Check Out: Basics of Warehouse Safety
  • Outsourcing:Outsourcing is one option you can consider if you want to reduce supply chain costs. Of course, you’ll need to conduct proper due diligence to ascertain whether or not service providers under consideration have the ability to provide enough of a productivity and efficiency benefit to justify your out-of-pocket expenses for such services. Under the right set of circumstances, an outsourcing arrangement can lead to substantial savings and a property functioning supply chain.
  • Inventory Management: A well-honed inventory management strategy is crucial for decreased supply chain costs. Everything from incorrect stock picks and tracking errors to under-stocking and over-stocking can influence warehouse profits. A sound inventory management strategy includes multiple factors like a procurement plan and failure analysis (for when the inevitable mistakes happen). Without a clear plan in place for each aspect of inventory handling, you can’t spot inefficiencies or uncover potential cost savings. From preventing product theft to drop-shipping partnerships, each aspect of your inventory supply chain needs to be examined.
  • Make Better Use of Space: Making the most of the space you have will save you money at the end of the day. As you no doubt already know, storing inventory and supplies in your warehouse comes at a cost. Assess whether or not you’re making the most of the space you have. You just might discover that you could save some money by finding a space that’s more in line with your actual needs.
  • Supplier Management: If there is a cost that is almost immeasurable, it is when your supplier is unexpectedly unable to deliver. By working more closely with them and their systems, you can see the drop-outs before they happen and take steps to manage your lead times.
        • Use Multiple Suppliers: If you only use one supplier, you are eliminating competition for your orders. Find several suppliers who can compete on price, and use several of them at all times so you can avoid costly delays in receiving products. If one supplier is out, another may have the items. Using multiple suppliers protects you from spending money for less-than-satisfactory service.

There are a myriad of opportunities. Those astute enough can employ techniques to cut all the wasteful practices and emerge as market leaders. It takes conscientious monitoring and management of your supply chain though.

Basics of Warehouse Safety

Warehousing is an industry with a wide scope of challenges and risks that necessitate a safety culture to prevent incidents. Every warehouse is unique in its layout, equipment and operation as such, for this article I will outline the major areas of risk and the broad brush management strategy required to help make the work and business safer.

WAREHOUSE SAFETY TIPS

TRAFFIC:

One of the most common activities in a warehouse environment, that presents the greatest exposure to risk, is foot traffic, this simple activity becomes more hazardous when you factor in machinery, conveyor systems, and powered equipment.

Having a quality setup to keep pedestrians safe is as simple as planning walk routes, marking walk routes, and providing guardrails in high hazard areas.

Tips to keep pedestrians safe in a warehouse

  • Be aware that forklifts do not stop suddenly. They are designed to stop slowly in order to minimize load damage and to maintain stability.
  • The best way to avoid a run-in, you should always stand clear of lift trucks in operation.
  • Remember, forklift drivers might have limited visibility due to blind spots.
  • Always use pedestrian walkways, or stay to one side of the equipment.
  • When possible, you should make eye contact with the forklift driver.
  • Clearly marked walkways: Identifying separate paths of travel for pedestrians as well as forklifts can help to improve traffic flow and reduce the likelihood of both being in the same location at the same time. Physically separating these paths using railings or barriers adds an extra level of separation. While this separation is ideal, it cannot always be attained. When forklift and pedestrian paths are shared, make sure there is adequate walking space on the side of forklift lanes and walkway striping on the floor.
  • Audio/visual indicators: Clear signage should be used as necessary to indicate the operation of powered industrial equipment or other hazards as necessary. In some cases, audible warnings may be more effective depending on the noise level and conditions of the surrounding environment.

HOUSEKEEPING:

Good housekeeping is essential for maintaining safety in warehouse environments, especially in reducing hazards for pedestrians:

  • Ensure waste is collected and removed – plastic, pallets etc. all create trip hazards, block fire doors and allow fire risks to increase.
  • Ensure that banding is cut and discarded into waste bins.

POWERED INDUSTRIAL TRUCKS:

To maintain a high level of safety in a warehouse environment, proper procedures for forklifts are of the utmost importance.

