A successful EHS management system should appear to work like a well-oiled machine. In reality, this seamless set of complementary processes includes several distinct elements: hazard prevention, auditing, incident reporting, risk management, training, just to name a few. This post will focus specifically on the role of incident management, the steps involved in this process, and why this is an area of EHS management that should never be overlooked. Then, we will briefly discuss the relationship between incident management and OSHA regulations, and how incident management software can make reporting, compliance, and knowledge-building a breeze.
In recent years, the number of major workplace incidents has actually been on the decline, thanks to both regulation and responsive EHS management. With the exception of large-scale disasters, which often become public and well-known, the reporting shows a reduction in minor accidents, incidents/events as well as injuries and fatalities. However, the more problematic issue is that incidents still persist and that most incidents are caused by minor oversights. Without a proper incident management protocol in place, a series of minor gaps will continue to cause recurring and serious incidents.
Reaction: Following an incident, the first step is to address the immediate scene: clearing the area, ensuring safety, and providing emergency medical assistance if needed. Once those immediate tasks are complete, it is crucial to gather and document the facts of the case as quickly after the incident as possible. This includes speaking to witnesses, taking photographic evidence, and filing the information in order to begin the investigation.
Investigation: Once the area has been secured and the urgent tasks are complete, the next step is to initiate an investigation. The first order of business is identifying the incident. These are the basic facts: the who, what, when, and where. The goal of the investigation is to:
This second task is based on the strategy of root cause analysis. According to OSHA, root cause analysis is a way to “discover the underlying or systemic, rather than the generalized or immediate, causes of an incident.” In other words, it requires looking beyond the incidental causes to more fundamental issues, knowing that a true resolution of risk depends on addressing those less visible, but incredibly pervasive factors. Proper root cause analysis requires asking all the possible questions that will help identify any and all potential causes, not only for the incident itself but also the conditions that led up to the incident.
Classification: Once the incident has been thoroughly investigated, it needs to be classified into a specific category. These categories may vary by company and industry, but often include labels such as near misses, minor incidents, lost-time incidents, and fatalities. Taking the time to identify categories of incidents, and then sort the incidents into their appropriate categories, helps identify important trends that should be acted on. As an addendum, it may be helpful to categorize incidents not only by their severity and scale but also by their impact—time loss, financial loss, and so on. While regulations vary from place to place, the government usually requires the reporting of incidents resulting in injury or illness. Regardless, you may wish to categorize and report incidents that do not result in injuries or fatalities, as well as near-misses, since this will result in a more accurate picture of the company’s safety landscape.
Escalation / Reporting: The exact procedure in this step will vary, depending on the scale and severity of the incident, and the functionality of the incident management software. If regulations are at stake, or the incident requires the involvement of governmental agencies, this is the step where that would occur. As part of this step, it is also crucial to stay on top of new reporting and transparency requirements. For instance, in 2016, OSHA elevated its reporting requirements to include recordkeeping rules for workplace-related injuries and illness. Without a platform that tracks all of these rules and requirements, it’s easy to see how important steps could get neglected or lost in the shuffle.
Resolution and Remedy: At this point, the facts of the case have been thoroughly investigated, the incident has been categorized, and all OSHA regulatory and reporting requirements have been met. Before closing the case, ensure there is a process in place to track the resolution of the incident and to address any incidental or contributing factors that would have prevented the incident in the first place.
Communication: Last but definitely not least, a successful incident management strategy should involve employees at every level of the organizational hierarchy and the EHS management structure. This means not only reporting the incident to the upper echelons of management but also disseminating valuable safety information throughout the layers of the organization. This is just one step to ensuring an integrated organizational safety culture. This step is often accompanied by the creation of a detailed incident report. Incident management software can help streamline the goal of communication by allowing employees to report incidents in real-time and access important safety information and communication arising from already-investigated incidents.
A one-stop-shop incident reporting software can usually navigate all of the above steps in a seamless and integrated manner. When considering this choice, keep in mind that an effective incident reporting software should accomplish the following:
Incident management is just one component of the interrelated web of elements that comprise EHS management. Incident management software can supplement this process by providing a flexible but integrated solution that follows the lifecycle of incident management: from an investigation to fulfilling OSHA regulations, communication, reporting, and analytics. Most importantly, an incident management protocol should work on two levels:
Both of these goals are equally effective in ensuring that the investigation and reporting of incidents has a lasting and transformative impact on building a sustainable culture of safety. Everyone should take comfort in the fact that major workplace incidents are on the decline. Incident management that prioritizes not only investigation and reporting, but building practical knowledge from that reporting, will ensure that this positive trend continues.