Documenting Small Safety Incidents Key to Preventing Major Ones

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Studies show that for every major workplace injury or fatality, there are nearly 10 minor injuries – and more than 30 accidents that lead to property damage. Capturing data even on minor safety incidents can be critical in informing efforts to prevent much greater dangers in the future. This item sets out the areas on which management should focus its efforts in this regard.

Studies show that for every major workplace injury or fatality, there are nearly 10 minor injuries – and more than 30 accidents that lead to property damage.

Capturing data even on minor incidents that may seem trivial in isolation can be critical in informing efforts to prevent much greater dangers in the future. A big part of that effort involves ensuring businesses maintain a complete set of data.

Managers at all levels should focus on solid and thorough documentation. Here is where management’s main effort should be concentrated:

Don’t ignore minor incidents. Document all of them. Even if you have avoided injuries and severe property damage so far, keeping careful records may provide critical risk management insights – and enable managers to take action to prevent accidents before they occur.

Identify patterns. Do minor incidents seem to happen in the same area? Involve the same or similar machinery? Are they in the same department or under the same manager? Careful record-keeping is a valuable tool for identifying patterns.

Discourage presenteeism. Workers who come to work sick may be taking medications that increase the risk of incidents. Workers are not robots: Sick or distracted workers may make serious or deadly mistakes. To prevent this, have a sustainable sick day policy and encourage workers to take time off when needed – especially in dangerous occupations.

Encourage reporting. Studies have shown that the vast majority of minor incidents are not properly reported or recorded.

One study found that 85% of workers told researchers they had experienced work-related symptoms, 50% had experienced persistent work-related medical symptoms and 30% reported they had lost time from an incident or from a repetitive motion injury – yet only 5% of workers told researchers they had formally reported any of these incidents.

When asked why they didn’t report safety incidents, workers cited a number of reasons:

  • Fear of reprisal
  • Poor management response to prior reports
  • Fear of losing their job or being transferred to a less desirable position
  • Belief that pain or another medical symptom was a normal consequence of work activity or ageing.

Maintain OSHA-required injury logs. By federal law, most employers must maintain the following safety documents:

  • OSHA Form 300 – Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses
  • OSHA Form 300A – Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses
  • OSHA Form 301 – Injury and Illness Incident Report

Employers with 10 or fewer employees at all times during the preceding calendar year are exempt from the federal requirement, though many states may impose more stringent requirements.

Record near misses. Often, near misses – in which property damage, injury or fatality were narrowly avoided – can provide data that’s just as valuable as for incidents resulting in actual damages or injuries. This information can prove vital to informing prevention efforts.

Perhaps most importantly, carefully documenting all safety incidents and near misses, however minor, may help establish a culture of safety throughout the organization.


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