It can be hard to control hazards and prevent injuries if you’re not aware of the near misses, “minor” injuries, or unsafe work practices your workers are experiencing or witnessing. One of the main culprits contributing to this lack of insight is often worker reluctance to report these occurrences.
Why does reporting reluctance matter?
When workers are hesitant to report a near miss, what they deem a small or minor injury, or an unsafe work practice or condition, what might have been an easy fix or only required first aid, can turn into a costly injury or a serious incident.
It also highlights deeper management and cultural issues. There’s likely a reason, or two, why workers aren’t reporting. Understanding what these reasons might be can help you combat them, strengthen your workplace safety culture, keep your employees safe, and save your organization some cash.
Why are employees reluctant to report?
There have been several studies done on the reasons employees don’t report safety-related issues. Here are some of the more interesting highlights.
In a Canadian study examining young workers’ responses to unsafe work practices, the researchers found that most of the young workers in the study took a “wait-and-see” approach to safety concerns. Their reluctance was related to fear of being fired, being new and inexperienced, supervisor indifference (real or perceived), and overall feelings of powerlessness.
The young workers surveyed didn’t feel as though their opinions and concerns would be taken seriously given their age and lack of experience. So, they often opted to wait and see if anyone else noticed the hazard or if the hazard simply went away on its own. They would also talk to other workers and if others agreed about the hazard, they would then approach the supervisor as a group.
In a study done by the Center for Construction Research and Training, 135 construction workers were asked if they ever failed to report an injury and if yes, why. Twenty-seven percent said they had. Workers who explained their failure to report a work-related injury were most likely to say that “my injury was small” and “pain is a natural part of my job.”
Other common reasons for not reporting include:
- Embarrassment or peer pressure.
Most workers don’t want to be called a tattle-tail, brownnoser, or any other school-yard nickname of a similar nature, if they report a co-worker doing something unsafe, or refuse to work in an unsafe condition. In some fields of work reporting a “minor” injury is likely to get you labeled as “weak” or “soft” by your peers and in some cases even your manager. And if injury rates or days without an injury are tied to incentive programs or bonuses, it is even more unlikely a worker will report an injury. So, it’s not surprising that many incidents go unreported.
- Reporting process is difficult.
If an organization makes reporting near misses, injuries, or hazardous conditions difficult, employees are going to respond by not reporting. And can you blame them? Filling out reports, forms, and paperwork is a drag – and not something many of us like to do. Not to mention a tedious reporting process cuts into production time. Don’t forget the managers and front-line supervisors who have to access and read these reports. If it’s difficult for them, they are likely to do one of two things:
- Ignore it.
- Discourage their workers from using it.
- Lack of interest from the organization/management.
Your employees are smart and perceptive. They will pick up on obvious and not-so-obvious clues that the organization or their managers don’t support a reporting program. Whether it’s not following up and fixing hazards; failing to correct near-miss causes promptly; or holding managers accountable for reporting metrics, your employees will get the message loud and clear.
- Lack of understanding on what to report.
Employees may not know they should report near misses or minor injuries because of lack of communication or training. And, even if they’ve been told to report near misses, injuries, and other safety concerns, they may not have a clear understanding of what the organization’s definition of a near miss or minor injury is.
Be a Better Supervisor
As a supervisor, you can have a direct and positive impact on helping employees overcome reporting reluctance. Here are eight ways to do it.
- Make reporting easy. Whether it’s online or a paper form, the reporting system should be easy to access and easy to use.
- Follow up and take action on all reports. Action could mean correcting a hazard or explaining to the person who made the report why a fix isn’t necessary. It could mean addressing and discussing a safety concern in your next weekly safety meeting – without embarrassing or singling out the employee who filed the concern of course.
- Explain it. Take the time to define and explain what should be reported, when it should be reported, how to report, and who to report it to. i.e. what criteria determine if an event is a near miss and worth reporting; or what is the definition of a “minor” reportable injury?
- Be involved. Talk to your employees and encourage managers to do the same. Regular and frequent interactions with employees is one of the best ways to encourage meaningful feedback from your employees. If you show genuine concern and interest in what they have to say, it will come across and employees will be more likely to trust you and share valuable information.
- Measure it to manage it. Track near misses, injuries, reports and analyze for trends – and don’t forget to track follow-up actions too. Then you have data to rely on if employees or upper management question how well follow-up is being managed.
- Empower workers. Cultivate the idea that reporting is a way for employees to directly influence the safety of their workplace.
- Enforce it. Don’t let managers get away with punitive actions against employees that report near misses, injuries, or unsafe conditions.
- Smart incentives. Tie incentives to positive safety-related activities and not number of hours worked without an injury.