Guarding against under-reporting of safety statistics

How can I guard against underreporting safety statistics at my organization?

Answered by Judith Coleman, Western regional manager, professional services, ESS, Tempe, AZ.

While it may be nearly impossible to eliminate all instances of underreporting due to an employee's inability or unwillingness to report an injury or illness, steps can be taken to improve work processes that will greatly improve data quality.

Data integrity plays a significant role in whether a company's safety program is successful. It is also one of the easiest stumbling blocks to remove, allowing companies to see improved safety performance from the moment their changes are implemented.

Because data is key to determining the success of any safety program, it is in an environmental health and safety professional's best interest to see how the data that the departments report can be expanded to give as much detail as possible, while making the process easier for those tasked with data collection.

Automated software programs are available that offer additional checks and balances to ensure records are filled out correctly and completely. These features can include highlighted fields that guide users through forms to ensure all necessary information is entered, and user-defined sections that address nonreportable data types such as near-miss incidents or minor injuries where basic first aid was needed. Although not necessary for compliance with OSHA, these nonreportable data sources offer EH&S professionals an opportunity to identify potential hazards in processes that may be causing injury or illness, and to look for ways to improve departmental responsiveness.

Studies have shown that fewer restrictions in data management programs regarding what must be entered at the time a record is open actually improves overall reporting and data integrity. For this reason, some software packages have preloaded reports that show professionals where gaps may exist in their incident data, so that users are free to populate data fields as data is reported or as time permits, instead of having to manage data entry as a batch process.

Additional benefits of automated reporting software packages include the use of charting and graph capabilities to help safety managers actively track and analyze data that is entered. Having a visual representation of safety data helps management to identify problem areas and remedy them before they become more serious occurrences.

The problem of underreporting OSHA recordables doesn't have to bring safety programs to a halt. EH&S professionals can change the way their organizations view OSHA recordkeeping by making the active pursuit of safety the program goal, and the elimination of hazardous processes and environments the metric by which employees measure success.

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