If you’ve had a dangerous HAZCHEM incident at your worksite, your workers (as well as any bystanders) should complete an incident report to record their version of events, and document what happened. These incident reports will become an important part of any follow up incident investigations. We’ve written this blog to help you create (or review) your own system for incident reporting, and ensure that you are capturing the information that will assist you actively improve work procedures and on-the-job safety.
IMPORTANT: Incident reports should be ideally completed within 24 hours of an incident; while the events are still fresh in the mind of witnesses and bystanders.
Why you need incident reports
Apart from driving a HAZCHEM incident investigation, incident reports serve a number of essential functions:
- They support worker compensation and insurance claims for injured or deceased workers.
- They can be used as references when reporting a notifiable incident to WHS Regulators and Inspectors.
- They can be compiled into a database that flags common hazards, escalating near-misses, or repeat occurrences of a dangerous event.
Details to include on an incident report
Your incident report forms should be designed to capture critical information. Of course this will vary according to your organisation, but we consider the following as essential information (especially if hazardous chemicals were involved).
- When, and where the incident happened (date, time, location).
- Work procedures or operations being undertaken at the time of the incident.
- Details of machinery, tools, PPE, and equipment in use at the time.
- Whether any equipment was defective or broken.
- Who was involved (names of injured workers, bystanders, supervisors).
- What chemicals, substances, and materials were being used at the time of the incident.
- Details of injured workers, first aid, and emergency response efforts.
- Details of the person completing the form (name, date, signature).
- Open section where workers can describe what happened in their own words.
IMPORTANT: Workers should always record the details of near-misses and close calls, even if there were no injuries or property damage. Uncontrolled chemicals spills, gas leaks, and release of a pressurised substances must be immediately reported to the WHS Regulator in your state or territory.
How to get workers to complete incident reports
Incident reports are only effective if people actually complete them, and record all the details of the incident they witnessed. Here are some suggestions for getting workers to complete incident reports properly:
Make the reporting process easy
You’ll want to make the whole reporting process as easy as possible. Here are some suggestions:
- Create forms that include specific fields that trigger workers to provide the information you need). You’ll also need plenty of space for open responses.
- If you have a paper-based system, have a pile of forms located in places that can be quickly accessed by workers. Eg, DO keep a supply of forms in each work area, AVOID creating a system where production or outdoor staff have to walk to the main office to obtain (then lodge) a form.
- When using a computerised system make sure that staff have the computer hardware, skills, and passwords to access the reporting software at any time. Eg, DO have computer terminals at individual workstations, AVOID creating a computerised system if you have a large number of workers who cannot type or operate the software without assistance from another worker or their supervisor.
Provide training and supervisor support
Implement a full incident reporting procedure and ensure your workers know exactly what to do (and how to access the forms). Supervisors should also be enforcing (and proactively supporting) this process.
EXAMPLE: A worker is sprayed with corrosive chemicals when a transfer coupling fails. The worker is placed under the safety shower and uses the emergency eyewash. They attend outpatients and are cleared to resume duties.
Immediately upon arriving back at the job site the supervisor should provide the worker with an incident form/computer terminal and give them the space to complete their report. After the form is submitted it should be checked to ensure all the details have been entered.
Take transparent action
Workers are more likely to fill out forms if they know their efforts will actually be used to constructively improve safety at the workplace.
EXAMPLE: A worker was applying a corrosive floor stripper and was kneeling on the floor while applying the chemical. The chemicals soaked through their protective clothing and the worker suffered second and third degree burns to the knees.
An incident report (and subsequent investigation) uncovered that the protective clothing worn at the time was not suited to the chemicals being used. Also the safety shower was too far from the work area.
Management took follow-up action and installed a new safety shower in the work area, and issued more effective clothing. A follow up consultation and training session was conducted to find work methods that don’t require a worker to kneel on the floor.