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Writing the Incident Report

Documenting incidents to make corrective changes is essential to strong risk management. But before you commit it to writing, ask yourself one question. How will this report look blown up as an exhibit?

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After any workplace accident, even when no injury occurs, an incident report allows managers to determine how to prevent similar occurrences.

An incident report is used to document significant events. Your insurance carrier sometimes relies on internal incident reports to help determine negligence or whether a workplace injury is compensable (which means covered under workers’ compensation coverage). Here are a few events that should trigger an incident report.

  • Workplace injuries, including horseplay
  • Near misses that could have caused damage or injury
  • Acts of aggression in the workplace
  • Reports of dangerous driving or other behavior-based complaints
  • Destruction of property
  • Auto accidents
  • Criminal acts, including employee theft
  • Seriously disruptive workplace behavior
  • Inappropriate computer use

Where do you start? Begin by interviewing people with access to pertinent information. This may include complainants, witnesses, and the employees or coworkers who are participants or who may have knowledge of the event. There is one important point to make here—if employees or witnesses state they have no knowledge of the event, ask them to sign witness statements to rule out a later change of heart. These are known as “negative statements.” You don’t want feelings to run high, possibly causing witnesses to materialize months later who may or may not have accurate information about the event but failed to come forward at the time.

Keep clear notes, and when possible use a recorder. Ask the person to give verbal permission on the tape. Then, use this format to write the report:

  • Describe the incident, including events in chronological order. Present the facts logically and in order.
  • What caused the event? If you can't determine the cause, don’t speculate. You can describe information that appears factual but is unproved.
  • Analyze the incident. Weigh all the facts, circumstances, and any events leading up to the incident to develop a conclusion. It is better not to speculate than be wrong in your conclusion. It is okay to use statements like, “We are unable to draw a conclusion at this time.”
  • Recommendations. What will you do to prevent similar occurrences? Often the actions that will be taken are senior management decisions, so making alternative recommendations and any possible costs attached to them may be helpful.

What should you avoid in incident reports? Avoid inflammatory comments. I once received a report from an attorney, who should have known better, who referred to the injured party as a “welfare mother.” That was his last assignment from me.

Neither do you want statements such as, “We have talked to this employee repeatedly about his driving habits and now he has injured someone seriously.” Keep personal frustrations and seriously damaging information out of reports, because they may become discoverable in the legal investigation that may follow. Inflammatory statements should be made one-on-one and only if you are sure they will stay off the record.

There are ways to protect internal investigations, according to Kevin Quinley, an independent claims consultant."Companies might consider appointing outside legal counsel to be the recipient/repository of all reports generated for such investigations. Alternatively, they might consider prefacing each report with the preamble:"Prepared in anticipation of possible litigation--attorney/client privileged. While not 100 percent bulletproof, these steps may help protect internal investigations from subsequent 'fishing expeditions' by adverse parties."

Documenting incidents to make corrective changes is essential to strong risk management. But before you commit it to writing, ask yourself one question. How will this report look blown up as an exhibit?


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