Man on tablet looking at report.

Incident Reports: The Complete Guide

By Ryan Hersh on October 12, 2022

What is an Incident Report?

An incident report formally documents workplace accidents, events, or near misses. These reports are crucial for capturing the details of the events that occur in situations like damage to company property, personal injury, health and safety issues, security breaches, or personnel misconduct. Companies should file incident reports because they give clear documentation of any incidents that happen to occur in the workplace.

What is the Purpose of Incident Reporting?

Incident reporting is designed to provide formal and written documentation to describe the causes of workplace accidents and incidents. The reports should detail actions taken at present to address the incident and the reports can serve as frameworks for preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future. 

Top 3 Benefits of Incident Reporting at Work

Incident reports are much more than a record-keeping tool. Organizations, employees, management, and even authorities benefit from the information provided in incident reports. While these reports provide many valuable resources to an organization, here are the top three benefits of incident reporting while at work: 

1. Immediate Action Reinforcement

When an accident or incident occurs in the workplace, it benefits a company to have the report filed in a timely manner, with accurate information. Reports should outline where things have gone wrong within the organization so that measures can be implemented to ensure these types of accidents or mishaps are avoided in the future. When a company takes incident reporting seriously, it sends a clear message that the organization prioritizes workplace safety and the business is accounting for all incidents and events, both big and small.

2. Communication of Hazards and Threats

Companies utilize incident reports to notify team members of workplace hazards. Once a report is filed, company leadership teams can disseminate the reports to employees and review the reports in a group setting. A company-wide report review will make the entire team aware of the factors that contributed to an incident so that teams will be more likely to notice other lapses in safety and then report them before another incident occurs. 

3. Process Improvement

The incident report provides clear and formal documentation of what went wrong and how companies can prevent similar damage from happening in the future. Incident reports show where there are gaps in an organization’s structures, methods, or processes. This knowledge enables management teams to create plans for improving company processes and for determining which policies and regulations are helping to create a safe workplace. 

What is Considered an Incident? 

Workplace incidents include a variety of events. While no incident will be the same, each one will cause disruption, create dangerous or harmful risks, and introduce negative impacts on the workplace and employees. 

Workplace Incident Categories

Workplace incidents can be categorized according to their severity. Some incidents will result in significant injury or property damage, whereas other events will simply be considered close calls. While many types of incidents can happen, here are the most common types of incidents that occur in the workplace today:

1. Positive Observations

Positive observations in incident reporting highlight the kind of behavior a company wants to encourage, and positive observations are the most common incidents among all workplaces. These observations validate a job well done and serve as concrete examples of how employees should conduct themselves in the workplace. Wearing helmets when required or showing a thorough knowledge of a fire escape plan are examples of positive observations. 

Positive observations serve not only as ideals, but they also help organizations prevent harmful incidents from happening. Leadership teams can solidify their company culture of safety and risk management by noting what a team is doing well and highlighting how the team is practicing safety at work.

2. Unsafe Acts

Unsafe acts do not necessarily result in immediate danger or harm to property or personnel. However, unsafe acts are just that: unsafe. These incidents should be addressed, and plans should be put in place to reduce the number of these events. Shining a light on unsafe acts can help companies to draw attention to how teams can be more diligent about safety and how the team can work toward a safer workplace for all. 

3. Near Misses

A near miss refers to any situation where no one was harmed, but it was a close call. A near miss can shake up a team, especially if the risks or potential for injury were significant. Companies should take near misses seriously and they should use those events as educational opportunities to teach their teams the importance of workplace safety. 

4. Minor Injuries

If a team member gets injured on the job, but they don’t need to take time off work to recover, this is typically referred to as a minor injury incident. Medical care for a minor injury is usually administered on site so that the employee can immediately return to work.

5. Lost Time Accidents

A lost time accident means that an employee has been injured and requires time off for healing and medical care. Lost time incidents can vary in their severity; some will result in a mild injury such as a sprained ankle, but others can result in more severe injuries, like an amputation. Injuries sustained in a lost time accident will keep the employee out of work, which means the entire team will feel the weight of these incidents, both from an emotional and productivity standpoint. 