Check Out: Safety Standards for Forklift Programs

  • All operators must be trained, in many countries this is a legal requirement, and competent. The training must be for the specific type of fork lift truck.
  • The truck themselves must be maintained and must be checked/certificated by a competent person each year.
  • The safe operation methods of the Fork Lift Truck must be adhered to by the driver.
  • The work area must be tidy and level/even.
  • Unless a specific man cage is available people must not be raised on forks.

HEIGHTS:

Many warehouses operate mezzanine floors – these may have gates/doors to allow loads to be lifted via fork lift truck.

  • All such areas must have adequate safety barriers and kick boards
  • Where openings exist for fork lift trucks to move pallets between levels a safe system of work and specifically designed gates are required to ensure the heights are guarded and safe at all times
  • Where pallets are stacked near the edge the pallets must be shrink wrapped – it may also be useful to extend the safety barrier to a greater height to ensure that stacks cannot fall onto the lower level.

The EHS Center has components of a powered equipment program available for free, check out what is available

STACKS:

  • Ensure all staff are trained
  • Ensure that supervisors check all stacks frequently
  • High stacks should be shrink wrapped and tied as required.
  • No person should climb a stack or shelving.

FIRE SAFETY:

The nature of goods being handled, the age of the warehouse, the fire protection in place and other factors all impact on the fire risks of a warehouse. However we can generally say that to reduce risks:

  • Ensure supervisors inspect their area regularly – fire exits and fire lanes must be kept clear.
  • Ensure you undertake regular fire drills
  • Ensure that emergency lighting is correctly positioned – is it blocked by high stacks/shelving.
  • Ensure that fire exit signage is clear and visible – the nature of warehouses means that exit signs frequently become obscured. Consider high level signage or floor paint.

A Fire Prevention plan is a solid component of a fire safety program, learn more here

GENERAL SAFETY:

  • The company should have a clear safety policy
  • The company should have proper hazard assessments for all their work activities
  • Regular safety inspections are conducted, whether internally or by an outside contractor.

The range of issues within a warehouse can include many other factors – security concerns in bonded warehouses can impact on emergency measures, fuel is generally used and may need safe systems of work developing, equipment such as break pits, roller trays may reduce some of the work risks but do introduce new risks into the workplace that will require safety systems and training.

Check Out: How to Put together a Workplace Safety Training Workshop

It is essential that traffic risks are managed; the following pathway highlights the main controls:

  • Attempt to remove blind spots such as sharp corners or doors that exit not roadways. Use pedestrian barriers near to doors and main staff walkways to physically separate people and vehicles where possible.
  • Clearly mark any pedestrian walkways for operational needs within the yard and warehouse floor – use zebra crossings where people will cross vehicle routes
  • Where vehicle routes narrow or there are entrances to the warehouse ensure people and vehicles are separated. Use a pedestrian entrance and a vehicle entrance – these are high risk spots.
  • Ensure lighting is adequate.
  • All entrances to the operational area should have warning signs for moving vehicles and fork lift trucks operating.
  • Site speed limits should be displayed and enforced.
  • Use a traffic management system – ideally a one way route especially in the yard.
  • Ensure all staff and visitors wear high visibility jackets in areas where vehicles are moving – this includes the main warehouse due to fork lift trucks.
  • Ensure all vehicles are maintained, that owned trucks and vans have alarms when going in reverse and that warning lights are working
Check Out: Establishing a Safety Committee

 

MANUAL HANDLING:

Ensure that work is assessed to reduce risks such as twisting, repetitive handling by design and by providing suitable equipment. Equally safe level work areas, adequate benches, adequate lighting can all improve the safety of manual handling tasks.

Ensure all staff are suitably trained in manual handling tasks

The dock doors are a very high risk area – ensure you develop a full safe system of work for this area, ideally keeping people away from the area due to the risks from reversing vehicles with escape areas.

What To Include In A COOP Plan

COOP (Continuity of Operations Planning) is a United States Federal initiative, required by Presidential directive, to ensure that government agencies are able to continue performing essential functions under a broad range of emergency circumstances. However, COOP planning isn’t just for the government. Any organization that must provide for the health and safety of others in an emergency situation should have a COOP plan in place. Read on to learn what to include in a COOP plan.

A COOP plan addresses emergencies from an all-hazards approach. The COOP plan should develop procedures for alerting, notifying, activating and deploying employees; identify mission essential functions; establish an alternate facility; and, roster personnel with authority and knowledge of functions.

