If they don't tell us, we don't know!
The importance of reporting incidents.
Yesterday, during a training workshop I was running on Personal Safety and Conflict Management for Lone Workers, one of the delegates shared a recent experience where a member of the public assaulted him. The whole room sat there intently listening to his story. He shared the details of the build up to the incident, his view on what had triggered the aggression, details of what he did to try to defuse the situation and ultimately he described how the person lashed out and struck him across the face. His colleagues looked concerned and shocked. It sounded like an awful incident and he was obviously still affected by what had happened.
I thanked him for sharing his story and many of the group commented that it was useful to hear about the incident so that they could be aware of the potential trigger (it turned out to be something that a lot of the group also did when meeting the public).
We broke for coffee and I sought out the delegate to make sure he was ok. I asked him how he felt about the support he had received after the incident and his answer really saddened me. “I didn’t bother to report it” he told me “There’s not much point. Aggression comes with the job and management won’t change anything anyway.”
This is such a common occurrence. Lone Workers are willing to share their stories and concerns with us in a training workshop, but for one reason or another they don’t officially report to anyone within the business. The reasons that are often cited are varied (and very often valid), but there is one theme that really exasperates me. It’s the “There is no point, nothing will change” reason. And I hear it a lot.
I can understand how frustrating it can be for Lone Workers to feel that nothing is done when they report incidents (and sadly in my experience in some cases that can be true), but equally it must be irritating for managers who keep getting feedback from me that their staff are suffering incidents and not telling them about it.
Here’s the rub. If Lone Workers don’t tell managers about incidents because they think they won’t do anything, then managers won’t know about an incident and can’t do anything.
One senior manager told me recently (after I had told her that her staff were not feeling supported) that she felt she was being asked to be a mind reader. “I don’t see my people often, so I rely on them to tell me when they have a problem. If they don’t report what is going on then I have no idea what they need.” She clearly wanted to offer support, but had not found the right way to encourage her staff to communicate.
Without information on the kind of incidents that are happening, Managers may also be concerned that they are focussing their resources in the wrong area. The data collected from incident reports can be taken into account in risk assessments and when planning risk controls. It can play an integral part of a risk management framework and without accurate information the wrong controls may be put in place, organisations may waste their resources and lone workers may feel even less supported.
So, is it that managers don’t listen or that lone workers don’t report? It’s the proverbial chicken and egg question. To be honest I don’t care which problem came first, I just know it needs fixing.
To help promote useful reporting that not only provides the organisation with an opportunity to learn and improve, but that also offers the lone worker the support and confidence in the system that they need, organisations need to ensure that:
- Lone Workers understand exactly what to report. Give clear guidance on what is meant by a ‘personal safety incident’, a ‘health and safety incident’ a ‘near miss’ etc. But always offer the opportunity to openly report anything that worries staff.
- Communicate the purpose and value of reporting incidents. Lone Workers need to understand that they have a responsibility to report incidents. The information they share can help to keep other people safe. In turn, share what you will do with the information collected and how it can help improve systems and working practices in the future, to safeguard not only their own but their colleagues safety.
- Reporting systems are accessible. Consider where you lone workers may be when an incident occurs. They may not have access to a computer or tablet. Think about providing a reporting app for smartphones if your employees have them, or if your employees don’t, then make sure there are paper copies of report forms within easy reach at all locations (or that lone workers can carry them).
- Report forms are easy to complete. When someone has been involved in a situation that affects their safety or wellbeing it can have an impact on their cognitive abilities. Keep the form as simple as possible and offer support with filling out if necessary.
- Don’t apportion ‘blame’ when employees report incidents. Be sure that your managers have the skills to be able to support and investigate incidents without apportioning blame. Note: a lone worker that reports more incidents than average may need extra support and guidance or may just be more conscientious about reporting.
- Provide support when incidents do occur. Whether the incident has had a physical or emotional impact, this is a time to ensure that your lone workers don’t feel alone.
- Provide feedback. Thank your employee for telling you about the incident. Remind them what you will do now (including the levels of support available to them) and always complete the loop with feedback after investigation.