In any organization where there is a regime of accident and incident reporting, there exists the potential for under or over reporting. This means that the value of the reporting is diminished considerably. After all, you can’t fix what you don’t know about and often “near accidents” are the precursors to serious injuries.

When underreporting of incidents and accidents is suspected, there are a number of vital questions to ask to ensure that the information regarding accidents and no-harm incidents is collected in order that preventive measures can be employed. When you suspect that incidents are not being reported properly, it is necessary to stand back and look at the culture of the organization to discover the things that are being rewarded and punished. The basic law of human behavior states that, “Things that get rewarded or recognized, get done.” In this case it’s important to look at what is being rewarded or recognized. When underreporting takes place there are two fundamental areas for investigation. These questions must be asked, “Are people being punished or blamed for reporting?” and, “Are people being rewarded for not reporting?” In either of these cases it is very easy to see how human behavior is affected by these conditions.

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Human behavior is modified by what happens to individuals and groups as a consequence of that behavior. If people are going to be rewarded for not reporting accidents, then the consequence would encourage them not to report. On the other hand, if people are punished or blamed for reporting accidents then they will carry out behavior to avoid the punishment. In other words they won’t report accidents. Either way underreporting will be common which can lead the organization to believe that their workplaces are getting safer.

Regrettably, many organizations use various incentives to improve safety and this does nothing except to modify the statistics and does not improve safety. In the case of safety, statistics are horribly unreliable because it is possible to work unsafely and not contribute to the statistics. There is a very tenuous link between accident and incident statistics and safe behavior. Furthermore, some organizations with multiple sites or divisions introduce a competitive element to safety. This will guarantee a degree of underreporting because managers do not want to feature at the bottom of the safety league table. They know that this will give rise to questions and exhortations to “Get your people to work safely.”

The solution to this issue is 2 fold:

The first solution to the whole problem of reporting incidents and accidents is to promote greater understanding of human behavior among managers and executives. It seems that we spend a great deal of time and money and effort in training people within the hierarchy the financial side of business but neglect to equip them with the understanding of the science of human behavior. This means that initiatives are introduced which fail to meet even a basic understanding of why people behave in such a fashion.

The second solution to the problem is to ensure your employees are trained on incident reporting, incident investigations, and root cause analysis to identify workplace hazards to be corrected. Many companies track incidents that are reported, but only those reported, and don’t track root causes or corrections.

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