Occupational Safety

6 tips for improving safety incident management

Clear structures, effective communication and increased transparency: Optimize your safety management processes

8 minutes02/25/2021

Written by Karri Takki

Who out there enjoys dealing with safety incidents? Accidents at work feel just like bad grades in school. No one likes them, because they reveal that something we’re doing is not working. But let’s take a moment to think back on our years in school: What always happened, when we took those bad grades seriously and worked hard to fix them? If, for example, we failed an assignment, took it to heart, learned from our mistakes and developed new learning and problem-solving strategies that we could apply to future assignments? We just kept getting better.

How does this translate to safety management? Handling incidents professionally also leads to a continuous improvement of performance. When we handle accidents and incidents in a structured manner, we uncover risks ahead of time and be able to initiate the proper procedures to ensure a safer future. A good incident management process also allows fora safety culture to emerge, one that is capable of motivating the entire workforce to take a proactive part in safety management.

Based on my experiences and discussions with industry professionals, I have gathered some tips on how to improve your incident management process.  This is not a definitive list for developing your own incident management system, but rather intended to help you improve your existing one and give you some ideas on how to fine-tune it.

  • The same principle that applies in school also applies in safety management : Learning from mistakes is essential to better performance. Good incident management is therefore the foundation of excellent safety management. | © iStock: Portra

1. Preparation is everything in incident management

Have an incident reporting process in place and define communication channels. Everyone in the organization should know how and which channels to use to report a safety incident. Define and communicate the roles and tasks at different levels to ensure that your organization isn’t paralyzed when responding to an incident.

Encourage people to include photos of the incident, if possible. This way you can make sure that a comprehensive data-gathering phase commences immediately. Information and photos are valuable assets when an incident is being investigated. The more data you capture, the better. Being prepared means ensuring that you get as much information as possible and capturing vital details while they are still fresh.

2. Who does what in incident management? Clear processes are key.

So far, so good.  Now that we have received the incident report through our reporting channel, what’s next? What happens to the report? Will it get buried on someone’s desk?

Make sure that managers know how to handle safety incidents and know when to escalate them. In the case of a serious incident, you want to make sure your response team is involved as quickly as possible.  Once a report received, there should be a clarity about how incident reporting moves forward.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

When a safety incident report is received, there has to be effective communication between everyone affected, and also with the HSEQ team and management.

Safety incidents should not be considered confidential. Once you have a clear idea of what has happened, remember that incidents are rarely isolated situations; the same factors that led to one incident might also be present in other parts of the organization. They could involve certain training, safety culture, operational or management processes. It is important to make the information available to everyone it might concern.

4. Take action

The safety incident report and any findings from the investigation need to be added to your safety management system and to any other software management applications you employ. Document all information about the incident and any investigations you carry out to identify the root causes.

When you have found the root causes of the incident, take immediate action to resolve them. Assign clear tasks to the right people and don’t forget to follow up on them.

5. Incident Management means learning from mistakes together

Make your own organization (as well as others in your industry or perhaps even other sectors), aware of the conditions which led to the incident and how you are managing the risk going forward. Sharing safety information may help someone else to avoid a serious incident. Does your organization have a system for sharing information internally? What about with partners, your industry and other sectors?

6. Feedback!

Even in organizations that have a well-functioning incident management process, one important step is sometimes forgotten. Quite often, the person who originally reported the incident never gets feedback. After an incident, you might take steps, such as refining best practices, revising training programs and investing in equipment. However, the person that reported the incident, might never see these efforts at work.       

Think about it from their point of view… If you kept reporting incidents to which it seems no one actually responds, you might be less motivated to report other safety incidents in the future, because why bother when no change comes of it? Remember to always thank the person who initially reported the incident, and – where possible – communicate the actions you have taken as a result of their report.   This makes sure they understand their contribution is valued and appreciated.

Holistic Incident Management

To conclude this piece, I would like to return to my example with the school grades: Anyone who is only focused on fixing their bad grades may eventually lose their motivation after a while.

It is just as (if not more) important to also consider one’s good and acceptable grades, as well as take a comprehensive view of one’s learning process. The same applies to safety management. New trends like Safety-II and Safety Differently vigorously point to this: If 9,999 safe events occur for every single incident, why are we not expanding our view and maximizing safety by understanding and encouraging the things that are going well? If you want to explore this idea in more depth and integrate it into how you practice incident management, we recommend reading our whitepaper on "Fresh perspectives for modern safety management".

Incident Management Whitepaper Preview

Modern safety management

What happens when the old tried-and-true methods aren’t able to sink your accident rate any further?  More and more experts are concurring that traditional occupational safety concepts are too short-sighted and that conventional methods are not enough to ensure an environment that is safe for employees in the long term. New approaches show how you can get employees involved and achieve a proactive safety culture:

  • Behavior-Based Safety
  • Psychological Safety
  • Safety-II
  • Safety Differently


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