The following components are what to include in a COOP plan:

Mission Essential Functions

Identifying mission essential functions is the foundation from which all other components of the plan are developed. Any function not deemed to be essential should be deferred until additional personnel and/or resources become available.

Orders of Succession and Delegation of Authority

Decide who’s in charge in case of an emergency, and identify orders of succession for agency heads and other key leaders. Ensure that those identified are prepared to perform emergency duties.

Interoperable Communications

How can you get in touch with agency personnel, clients, and the community? Consideration should be given to the full spectrum of technological advances now available for communication, including landlines, cellular, emergency satellite Internet, wireless, e-mail, radio, rally points, etc.

Check Out: Emergency Response Plan Best Practices

Vital Records and Databases

The Continuity of Operations plan should account for the identification and protection of vital records and databases at primary and alternate facilities. To the extent possible, agencies should provide for off-site storage of duplicate records, off-site back up or electronic records and databases, and pre-positioning of vital records and databases at the alternate facility. A common solution is co-locating your server on a private network.

Facility Preparation

Prepare all furniture, appliances and other free-standing objects so that they are adequately secured. Clearly mark gas and water shut-off valves and post legible instructions on how to shut off each one; keep a set of tools handy to facilitate prompt gas shut-off. List clear directions on accessing your emergency communication tools such as mobile satellite Internet service which can go with you anywhere to provide a vital communications link to emergency services and outside information.

Check Out: Emergency Action Plan Checklist

Alternate Facilities

The Continuity of Operations plan should designate an alternate operating facility with sufficient space, equipment, infrastructure systems, and logistical support to maintain operations for up to 30 days. Physical security and personnel access control measures should be taken into account.

Training, Testing, and COOP Plan Maintenance

Your Continuity of Operations plan is not any good if your staff is not familiar with it. Be sure to train on your plan and test it out (and implement revisions as necessary). Review your COOP plan at least annually to incorporate new technologies, procedures, contact information, etc.

Tips for Improving the Reporting of Accidents

It is important that all workplaces have an effective method of reporting accidents for a number of reasons – severe accidents will need to be reported by law to the relevant agency such as OSHA; accident reports are usually a key fact in Insurance claims and insurance matters; but most of all to help prevent future accidents by understanding what are the primary drivers of accidents at your workplace and the nature/severity of the accidents you experience.

It is important that all accidents are reported and recorded not just the most severe accidents – all the research done over the years shows us that the accidents with major injuries were usually predictable if we look at the less serious injuries caused by similar factors – near misses and minor injuries probably account for over 80-90% of all accidents, accidents requiring basic first aid another 8-9%; the more severe accidents where people take time off or are badly injured account for around 1-3% of all accidents – thus if we wait for that tiny percentage to happen we’ll never succeed in reducing accidents at work.

The subject of accident reporting is quite complex and has many factors; but key reasons for not reporting accidents are:

  • The form takes forever to complete
  • “I don’t want to get into trouble for reporting things”
  • “There’s no point; no one ever does anything about them”
  • “I have no idea where the forms are”
  • “It was only a scratch. I’m not filling a form in for that”

Simplified Forms & Reporting Systems

No one will deny that there are times you need a lot of information to understand how an accident occurred and how to prevent future ones – but many can be described in a sentence or two.

Employees and Managers should be able to report most accidents in a matter of minutes – any form that takes more than this to complete is far too complex and will unintentionally discourage reporting.

Equally it’s easy to get obsessed with forms – but as more workplaces give access to employees for computers, a simple dynamic form that allows for simpler reporting of minor incidents such as near misses or dangerous conditions, and a growing form for a minor injury, and a larger online form for more severe injuries. These allow employees wishing to report simple incidents to do so in a matter of minutes, and also for data collection to be tracked digitally to build a better system of analysis.

Check Out: Incident Report Writing Guide

Understanding Why and Encouraging

If employees think the forms go in a big pile, that its simply about statistics, that issues aren’t fixed they will not report accidents; equally they will not report minor incidents because they don’t always realize that information can save a bigger accident down the line.

