What Is Safety Incident Management and Why Does It Matter?
14 February 2023 - Evotix
Today, workplace accidents still occur all too frequently. In North America alone, 2022 saw 2.6 million reported workplace accidents and illnesses. There are many reasons for workplace incidents to happen within, and outside of an organization’s control. Regardless of whether a workplace incident can be attributed to a random force of nature or an internal procedural failure, most workplace incidents are indeed avoidable. It’s up to each organization to understand its unique risks and ensure it’s as prepared as possible for incidents. That way, operations aren’t disrupted as incident investigations are carried out.
The best way for organizations to prepare for incidents is through safety incident management. Incident management is the process of identifying, reporting, tracking, correcting, mitigating and analyzing potential incidents across the workplace. Below, we’ll take a deeper dive into the different aspects of incident management and why it's vital for maintaining safe and effective operations.
What exactly is an incident?
An incident is an event that occur while someone is carrying out their work duties, that either resulted in, or could’ve resulted in, injury, illness or damage to property. ‘Incident’ is, deliberately, quite a broad definition. An incident could include an accident, where the event did cause injury. On the other hand, an incident could be a near miss - an event that although didn’t cause harm to anyone, had the potential to cause harm. This could include an occurrence where a warehouse worker slipped on a wet factory floor but managed to catch their balance.
Near misses are included within the definition of an incident because they often act as indicators that your organization’s operations aren’t meeting expectations. Whether a worker failed to follow a safety procedure properly or a control measure failed, it’s important to keep tabs on these occurrences to prevent them from turning into more serious incidents.
Why is effective incident management so vital?
Finely tuning how you manage incidents as an organization is a key part of keeping your health and safety processes effective. Without a visible incident management mechanism, hazards are likely to go unreported by employees, meaning incidents could occur unmitigated while the reporting of these incidents wouldn’t occur at all. This leaves room for a myriad of other incidents to disrupt your operations.
Having an effective incident management system in place also helps health and safety professionals work in accordance with OSHA regulations. There are additional actions that should, however, be taken to ensure OSHA guidelines are honored. This could include required staff training after an incident to emphasize what regulation was ignored or carried out inadequately. An example of this could be the proper wearing of ear protection when operating loud machinery.
Organizations that don’t take incident management seriously also risk losing the confidence of their employees. If there’s an overwhelming belief among employees that your organization isn’t managing incidents adequately, you’re likely to see a decline in employee morale, which will be detrimental to your production levels. A 2021 BetterUp report found a direct correlation between organizations that make efforts to improve their employees’ psychological safety and high employee engagement levels. In fact, organizations that put work into making their employees feel safe can see a 3.4x increase in productivity – so it’s also in your company’s financial interest to prioritize incident management.
The incident management process
A strong incident management process requires several steps to be carefully followed to maintain a safe workplace and prevent hazards from occurring. These steps are:
1. Identify hazards
Identifying the hazards present is the very first act a safety professional should do when surveying an area. It’s important to understand exactly what factors caused the incident that occurred, whether it was an oil spillage that caused a slip or a loose electric cable that could’ve sparked and injured someone.
2. Report the incident
The next step in the incident management process is to report the incident that’s taken place. This includes filing a report whereby the employee (or employees) who were involved in the incident recall what equipment or tools were used. The report also includes when and where the incident took place, who was present when it took place and what injuries, if any, occurred.
In the case of a near miss, the report might simply comprise of a short statement but will, nonetheless, prove valuable when it comes to helping your organization stay on top of its safety processes.
Next, with the data included in the incident report, an investigation must be carried out to gather even more information around how and why the incident happened. The investigation’s conclusion should include a list of recommended actions that should be taken in the future. This should then be circulated to your team so they’re made aware of what measures should be implemented to ensure this incident isn’t repeated.
4. Take action
Once the cause of the incident has been determined, the appropriate actions must be put in place to mitigate its impact and prevent a similar event from happening again. These come in the form of corrective and preventative actions.
