Incident Report

What is Incident Report? - A complete guide

An incident report is a document that accurately provides the details of an incident; especially one that causes damages, injury or death.


How your company chooses to address a crisis situation, especially when the incident is happening is vital. Major accidents like the sinking of the Titanic, BP’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, The Chernobyl disaster  have time and again reminded us how important it is to have guidelines in place for safety adherence.

Imagine yourself in a situation where your workspace was last renovated 10 years ago. You walk into your office on a bright and sunny morning and encounter a huge sound explosion and your AC Unit stops working. Luckily you are unharmed, but this is an incident to be reported and acted upon. For all you know, there may be some wiring that has gone bad and if the incident is not reported, it may lead to a big accident in the near future causing both physical damage to the building and the people working there. 

What is an Incident Report?

An incident report is a tool that documents an episode which may or may not have caused injury to somebody or may or may not have damaged a company asset. The tool is used to record details like:

  • Injuries and accidents involving humans
  • Near missed incidents
  • Property and equipment damage
  • Health and safety issues
  • Security breach at workplace
  •  Inappropriate behaviour/misconduct in work environment

The report documents in detail the snapshot of events that might or might not have led to a hazardous incident. These incidents can further be classified into 5 categories as listed below: 

  • Fatal: This refers to occurrences which may cause death by accidents.  (outbreak, disease, calamity, disasters). 
  • Serious accidents: Incidents causing serious mental, psychological or physical injury causing disability or non-disability leading to long-term hospitalization.
  • Minor accidents: Accidents that don't require hospitalization and are minor in nature such as, scratches, wounds or bruises, minor burns. 
  • Near misses: Any incidents causing “disruption of services” without any other accidents is a near miss. 
  • Unsafe acts: All other acts that don’t adhere to the safety norms like sexual misconduct, manipulation of facts, misrepresentation of information fall under unsafe acts. 

An incident report can be used by an employee to report an incident he/she has witnessed, an authority to create an incident report, or an internal department within the organization to educate employees and make them aware of the risk associated with the said incident.

Why is incident reporting important?

An incident report is extremely important when investigating and analyzing a particular occurence/episode. It contains vital information like the root cause of any accident. This can help in formulating corrective actions to avoid any such mishap in the future. It also helps identify potential risk areas and hazards that are beyond control at a worksite. 

All the frontline workers and the management need to understand that reporting an incident can save many lives. It can improve the overall efficiency, minimize risks, avert unpleasant situations  and overall promote a ‘safety culture’ within the organization. 

It makes the organization aware of the threats

When the workforce is aware of the threats, they are reminded of the possible hazards of doing a certain thing. It raises the organizations response time for a certain hazard if that occurs, as there is already an action plan in place to manage the risk. Employees are more aware to not repeat a certain mistake that has already been reported.

Take an example of a salon who had an incident related to steamer when the attendant left the customer alone with the steamer on. When the incident is highlighted to all the employees and organisation. The organisation makes it mandatory for the attendant to be around the steamer and not leave the customer alone. Also, strict timing to be followed when using the steamer. The organisation is reminded of the checkpoints that need to be in place and the employees are aware of the behaviour/events that are harmful for them and others.

Having a proper communication channel for incident reporting is a must. If not followed it can result in bigger threats. 

Benefits of an Incident Report

Adapting incident reporting as a practice can help organizations create a safe and healthy work environment and culture. Most importantly it can facilitate:

  • Immediate reinforcement of actions.
  • Help the organization improve its processes on a continuous basis.
  • Communicating employees about potential hazards and threats and creating awareness among them.

Scope of improvement

Any bad occurrence is a reminder for the organization that something is not right at the workplace. It is said, knowing the problem is half the solution. Reporting smaller issues and as many unsafe acts helps to reduce the probability of fatal accidents. Such smaller issues provide the management with the valuable data to improve the overall working conditions. Once the root-cause is in place management can brainstorm and work to improve the process or supply chain or working conditions. 

