How To Create An Incident Report (Best Practices & Templates)

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Jack Delaney

It would be nice if we existed in a wonderful land of sunshine and rainbows, where no one ever got hurt and nothing ever went wrong, but it only takes one look at the news to know that’s not happening any time soon.

Things go wrong. It’s a part of life. Every single day cars crash, printers malfunction, roofs collapse and workplace injuries of all shapes and sizes occur around the globe.

Since incidents do happen, it’s a good idea to be prepared for any situation that may arise. It’s like when it rains - you can’t control the weather, but you can sure carry an umbrella.

Whether you’re battling the weather or workplace safety, being prepared is half the battle. In this blog post we’ll outline how to create an incident report to help ensure your work environment is safe and you're prepared when incidents inevitably occur.

What Is An Incident Report?

An example of a general incident report form

An incident report is a form used to record the details of any event that caused or might have caused injury, illness or damage to a person or piece of company property.

Incident report forms usually relate to an accident or injury occurring in the workplace, but can be used for a variety of reasons, from near misses and property damage to health and safety issues, security breaches and workplace misconduct.

They are an essential tool in the investigation that takes place when things go wrong. For example, after the Rebellion destroyed the Death Star at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, the Empire would have had his hands full with lots of incident reports.

They aim to determine the facts of the event, locate the root cause of the incident and help you figure out corrective actions that could remove potential risks and stop the same type of incident happening in the future.

Incident forms can also be used as preventative reports to highlight any potential hazards found in your workplace and stop incidents before they happen - it’s like that Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where they stop crimes before they take place.

The best thing about incident reports is that they’re democratic. Any employee can fill one out whether something has happened to them, they have witnessed something happen to a co-worker, or want to raise awareness about something they think could be hazardous and lead to an incident in the future.

While the idea is simple to get your head around, there are certain things you have to include if you want to write an effective incident report. This way you can ensure the safety, morale and productivity of your employees.

The Key Elements Of A Good Incident Report

There are lots of features that combine to make a well-written incident report. But the first and most important is that you take immediate action. Whether someone stubbed their toe or a more serious workplace incident has taken place, you need to write the report as soon as the event occurs.

By starting straight away you’ll get a more accurate depiction of what happened from any witnesses and victims. Not only that, depending on where you live, there’s a chance you’re legally bound to complete the incident reporting process in a certain period of time.

Once you start, there’s one word to keep in mind: details.

Your main responsibility when writing an incident report is noting down every minute detail you can think of. You know that grandparent you have that takes three hours to recount a story because they’re bogged down in every little thing? That needs to be you.

Here's a quick overview of the kind of details to include:

  • The type of incident
  • A general description of the incident (written as a sequence of events)
  • The date and time of the incident
  • The full names and details of any witnesses and/or victims
  • Witness statements
  • Any medical treatment required
  • Photo or video evidence of evidence/damage/wrongdoing
If you’re in doubt whether to add something, the general rule is to just add it. Have you ever seen a crime movie where the detective says, “Geez, I wish we had less evidence”? No. It doesn't exist - you never know what seemingly insignificant thing might come in handy in the future.

Speaking of law enforcement, remember that you’re not there to hunt for suspects or lead a witch hunt. It's not a police report. If someone is at fault you can follow up in the future, but when you’re writing your report it’s your job to get an objective description of the incident. That’s all.

Plus, if you’re throwing accusations around and looking for someone to blame, the chances are your employees won’t want to participate in the investigation or provide honest witness statements.

Concentrate on the facts and try not to get caught up in feelings and opinions. People have a right to be angry or upset when something goes wrong, whether it’s a minor injury or something more serious, but emotions tend to obscure the truth.

An easy way to avoid inaccuracy is by sticking to the essential questions - who, what, when, why, where and how. These will probably ring a bell from your childhood English class. Ask not only the people who were injured or involved, but also any witnesses that happened to be at the location of the incident.

An example of how to enter information into an incident report with supporting images.

