Why is the underreporting of hazards and near-misses so common in work environments?
To prevent workplace accidents and minimise risks, every company has a duty of care to its employees to have health and safety policies and ensure everyone complies with the rules and regulations in place.
Yet no matter how comprehensive health and safety plans are, it’s virtually impossible for a company to eliminate all potential hazards.
Even if employees follow all the safety guidelines to the letter, there’s still a possibility that near-miss incidents might happen. If they do, those involved should report the event immediately to make sure the situation is addressed properly and to help make sure something similar won’t happen again. In reality, some employees choose to stay silent, so accidents and near misses go unreported.
The question here is, why is underreporting of hazards a common problem in so many work environments? Why do employees ignore the regulations and keep on working as if nothing happened?
The key is to create a safety culture in the workplace, where it is accepted and encouraged to report incidents to protect oneself, and those around you. Organisations that embrace health and safety management improve employee wellbeing and productivity, by showing that they care about their people.
Here are some of the most common reasons why employees may not report safety concerns.
One of the most common reasons people don’t speak up when a workplace incident occurs is because they are afraid – their fear is of the unknown. Employees don’t know what the repercussions will be if they report the incident, and they worry that this action might bring some kind of punishment. They’re afraid they will be blamed for the incident and that it might have a negative impact on their career. So, they consider silence is the safer choice, when in fact it’s anything but that. Creating a safe, positive environment of non-judgment is the way to counter people’s fears and encourage participation without worry.
Reporting a near miss can also be uncomfortable for an employee. Sometimes, they feel they have to choose between being honest about what happened, and dealing with the judgement and criticism of their peers and superiors. No one wants to have all fingers pointed at them and be stigmatised for being involved in a workplace accident, even if they weren’t the one to blame. If the price for reporting a hazard is losing reputation and feeling embarrassed, employees give up on doing the right thing. A supportive and collaborative workplace culture plays a big part in helping employees to be honest and admit errors, which benefits everyone.
Lack of time
Sometimes, employees can get so caught up in their day-to-day responsibilities, they might even forget that reporting risks and incidents is one of them too. When the stress and pressure of fulfilling their tasks properly occupies all their thoughts, there’s little time left for workers to think about talking to a supervisor or a manager about potential hazards. Also, in many companies there’s a lot of bureaucracy to deal with when it comes to reporting near misses and employees simply see it as a waste of time and effort to start such a lengthy process. The answer here is to provide ways to make reporting simple and quick, such as an online hazard reporting tool, and introducing training to make it an accepted part of the job.
Lack of knowledge
When employees are neither afraid, nor short on time, there’s still a big obstacle that stands in the way of near-miss reporting, and that’s the lack of knowledge. Some employees don’t know the basic procedures to follow in order to report a near miss. Bureaucracy can complicate things to such an extent that workers feel completely confused about what they should or shouldn’t do, and give up trying to understand how things work in the end. Senior management can demonstrate their commitment to a safe work environment for their people by providing the right training.
Company culture is very important in ensuring a safe and healthy work environment. Stemming from that, if an organisation doesn’t do much to encourage its employees to report near misses, they won’t take the initiative by themselves. What’s worse, some companies fail to do their part after someone decided to take action and speak up about potential hazards. If employees notice that their actions are ignored and the hazards they’ve reported persist as if nothing ever happened, they won’t have any motivation to report near misses in the future. An online health and safety management system makes sure that actions are seen to be taken, with simple reporting and tasks allocated to people to make sure things get done.
Even if there’s not much paperwork involved in reporting incidents and the company culture supports the process, employees might still see it as an unnecessary hassle. To put things simply, it’s much easier to do nothing at all than to be proactive about reporting near misses. Even the simplest procedures involve talking to a superior, writing a report or describing the incident or the potential hazard in detail. And some employees simply consider there are plenty of other things they could be doing with their time than standing in a manager’s office and talking about what could have happened or what might happen at some point. This is why the safety culture message must come from the senior management team first and foremost – make safety an essential way of life, not a secondary option.
Downplaying the incident
Not all near misses are as serious. Certain incidents can give employees a good scare, while others can go unnoticed. When an accident doesn’t result in significant damages, employees tend to downplay its seriousness. Then they see no point in reporting an event that didn’t have notable consequences, without realizing that it might have been just sheer luck that saved the day, and in the future circumstances could change. That’s why many so-called “small” incidents are not reported and lead to much bigger safety issues down the line. Using a quick, simple hazard reporting tool, everyone can see that even “small” incidents can be dealt with and corrective actions put in place, with tasks scheduled for reviews and checks, preventing those bigger safety issues.
Another scenario that happens quite often is when the company takes immediate action to deal with a hazard and employees consider they’ve done more than enough. They don’t think it’s necessary to take any other measures and analyse the event further, since the problem was solved with a quick fix. Unfortunately, quick fixes are never the answer, no matter how insignificant the incident may seem. Reporting the near-miss is still the best thing to do, as there might be other underlying issues that can’t be addressed by superficial solutions.