More data to analyse and improve the process

Quantitative analysis here is reliant not just on the amount of observation but also the number of times that it can be done. The more the better as it helps secure greater insights on human errors, system failures or regulatory weaknesses. 

Reporting is cheaper than the costs of a major incident

The cost of an accident ranges from thousands to tens of thousands of times more than the cost of mitigating the risk at the initial stage. Be it a small organisation with few employees to more than ten thousand, the cost of maintaining a system to track a report is much lesser than an actual accident which might involve one or many lives. 

Builds a culture of safety and standardised process throughout the organisation

Each organisational culture is made of their values and thoughts. The culture of safety is the best that one can give to the employees. It gains the trust of the employees and the customers using the services or products of such a company.

What all should be included in an incident report?

  • General information like specific location, time and date of the incident. This will be a valuable piece of information if further investigation is needed. 
  • Setting or environment  implies the  environmental conditions that may have contributed to the incident. 
  • Affected people implies the people involved, their title or position, and their department.
  • Injuries and the severity comprise the type of injury, its severity, and body parts that were injured.
  • Witnesses comprise statements of people present during the incident.
  • Administered treatment gives information about the initial treatment, aid, or any medication administered  to the affected individuals. 
  • Property and equipment damages to certain assets, materials, facilities, and equipment that were damaged during the incident. 
  • Events include the sequence of actions that led to the incident. Also, describe in detail why it turned out to be an incident.

Basic Structure of an Incident Report:

The information layout of the report will vary because of its dependency on multiple factors. However, as a rule the person writing the report should try and write the report as a third person. This implies that the tone of the report should be ‘narrative’. The report should be objective and comprise only facts. It should be devoid of any personal opinion and biases.

1. Introduction & Body

It is here that you mention all the details of the incident in a detailed manner. Ensure that you list out all the details pertaining to the incident from start to finish in a chronological manner. Mention the people involved, time and place, and how the incident happened clearly over here.

The introduction part of the report should talk about details like - 

Who all were involved in the incident? The report should clearly mention the names, designation and department of all the people involved. In case an outside party is involved it is imperative to mention the person’s role. For example, a guest/client/vendor etc. 

Give a brief summary of the incident. Keep it short and crisp in the introduction, for example: The hand dryer in the lady’s restroom malfunctioned. However, no one was hurt as the restroom was empty. 

When did the incident occur? Clearly mention the date and time of when the incident happened. If you are not aware of the exact time, please do mention the tentative time. Where did the incident occur? Give details of the exact location, for example: Ladies restroom, 5th Floor, B Wing, XYZ Arcade.

2. Findings and Conclusion

Make a note of all your findings about the incident and mention if the cause of the incident has been resolved or not. If the issue is still to be resolved, mention what corrective actions have been planned for its resolution. Also, mention the date/deadline by when everything will be brought to a closure.

3.Signing Off

The sign off on the report is usually done by two people, the incident report writer and the reviewer. It must be ensured that the name and role of both are clearly mentioned and signatures of both the individuals are present. This is extremely important for future verification, audits and recordkeeping.

We are now aware of the basic structure of an incident report. Let us now look at some sample incident report formats. These formats are used for three most commonly occurring workplace accidents:

  • Accident and time lost report
  • Exposure incident report
  • First-Aid incident report 

You can use it as guides or reference points to effectively write an incident report.

Accident and time lost report

This type of report is usually in a form format, where all the vital information regarding the incident is mentioned in columns on the form. This format of reporting is commonly used for an incident like reporting a person’s accident.