Corrective actions are those that are taken after an incident has already taken place to eliminate the root cause of the problem, preventing similar incidents from occurring again. If a fire has taken place due to old electrical wiring on a factory floor, a corrective measure would be to fix the wiring to decrease the chance of another fire. On the other hand, preventative actions are taken to prevent incidents before they happen. The best way to identify the most important preventative actions is by conducting regular inspections and encouraging frequent hazard reporting amongst employees. This will help you stay on top of the most pressing safety concerns for your organization at any given time.
5. Analyze what’s happened
This step provides an opportunity for safety managers to assess what factors led to the incident and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Such measures could include staff training, more regular risk assessments and more robust hazard reporting and analysis amongst employees. We’d also highly recommend putting a mechanism in place where you can easily review incident trends, so you can be more proactive when it comes to recurring or arising risks.
6. Document findings
Noting down the findings of an incident is the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to wrapping up the incident management process. This information proves super valuable for safety professionals later on down the line, as it provides an understanding of what actions have previously been carried out and are required to ensure compliance with OSHA guidelines. Having a clear record of incident findings also suggests that you understand the incident and how it occurred, as well as the steps to follow to ensure the same incident doesn’t occur again.
How to improve your approach to incidents
With a seemingly endless range of safety hazards and the sheer amount of OSHA guidelines governing how to mitigate them, it’s important that, as a business, you’re proactive in your approach to refining your incident management program.
We’ve identified four main ways in which you can adapt your approach and maintain a safe workplace for your employees:
1. Get better at communication
Open communication is key across all aspects of an organization to improve operations, but instant communication is of particular importance when it comes to safety. If you want to improve how you respond to incidents, we recommend putting a system in place that enables employees to communicate information about an incident that’s occurred in the workplace, as soon as it’s happened. This mechanism would also ideally send an alert to employees, informing them of what’s happened, so they can act accordingly to protect themselves and others.
2. Conduct regular audits and inspections
It’s one thing to act on an incident that’s just occurred in the workplace, and it’s an entirely different thing to get to the bottom of why that incident happened and if it’s likely to take place again. By performing regular audits and inspections, senior leaders can gain a deeper understanding of the top safety concerns impacting their organization. Sharing these findings with the rest of the team will also prove effective in creating more visibility around the organization’s most current health and safety priorities, as well as the individual role each employee can play in maintaining a safe workplace.
3. Invest time in valuable staff training
According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace survey, only 15% of employees are engaged at work. Lack of overall concentration can be detrimental to a business’s operations – especially when its activity is based on operating heavy machinery or working from heights. A lack of engagement or awareness around how to safely carry out these tasks is what leads to accidents – so the best way to tackle this problem is through a more robust staff training program.
By implementing mandatory workshops around the key safety policies and procedures of your company, as well as introducing training for the use of tools or machinery involved in day-to-day tasks, you’ll expand your employee’s awareness of safe working practices, boosting engagement levels and decreasing the likelihood of incidents.
4. Use software to streamline the process
Most of the steps listed above can be streamlined with the use of software. By incorporating software into your safety incident management process, you can make use of automated tools that enable employees to easily report and document incidents as and when they occur, ensuring that none go unreported.
Some incident reporting and management software also enables organizations to review the results of incident reports and share them across their teams. This helps create an environment where employees feel confident that their concerns are being taken seriously, making them more likely to follow the incident management process you’ve put in place and, ultimately, contribute to the healthy growth of your business.
Developing a robust incident management process is a great way to cultivate a culture within your organization where safety is second nature. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to maintaining safe operations, so it’s important to create a system where it’s clear that, with every incident reported, there will be valuable information provided to mitigate future risks and create a brighter, safer future for your company. After all, you can never be too careful, right?
To learn more about when to prioritize incident management, check out our podcast, Two Bald Guys Talking Safety. Langdon and Jules discuss "What Comes First? Managing Incidents or Risk Mitigation?" in episode 213.
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