Be sure to include plenty of photos, videos, diagrams and even illustrations as evidence. Smartphones make this easy so there's no excuse. Take photos of the injury, the damage, the guy standing around sipping his latte - anything and everything.

Visual evidence trumps most other forms of recordkeeping because it’s nearly impossible to argue with. People can rescind statements or fight over the details of what happened, so it helps to have things on camera. It’s a safety net for both you and your employees.

The icing on the cake of a good incident report is validation. No, not the kind where someone says you look nice. This is where you get everyone involved in the incident (e.g. victims, witnesses, managers, human resources etc.) to sign off on the report. By doing so they’re validating that, as far as they know, the incident report is completely accurate.

To sum that all up in easy-to-digest dot points, when writing your incident report you should make sure it’s:

  • Detailed
  • Factual
  • Objective
  • Supported by visual evidence
  • Validated

Why Is Correct Incident Reporting So Important?

When done correctly incident reports promote, encourage and improve workplace safety. They help your business stand out from the pack by creating a safe working environment and a great culture for your employees to work and flourish in. This happens in a few ways.

Discouraging improper actions

Incident reports encourage or discourage actions when they happen. Let’s say one of your employees on a job site forgot to wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE). By documenting and reporting the details you can figure out what measures need to be taken and how it can be avoided next time.

Through the incident reporting process you highlight the seriousness of what has taken place - even if someone hasn’t been hurt. This acts as a reminder to other employees that safety is serious, and events need to be reported no matter the outcome.

Of course there is also the additional benefit of making sure that correct medical treatment is offered as soon as possible. Having staff aware of incident reporting processes increases the chance of proper first aid being administered immediately.

Hazard awareness

Incident reports also call attention to potential threats, risks and hazards and put them on the radar of all employees within your organization. Doing so allows you to put measures in place to prevent or mitigate danger as much as possible. This makes incident reporting a particularly important tool for high-risk construction, manufacturing and mining industries.

Even offices, where seemingly the biggest ‘danger’ is the local café running out of almond milk, can be full of potential threats like loose cables, faulty machines and equipment, poor employee behaviour and incorrect PPE.

Making sure your incident reporting system is correct helps you understand hazards, put procedures in place to deal with them and teaches employees to spot threats and deal with them as soon as possible.

Improving safety processes

A good incident report shows what your organization needs to focus on fixing. It gives you insights into processes that need to change, improve or be kicked to the curb. Maybe you need to implement new policies and regulations. Maybe you need to train your employees in certain skills, or provide them with better equipment.

Whatever the case, with a proper incident report you’ll be able to assess your needs and adapt your processes depending on what findings you make. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to assess how these changes have contributed positively or negatively to the safety and quality of the workplace.

Types Of Incidents That Need To Be Reported

As you can imagine there’s a huge array of incidents that should be reported. This includes everything from fatalities and minor injuries to property damage and things that didn't actually happen at all.

If you’re serious about workplace safety (which of course you are) all employees, managers and safety supervisors need to be aware of incidents that have to be reported.

Let’s take a look at a few of the main incident reports that you need to familiarize yourself with.

Injury Incident Report

No matter what you do sometimes injuries happen that require on-site treatment or a trip to the hospital. Most of the time things will be sorted with a band-aid from the first aid kit and workers can return to work immediately, but sometimes more serious injuries occur.

Whether it’s a minor injury or something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s vital that you create a comprehensive incident report. If you work in an industry that’s vulnerable to physical injuries of all kinds, like construction, you better get used to filling these in.

When creating an injury incident report concentrate on a description of the incident, try to include lots of photos and record whether proper PPE gear and protocols were followed.

Near Miss Incident Report

Near miss reports are for when someone could have been injured or property could have been damaged, but through pure luck it didn’t happen.

Let’s say someone in the office spills a glass of water and doesn’t clean it up. You slip on the puddle, but manage to catch yourself before falling over. Yes you’ve saved yourself from an embarrassing fall, but you’ve also had a near miss. Time to create an incident report.

