The Value of the Incident Report

Posted by Albert Sica on Sep 12, 2013 2:17:32 PM

Even when no injury occurs, after any workplace incident or accident, a written incident report allows a timely investigation. Some incidents are minor and need only slight fixes to prevent their recurrence. However, in more serious situations where a serious injury or property damage could have or did occur, a subsequent failure analysis allows management to determine how to best prevent similar occurrences.

Your insurance carrier relies on your organization’s internal incident reports to help determine negligence or whether to pay a workplace injury. Compensability is a very important issue in workers’ compensation claims management. Your workers’ compensation carrier must determine if the injury occurred due to employment. This ensures they pay only truly work-related claim. Your internal documentation can help.

Consider completing an incident report after any of these types of events:

  • Any workplace injury, including those that arise from recreational activities or horseplay;
  • A near-miss that could have caused damage or injury, such as a forklift incident without subsequent damage;
  • All acts of aggression, including verbal altercations that require management intervention or where an  employee files a grievance;
  • Reports of dangerous driving or other behavior-based complaints, including call - ins from the public. Take seriously any report from a citizen who takes the time to report your  employee’s behavior;
  • Destruction of property;
  • All auto collisions;
  • Criminal  acts, including employee theft.

To complete an incident report, interview people who may have relevant information. This includes complainants, witnesses, the employees or coworkers who may or may not have knowledge of the event. There is one important step to this process. If employees or witnesses state they have no knowledge of the event, ask them to sign a “negative statement” to rule out a later change of heart. If feelings run high after an event or your organization experiences labor issues, witnesses may materialize months later who failed to come forward or may change his or her opinion about the event. Spend a few extra moments documenting who was in the area but did not see the event.

Keep clear notes. It is easy to record the conversation. Ask the interviewee to affirm his or her verbal permission to record. Use a format like this to conduct the interview and write the report.

  • Give the date and time of the interview, including permission if recording.
  • Ask the interviewee to describe what  they witnessed in chronological order. Ask pre-determined questions, but  be prepared to go off script if you need further details.
  • Ask open-ended questions, not questions that simply invite a “yes” or “no” response.
  • Ask the cause of the event. Also, ask  the person who they believe is at fault. It’s better to know their opinion  now than later when it may really matter, like at trial.
  • Analyze the incident. Weigh all the  facts, circumstances, and any circumstances leading up to the event to form   a conclusion. It is better not to speculate than be wrong in your  conclusion. A statement like, “We are unable to draw a conclusion at this time,” is still a conclusion.
  • What will you do to prevent similar  occurrences? Often the actions you recommend have costs attached, so  making alternative recommendations and any possible costs may be helpful.    Avoid writing recommendations if your organization won’t complete them.  This can trigger liability in the event a similar incident occurs in the  future.
  • End the report with a restatement of permission, asking, “So have I recorded this interview with your permission?”

Avoid inflammatory comments when writing your report. Stick, exclusively, with the facts and draw conclusions using statements like, “It appears” or “At this time we believe.” Neither do you want statements such as, “We have repeatedly asked this employee to cease this behavior.” Keep your frustrations with employees or situations out of reports. Vent to a trusted colleague, but know that any document you prepare can be very damaging if it is blown up as a legal exhibit.

Documenting incidents so that your organization can make important safety changes is an integral part your risk management program. However, use discretion in preparing reports. They always look different when seen in the light of a courtroom.

For help in managing claims or streamlining your workers' compensation claims process, please contact me at 732.395.4251 or at

Topics: Insurance

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