6. Fatalities

Unfortunately, death can occur in many high-risk workplaces. No company wants to face the reality of a fatality within their team, especially if the event occurs at work. After all reports are filed, company leaders should consider giving their teams time to grieve and approach moving forward with empathy and care. 

Common Types of Incident Reports

1. Workplace

Workplace incident reports detail physical events that happen at work and affect an employee’s productivity. These incidents can include injuries and near misses as well as other accidents that negatively impact the employee and the company. Workplace reports also allow for an employee to voice concerns regarding safety, security, and conduct.

2. Accident or First Aid

Accident or first aid reports are unique in that they can be filed by law enforcement and safety officers, as well as by members within an organization. First aid reports are used to document accidents that result in injury. 

3. Safety and Security

Safety and Security reports document theft, loss, and other security breaches that occur on a property, and typically a company’s security team will file the safety and security report. The breaches included in these types of reports can be physical, like a break-in or theft, but they can also cover cybercrime and database breaches. 

4. Exposure Incident Report

Exposure incidents include situations where an eye, mouth, mucous membrane, or non-intact skin makes contact with blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM). A formal report must be filed when an exposure incident occurs, and the employer must refer the exposed employee to a licensed healthcare professional. 

When Should You Write an Incident Report?

Prompt incident reporting is crucial for accurate documentation. Studies show that witnesses tend to forget the details of an incident as time passes, especially if the event was traumatic. 

That’s why incident reports should be filed immediately. When witness interviews happen right away and incident reports are filed promptly, they are more likely to gather all the important and minute details that need to be included in the report.

Having timely and accurate reports is beneficial to the organization and its employees for several reasons. One benefit of prompt incident reporting is that insurance companies can start to address the claim. If an incident report is delayed in being filed, it is possible that the insurance company could raise premiums and it’s possible that federal penalties could apply if too much time passes between the incident and when the report is filed.

A benefit of accurate reporting is that it enables the company to better address the gaps in safety, which can help the company move forward with new implementations that prevent workplace harm. Additionally, incident reports can serve as important legal documents if the authorities need to become involved in the accident. Given all the benefits to prompt reporting, it is clear that immediately filing an incident report will result in better outcomes for everyone involved.

What Needs to Be Included in an Incident Report?

For an incident report to be effective, there is important information that is necessary to include that will make the report helpful and clear. Incident reports should be factual, thorough, and highly detailed, and they should include these items: 

  • Specific Details – specific details paint an accurate picture of what led up to an event, how the event took place, and what happened immediately afterward. 
  • Facts – incident reports should be factual and should not be charged with emotion or opinions. 
  • Affected Persons – every person that was involved in the incident should be documented, from witnesses to those injured or those causing damage.
  • Setting – the date, time, and location of the incident should always be included. 
  • Administered Treatments – if an injury occurs in the incident, the medical care provided should be recorded and the names of the persons who administered and received medical care should be documented. 
  • Damages – the report should note any damage to a company or personal property as well as injuries sustained. 
  • Supporting Evidence – the report should collect photographs and videos of the event or the scene of the event. If someone made a call connected to the event, like a call to management or to 911, that information should be included in the report. 
  • Signed Validation – signatures should be collected from those involved in the incident to confirm that everyone agrees upon what has been recorded. 

What to do After Completing an Incident Report? 

Once an incident report is filled out, the process is not yet complete – the report should also be sent to the team that is responsible for handling the investigation. This team should have the skills to evaluate the evidence presented in your report, and they must understand workplace health and safety standards. 

The investigation team will review the report to determine the cause of the incident. They can then implement new policies and protocols to help prevent incidents from occurring in the future. A proper investigation will also ensure that the company is meeting federal requirements for workplace safety and the investigation can help determine the costs of property damage incurred during the incident.  


Incident reports might seem intimidating or even needless in some circumstances, but ultimately they are meant to keep companies and their team members safe. Timely and accurate incident reports will address the present hazards and will help organizations cultivate a workplace culture of safety by preventing future accidents from occurring. Knowing how, when, and why to file an incident report will help keep properties safe and productive, and employees will know their well-being is a top priority. Check out GoCanvas’ free trial to see how you can use our incident report templates to keep your team safe.

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