These reports are important to mitigate future risks and prevent more serious events from taking place. Make sure to note the time and date of  the incident, details about the hazard and if any other people were involved.

Employee Misconduct Incident Report

An employee misconduct form is something that hopefully you won’t have to deal with. It is a type of incident report reserved for when an employee has violated company policy. This could be anything from sharing private company information on social media to abusing or sexually assaulting a colleague.

As a general rule this form should be filled out and sent to your human resources department. Usually these will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, unless the accusation is serious, then it can be forwarded to law enforcement.

For that reason the report needs to be extra detailed. Include extensive information about the misconduct or allegation, include witness testimony and any supporting evidence like video footage, emails or text messages.

Want to make your own incident report today?

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Accident Report

While an incident refers to any event big or small, intended or otherwise, an accident is an event caused by a mistake or plain old bad luck. Accident reports cover events like fires, car accidents, equipment malfunctions and when Karen from accounting spills her coffee.

Accidents are the most common report you’ll fill out because most people don’t intend to do the wrong thing or hurt themselves. But just because they don’t mean to doesn’t mean there's no value for your business.

Let’s say someone forgets to wear their hardhat on a job site and hits their head. That was an accident - they didn’t mean to forget their hat and certainly didn’t mean to bang their head. But what can this tell you about your processes? Maybe you need to store hats in a more obvious location? Or maybe you need to have the foreman check PPE before work?

Accident incident reports (say that five times fast) are one of the best ways to assess your workplace safety processes and minimize the potential hazards and risks your employees face.

Exposure Incident Report

At the start of the year an exposure incident report was a niche report type used in the scientific and healthcare fields to report exposure to dangerous chemicals and pathogens.

But 2020 has been a special year for many reasons and low and behold, thanks to COVID-19, exposure incident reports are now the 'it' thing in the incident reporting world. With countries on lockdown, over a million global deaths and large and small companies being affected around the world, tracking and monitoring instances of Coronavirus exposure is extremely important.

If someone is even suspected of having COVID-19 you should write an exposure incident report straight away. Make sure you mark down any colleagues that came into contact with the person, as well as the exact time, date and location so you can track the spread of the virus.

This ensures you’ll keep your workplace - and the wider world - safe, healthy and coronavirus-free. (COVID-19 is stressful to deal with. If you need any COVID-19 form, we have a whole collection to help you out).

Incident Report Template

No one wants to sit down and fill out an ugly, boring paper document. The easier your forms are to fill out, the more effective they'll be at capturing information accurately. That's where Paperform comes in.

Paperform’s sample incident report template makes it easy to create your own report that's relevant to your field, customized with your brand logo and colors and a breeze for your employees to fill in.

If you haven't written an incident report before, the template above is pre-filled with relevant questions to give you an idea of what to ask. You can use different text fields to collect different forms of information - from email addresses and specific dates to long responses and Yes/No buttons to speed up the process.

The Yes/No option seems simple, but it allows what's called conditional logic to make the form magically adapt to the answer it receives. Let's say you include the question, 'Were there any injuries?'

You can set it up so the respondent sees different options depending on how they answer. If they answer 'Yes' the form will add a box for them to describe the injury, as well as an option to upload images as supporting evidence. If they answer no, they'll be able to move on to the next question.

An example of Yes/No questions using conditional logic in an incident report form

Another feature is the ability to add esignatures to your form. This allows employees filling out the form to fill out the form and verify their statements in the same place without having to go through a third-party app like DocuSign or the rigmarole of printing, signing and re-uploading it.

Once you're happy with your questions you can customize the form to your liking. Add your brand logo, tweak the colors and fonts and set up an automatic email to explain the next steps to respondents. You can then export your incident report to a third-party app like Google Sheets to compare and analyze your data with the click of a button.

Paperform helps make the incident reporting process more dynamic and intuitive for your respondents. Whether you use the above template to get started or start with a blank canvas, Paperform will help save you time, simplify processes and allow you to concentrate on making your workplace as safe as possible.

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