So it’s important that in safety orientations the need to report accidents is stressed, that accident reports are acted upon if solutions are possible -if there isn’t a solution today at least make sure people know you’re thinking about it and obviously that accident reports don’t lead to reprimands as a matter of course.

Helping the staff see that reporting low consequence accidents today can save their colleague pain down the line is often enough on its own to help encourage reporting.

Accessible

Life changes quickly; 20 years ago this was all about having forms on the wall or on the desk – now it’s often about finding them quickly on the Intranet.

Recognize how and where your staff work – find a solution that suits – web based answers are perfect for office staff – yet old fashioned paper is probably required in a workshop where they can be grabbed quickly.

But make them simple to find ideally visible to everyone all the time.

If you’re opting for an online form, make sure it is accessible to everyone! The more peope that can fill out reports, the better chance for more reports.

Understand the Information

Employers need to be careful they understand the reports – not just in terms of what they can physically improve but also what the information tells you in terms of patterns. Accident statistics have a very poor reputation for the simple reason they avoid every statistical technique known – raw numbers shouldn’t be discounted but make sure you understand what it tells you.

Risk Assessments

Always review your risk assessments – was the accident in question accepted as a potential risk, are the controls in the risk assessment actually in place, is the risk assessment actually workable – or is the risk assessment idealistic and unworkable – and indeed do we need to review the risk assessment.

Check Out: How to Complete a Risk Assessment

Self Review

To work out how effective your accident reporting is there’s some simple questions to which the correct answer better be obvious:

  • Do you have at least 8 times the number of near misses and minor cuts etc as accidents requiring first aid?
  • Do you have at least 8 times as many first aid and low consequence accidents reported compared to accidents that break bones or require staff to have time off work?
  • Does the form take more than 2 minutes to complete for a simple accident?
  • Has any accident report led to a change in the workplace?

How to Put Together a Workplace Safety Training Workshop

Putting on a workplace safety training workshop is a great way to prepare your employees for an emergency situation. This training workshop will need to include both general safety training for your industry, as well as specific safety training for hazards that directly impact your company, job sector, location. These training workshops need to be given to all of your employees, however, you can offer several sessions to make the group size more manageable.

5 Steps to a Successful Safety Training Workshop

classroom safety trainingStep #1 – Determine What General Safety Issues to Deal With

The first step is to determine what general safety procedures you want to teach your employees about. Common safety issues include medical emergencies, building security and fire emergencies. A good way to handle these training needs is to bring in a professional for each type of general safety issue. For example, you can bring in an instructor to teach employees CPR and general first aid, you can have the fire department put on a demonstration about fire safety and you can have your security company come in to teach your employees how to use the security system and how to stay safe.

Step #2 – Determine Hazard Specific Issues to Teach

The next step is to determine company specific hazards to deal with in your training workshop. For example, if your company works with hazardous materials like chemicals, then you will need to include an OSHA standards training segment that deals with the proper handling and safety protocols for chemicals. On the other hand, if you utilize heavy machinery, then you will want to include a segment on proper use of machinery, safety precautions for machine use and what to do if a body part or a foreign object gets caught in the machine.

Read: 10 Reasons Why Safety Training is Often Ineffective

Step #3 – Scheduling Concerns

After you have the format and topics of your workplace safety training workshops in place, your next step is to figure out how to set up the schedule. If you only have a few safety issues to cover then you can schedule one long workshop, however, if there are a lot of safety issues to cover then you will want to divide the issues into several workshops. Another scheduling concern you need to figure out is how to get all of your employees to attend the workshops without leaving your business unsupervised. You have a couple of options. Your first option is to schedule several repeat workshops that allow employees to be scheduled to attend the workshop in groups. Your second option is to hold one workshop for all employees on a day when the business is closed.

Step #4 – Put Together Your Training Materials

You need to put together training material for the workshop. This material will include instructions for responding to and managing specific safety issues, general information about each safety issue and a quiz. The material needs to be organized in a binder or folder, and one set of training materials needs to be published for each employee.

The EHS Center has FREE pre-made trainings

Step #5 – Testing Your Employees

To ensure your employees have mastered the safety strategies in each segment of your training workshop you need to test them. A simple multiple choice quiz at the end of each segment is sufficient. After passing all of the quizzes you can award each employee with a certificate of completion.