Creating a Reporting Culture Requires More Than 1 Plus 2

By Nicole Barrett, Psychologist

May 15, 2016

reporting culture

There are 2 conditions essential to the reporting of safety incidents which are very well supported by the literature.

1) It is easy to do; and

2) There is no blame.

Makes perfect sense... All we need to do is have an efficient system or process for capturing the details of an event and keep any anxieties, about getting into trouble, at a minimum.

Yet despite the best efforts made by organisations to meet these 2 conditions, time and time again we hear that many incidents go unreported.

Why does this happen and what else can be done?

Firstly, let's not forget the power of conditions 1 and 2. You may believe that your reporting process is fast and efficient but for many frontline people, filling in paperwork or sitting at a computer for extended periods is far from 'easy to do'. Similarly, espousing a 'just' and 'no blame' culture does not mean that it is 'in-use'. By way of example, the message sent is not always the message received and Managers tend to underestimate their unconscious signals of annoyance and disappointment when an incident occurs... another discussion for a later date.

In addition to these conditions, our research suggests there is a 3rd ingredient which strongly influences decisions on whether to report a safety incident.

On reflection, when you consider that the primary purpose of reporting is to learn and reduce the chance of a re-occurrence, the 3rd element is not so surprising. Perhaps we have we lost sight of these intentions because how businesses learn from incidents, and feedback the investigation outcomes to the troops, serves as a vital factor in motivations to report. Put simply...

3) They perceive there is value in doing so.

More often than not, organisations are woeful at closing the learning loop. Even where there is sufficient time and resources for robust investigations, many fail to verify that the learning is shared, acted upon and embedded in the organisation.

A few tips on reinforcing your reporting culture:

  • Emphasise quality investigations that result in accurate data collection and an unbiased, holistic view of root causes;
  • Recognise that an incident alert or flyer does not qualify as learning. This is nothing more than 'information sent';
  • Ensure remedial actions resulting from the investigation are implemented and effective; and
  • Communicate what happened (details), what you learnt (outcomes) and what has been done about it (actions)!

Be assured, there is a strong appetite to know the outcomes of an investigation and visibly demonstrating how the organisation learns from incidents is a powerful lever in terms of motivations and reinforcing the importance of reporting.

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