Underreporting of safety incidents is one of the largest issues holding back your organisation’s safety efforts. Not only does it give you a false perception about the state of your workplace safety, it also robs you of countless opportunities to prevent significant safety incidents from happening. With potential safety issues being swept under the rug, your workplace could be a ticking time-bomb with a major crisis just waiting around the corner.
The worst part? Without effective reporting, there’s no way for you to even be aware of it.
That’s why we recently studied the prevalence of underreporting in the workplace across 9 major industries to understand exactly what factors were driving this detrimental behaviour. When we analysed the data, it became clear that over 38% of workers underreport because they have a general under appreciation of the value of reporting. The top-rated reason across all demographics?
“Taking care of the problem oneself.”
While at first, this appears to indicate a strong sense of initiative and good intent, it takes away the opportunity for potential improvements in your workplace processes by giving you a biased view about the state of your workplace safety.
So as a safety leader without the ability to evaluate the prevalence of underreporting, how do you solve an issue that you can’t even see?
Well, you need to start by shifting your team’s perspective on the value of safety reporting.
The Perceived Value of Reporting
You see, when we’re trying to decide if we should do something, our brain subconsciously weighs up the benefits and costs of each option to figure out which choice we should make. This evaluation is known as a perceived cost or a perceived benefit, which refers to our perception of the consequences of any specific action. This is also influenced by our knowledge, social approval and previous experiences.
The problem is that without the right guidance and education, workers often have a limiting view about the benefits of reporting by simply placing it as a “legal obligation” that their employer has, instead of being a key avenue for the management of their own safety, helping them perform their employment requirements and return home safely.
With that perspective in mind, reporting minor safety issues is deemed to provide the worker with minimal personal value, while the time and effort they spend placing that report comes at a larger personal cost. Although the value they’d gain from having a safe workplace is extremely high, their perception of what they think they’d gain from reporting an incident is quite low.
So when an incident occurs that would require a safety report, the limited benefits that they perceive reporting to have makes them more motivated to just handle the issue themselves, instead of going through a potentially lengthy reporting process. The more effort that’s involved in making a report, the higher the likelihood that they’ll choose not to report it instead (Sigurdsson et. al, 2013).
Our research has shown that this is especially prevalent in a Counterproductive level of safety culture where underappreciation of reporting was listed as the most prevalent reason for why workers chose not to place a report.
So as a leader or a frontline manager, how do you help your workers see the value of reporting for themselves?
Stating the Importance of Reporting Isn’t Enough
The first line-of-defence for many leaders is to try to motivate their teams to report safety incidents or near misses by simply emphasising the importance of it. The issue with this approach is that while your team might outwardly express their agreeance with you, they may not internally believe the importance of reporting for themselves.
Without the right internal beliefs, the risk of having a Public Compliance culture increases substantially, with teams that complete safety reports when they’re under supervision, then brushing the issue “under the rug” when they aren’t being watched.
To shift your team’s perspective on the value of reporting, you need to take it a level deeper by helping them clearly see the impact that their individual contributions are having on your overall workplace safety. By helping them understand and internalise why every safety report matters, you can start to tip the scale in their minds towards the decision to place a safety report, instead of quietly addressing the issue for themselves.
Some avenues to improve incident reporting rates include:
- Implementing a range of educational sessions to help your team understand exactly how efficient reporting of safety incidents leads to the prevention of workplace injuries and property damage.
- Actively share statistics with your team that evidence how previous safety reports have led to positive changes in workplace safety.
- Review your existing safety reporting processes for any potential opportunities to streamline or simplify the activity.
- Provide your team with regular feedback on the status of various safety investigations or corrections that stem from incident reports that they filed.
Most importantly, as a safety leader, you need to lead by example and show your team how much you value it.
Leading by Example
Your team looks towards your organisation’s leaders as a compass to guide how they should operate in the workplace. If your leaders aren’t actively behaving in ways that are conducive to optimal levels of operational safety, why should their team be expected to follow suit? To ensure that your employees see the value in safety reporting for themselves, you need to start at the top of the operational chain with leadership development programs to ensure that your leaders and managers behave as role models for the ideal standards in safety behaviour.
Studies into the influence of safety leaders reinforce the importance of this, showing a strong link between the behaviour of leaders and the levels of safety participation across an organisation (Kapp, 2012). As such, leaders need to ensure that they themselves see personal value in reporting and that they’re strategically expressing the behaviours and attitudes that they want to see from their teams.
By focusing on leadership development, you can trigger a positive chain reaction throughout your entire organisation where the improved safety attitudes of leaders then influences perspectives on safety reporting across the entire workplace.Instead of trying to address the issue by working with one employee at the time, you can amplify your safety initiatives by taking a top-down approach to addressing the issue of underreporting.
- Kapp, E.A. (2012). The inﬂuence of supervisor leadership practices and perceived group safety climate on employee safety performance. Saf. Sci, 50, 1119–1124.
- Sigurdsson, S. O., Taylor, M. A., & Wirth, O. (2013). Discounting the value of safety: Effects of perceived risk and effort. Journal of Safety Research, 46, 127–134.