The report must include all the information pertaining to the incident. The following details must be present in the report:

  • Nature of the incident (injury, death, near miss, property damage, theft)
  • Location where the incident occurred (complete address)
  • Date and time when the incident happened
  • Names of all those who have been impacted
  • Name of the immediate supervisors of all those impacted
  • Detailed statement of each person attached as annexures 
  • Names of witness if any
  • Statement of all the witnesses as annexures
  • Background or context setting of the event
  • Present state of the people who were harmed/impacted by the incident
  • On what basis did the decision makers take a call on whether to call the emergency services or not
  • Details of any injuries that might have happened. If yes, the severity of the injury needs to be mentioned
  • Has the organization made available the required treatment to those affected?
  • Photos of the place before and after the incident. If possible, also attach photos of the place when the incident actually happened
  • List down all the hazards that have been identified as a result of this event
  • Findings of the investigating team and the reason why the incident happened in the first place

Given below is an example of an incident report narrative describing a fall resulting in a fracture:

“On a Saturday morning, March 13, 2021, at 8 a.m. in a hotel, located at 6th Avenue, New York, one of the store room workers (Adam Smith) slipped and fell down while carrying two big sacks of potatoes weighing approx 100 lbs.

The root cause is believed to be the absence of a hand cart on-site. Instead of requesting one of his colleagues to get a hand cart, Adam attempted to carry the load on his back to save time. 

When Adam slipped and fell down under the weight of the sack, his colleagues and his supervisor (George Underwood) immediately rushed to help. George suspected that Adam’s wrist and foot had been fractured, so he decided to call 911.

As per Adam, he felt an excruciating pain in his legs and back due to the heavy weight of the sacks. As a result, he lost balance and tripped over.

His colleagues, Chris and Gayle testified that they felt Adam was getting uncomfortable. However, before they could do anything to help him, the damage had already been done.

Please refer to the attached witness statements for more information. Adam was taken to the hospital and it was confirmed that his right foot and wrist were fractured. He will not be able to attend to his duties for at least 5 weeks.

The supervisor is currently working with Max from the administration team to assess the working conditions in the store-room. They are also taking a stock of the number of hand carts and their condition. The floor plan of the store room is also being reviewed.”

As you can see, the narrative describes all the important events of the accident and also mentions the names and roles of all involved clearly.

Exposure Incident Report

Incidents happening due to exposure to a pathogen or dangerous chemicals can occur if your workplace is a research lab, hospital, hotel etc. It is extremely important to make an incident report in such a scenario. All the details required for ``Accident and Time Lost” must be recorded. In addition, following details related to the exposure must also be present in the report:

  • Mention the chemical/pathogen/carcinogen. Also elaborate on the quantity, potency. Clearly mention about the description on the labels and safety data sheets 
  • Monitoring data of exposure, if any
  • Details of any contaminated material or asset
  • Description of the body part/parts exposed, area of exposure (size and volume) and length of exposure (time period)
  • Visible symptoms after exposure, severity of symptoms
  • Photographs of description labels of the substance to which the victim was exposed

Given below is an example of an incident report narrative describing an exposure because of inhalation:

“Stephanie Cooper, a janitor working at a hotel in New York City, was exposed to poisonous fumes on April 15, 2021, between 7:30 am to 8:00 am. She was cleaning the staff toilets along with her colleague Penny Stewart, who was cleaning the wash basins and mopping the floors outside.

Stephanie cleaned the first two washrooms, however, the moment she entered the third washroom she felt uneasy and breathless. She also felt slight burning in her chest and was about to collapse. She immediately came out and sat on the bench. Penny informed the floor supervisor Leonard Marx, that Stephanie was unwell. However, Penny did not exhibit any such symptoms.

The supervisor examined the site and felt a similar stench. He also noticed that the exhaust fan and window were closed and hence there was no ventilation in the room. Leonard drove Stephanie to the hospital. She was coughing and complaining of chest pain on the way to the hospital. Her complete medical report is awaited and she has been hospitalised for two days. Medical report will be attached once we receive the same.

In later investigation, Penny revealed that Stephanie’s toilet cleaning agent was almost over and not enough to clean all the four washrooms, so she had mixed a little floor cleaning agent to finish the job. Please refer to the attached report for complete details.

Leonard is reviewing all the cleaning agent stock and refilling schedules along with his supervisor David Hill.”

The narrative for the First-aid incident report also needs to be written on similar lines. The objective of writing an incident report is to improve safety in the work environment. 

These samples exhibit that by recording true facts, you foster a better employer-employee relationship and ensure a safe working culture. 

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