Incident documentation is very important as it helps companies understand what happened and gives them information on the steps that need to be followed next. For most companies, incident documentation is mandatory, even if it’s a near miss. Reporting an incident provides organisations with different types of data including:

  • Qualitative: What injury an employee experienced, how the incident made them feel, background information, descriptions of events
  • Quantitative: Time, who was involved, frequency of incident, date, number of people affected
  • Inferential data: Mainly focused on making predictions. For example how often employees pass through an area or past employee history

All these data will be very important when making decisions and conducting risk assessments.

Incident, in this case, refers to anything in the workplace that caused or could have caused harm to employees. This involves a hazardous area but extends to harassment and cyberbullying. 

Main details of incident documentation

High-quality incident documentation is time-consuming. The company will need to record:

  • Date and time of the incident: This includes after-work hours
  • Location: Where the incident took place and it could include online (e.g. social media). 
  • Who was involved: External and internal parties
  • If there was an injury: What kind of injury and how severe
  • Witnesses: If there were any and who they were
  • Actions taken: How the employee or witnesses reacted after the incident occured
  • Treatment: Whether any immediate treatment was required (physical or psychological)
  • Evidence available: What evidence was recorded as part of this incident
  • Name of person reporting: This could include the people directly involved or witnesses

This and more information will help the organisation get a clear idea of what happened. The more details and evidence there is, the better the quality of the incident documentation. 

Benefits of incident documentation

Getting all the information out of people is a long process that requires a lot of resources. However, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Here are a few reasons companies should focus on incident documentation:

  1. Enforcement of policies
  2. Prevention of similar incidents 
  3. Re-evaluation of current risks and their levels
  4. Reminder to stay risk-aware
  5. Review of policies
  6. Learning from past mistakes
  7. Creation of a speak-up culture

1. Enforcement of policies

When you place a great emphasis on documenting incidents, you get to respond to them and apply your company’s policies. This means that the incident will be addressed in the most appropriate way. The business will have all its questions answered: Where the incident took place, who was involved, how it happened, and whether a similar incident has happened before etc. 

This information can be used to build a strong and well-informed response. It will allow for a greater level of efficiency as well and better management of resources. 

2. Prevention of similar incidents

For hazards, incident documentation means that the hazard can be removed from the workplace. This will prevent other employees from slipping, falling or being fatally injured. Prevention is crucial as in 2022, 200 employees died while working. In an ideal world, that number is 0. Without documenting an incident, the workplace wouldn’t have all the necessary information to remove a hazard or improve machinery.

Similarly, to protect the health and safety of other employees, a staff member may need to be removed from the work environment. If the individual was found to be harassing, bullying or abusing a colleague, then an investigation will assist in recording details and reviewing them. 

3. Re-evaluation of current risks and their levels

Businesses may become complacent if employees aren’t reporting incidents. However, having 0 incidents reportedthat shouldn’t reassure them that everything is working as intended. Companies should always be on the lookout for potential threats and regularly contact risk assessments to check whether the organisation is facing new risks. 

If a business underestimates its current risk level, then this is usually where accidents happen. If the same task, for example, is performed again and again without any issues, employees may become overconfident and hurt themselves in the process. 

Part of the training should make it clear that repetition and familiarity with a task or situation, don’t mean 100% safety. Mistakes happen and if the situation involves other colleagues, then there is a high possibility for human error. Our CEO, Nick Fisher, recounts a story from his childhood:

“I used to go rockclimbing at a local quarry with my dad when I was a kid, and he always instilled in me the need to triple check everything. He told me a story of an SAS (special forces) soldier from the local barracks who came to the quarry to do some abseiling – something he’d done hundreds of times, in all sorts of conditions. He rigged himself up in his harness, clipped onto the rope, and stepped off the edge in full confidence of his experience and skill. But he hadn’t tied off on an anchor point, and as the rope didn’t pull taught, his last words were ‘Oh sh**’.”

“These days, I don’t 100% know if this was true or just to make a point – but it always stuck with me. No matter how good you are at something, never get overconfident, and always triple check your procedures”.

incident documentation

4. Reminder to stay risk-aware

Creating a risk-aware culture is the best way to ensure reliable incident documentation. Incident documentation can act as a wake-up call if the business has neglected its risk management. It can be there to remind them that they have to be alert and may also show them that a risk may materialise in a way they didn’t expect. This will be very useful during a re-evaluation as now they can take this scenario into their mind for future planning. Risk management is an ongoing process that requires a lot of resources and unfortunately, there isn’t a way to ‘pause’ the threats the business is facing. 

If employees go away for example and come back from holidays, they might forget crucial SOP. Another employee may take the silence of their colleagues as a sign that they can do whatever they want. So, it’s important to stay vigilant and try to remind employees that policies are still in place and will be enforced when necessary. 

5. Review of policies

Speaking of policies, when was the last time you reviewed yours? In a constantly changing business environment, policies can guide employees and let them know what they can and can’t do. They lay out company expectations and how tasks can be carried out in the safest way possible. They may also outline how incidents can be reported and documented. When an employee reports a problem, it is a great way to reflect on the current company policies and procedures and decide whether their application to this problem was successful or not. 

Dealing with an incident might show that there is room for improvement and that the policies aren’t addressing every possible situation. Changes to the wording, examples or extra clarity may need to be added to make them even stronger. 

6. Learning from past mistakes

Through incident documentation, organisations can look back and figure out where they went wrong. By analysing each step they took when responding to an issue, they can identify mistakes, an inappropriate or weak approach and how actions may have led to an unfair outcome. This will help senior staff develop strategies that will prevent a bad response in the future and will encourage fair and just incident handling. 

Without incident documentation, steps may be forgotten or managers might not pay attention to certain stages as they think they went okay. However, situations don’t always turn out how we remember them, hence why it’s critical to have everything written down and from the perspectives of multiple people. 

7. Creation of a speak-up culture

Incident documentation can create a domino effect. After one employee reports a problem, a colleague of theirs sees how managers took their report seriously and then in return, they report another problem. This is because they see that issues are taken seriously and if they speak up, the business will do something about it. It gives a great example of an organisation focusing on taking care of its employees’ health and wellbeing. 

When employees know they will be listened to, they are more likely to come forward because they know retaliation won’t affect them. However, if an incident was handled poorly or a report was neglected, this will probably discourage them from reporting another incident as they are scared of the consequences that could follow. 

As high-quality incident documentation leads to better incident responses, constant improvement, and self-reflection, all these factors will contribute to building a speak-up culture. And this is the ideal scenario – employees coming forward before a bigger problem occurs. 

How to store your information

As mentioned, incident documentation can be time-consuming since a lot of details will need to be recorded. It also requires safe storage as it probably includes the personal information of the people involved. 

Case management systems are usually the perfect solution as they can be used for investigations and to store crucial details about what happened. Employees involved in the case will be able to track the progress and determine whether further action is needed as all updates can be seen by everyone who has access. 

Our clients rely on Polonious to achieve a great level of incident documentation. We enable our users to upload evidence such as photos, videos and different types of documents to support claims in a case. Through our system, companies can record the steps they took to control a situation and track that all steps of their procedure have been ticked. 

As we are ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 certified, we place great importance on providing a secure but high-quality system. This means that only certain individuals will have access to the case and everyone else will be locked out. It also means that the information can be accessed online or offline, from anywhere, anytime for those responsible. If you are looking to set up reliable and consistent incident documentation and improve your investigation outcomes, check out our system! Book a demo today and let us show you how we can help you!