Kevin Ian Schmidt

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.

Check Out: Incident Report Writing Guide

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.

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