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Incident Reports: The Ultimate Guide

A well-written incident report protects both the worker and the company.

Posted by Ann Snook on October 4th, 2021


Almost 3 million non-fatal workplace incidents were reported by private industry employers in 2019 and over 888,000 in the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thirty-eight per cent of women have been sexually harassed at work. Nearly half of companies have experienced a data breach within the last year.

No matter how safe you think your workplace is, there’s a good chance you will need to complete an incident report this year. Misreported incidents can lead to compromised cases, additional incidents, and even lawsuits and fines.

Does your organization have a process in place when the inevitable occurs?


Not sure if you’re documenting incidents in your workplace properly?

This incident report template pack helps HR, safety, and other departments capture important incident-related information. Download your pack to ensure your reports are thorough, consistent, and compliant.

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What is a Workplace Incident?


A workplace incident refers to almost anything that goes awry on a job site or any place where an employee is representing your organization.

Upon hearing the term “workplace incident”, many people first think of accidents, injuries, illnesses, and near-misses. These could be trips, slips, falls, burns, broken bones, strains and sprains, and other bodily harm sustained on the job. Incidents also include other health and safety issues, such as exposure to hazardous or toxic substances or communicable diseases (e.g. the flu or COVID-19).

However, workplace incidents also relate to:

  • Damage to company property (e.g. building, electronics, company cars)
  • Physical security issues (e.g. break-in, damage to locks/security cameras/buzzer system)
  • Cybersecurity issues (e.g data breach, phishing attempts, malware)
  • Workplace misconduct (e.g. theft, harassment, discrimination, bullying, violence)
  • Conduct of employees outside the workplace (if you have an off-duty conduct policy)


In the video below, internal investigations expert Ken McCarthy, PCI, clears up two common misconceptions about workplace incidents.

What is an Incident Report?


An incident report is completed any time an incident or accident occurs in the workplace. It’s among the most important documents used in an investigation at every company that values the health, safety, and wellbeing of its employees.

Most companies with more than 10 employees are required by OSHA to keep records of workplace incidents. But many managers don’t know how to write one.

An initial report is the first step in the incident investigation process no matter what type of incident is being recorded. In it, you record details of the incident for regulatory reporting requirements, as well as your company’s records.

The information you should include in the incident report varies according to the type of incident being reported. Generally, though, you should outline:

  1. What happened (detailed description of the incident, incident category/type)
  2. When it happened (date and time)
  3. Where it happened (be as specific as possible)
  4. How it happened (Are there any obvious root causes, like a puddle on the floor where an employee slipped)
  5. Who it happened to (employee name and title)
  6. Who reported it (Who is writing this document?)
  7. Everyone who was involved (victim, witnesses, and accused person if misconduct is alleged)
  8. Any damage or injury that incurred (nature and severity)
  9. Witness reports/testimonials


A report can be initiated by:

  • an employee who witnessed the incident
  • a manager who has knowledge of the incident
  • an automated detection method (e.g. security alarm system, email filtering)
  • a report on your hotline intake system (e.g. phone call, online submission)
  • an email from someone with knowledge of the incident
  • a customer or client report


RELATED: The Complete Guide to Workplace Incident Investigations


Your intake methods are important; implementing multiple reporting options (like email, hotline, phone calls, etc.) means you won’t risk missing serious incidents.

With all of these methods for initiating an incident report, having a consistent system for writing, filing, and organizing them is imperative. Otherwise, you could miss details or entire reports, potentially putting employees in danger or resulting in a pricey compliance lapse.

The way you store incident details is also crucial. Keeping track of incident reports and investigations in spreadsheets or paper files can make it tough to find the information later. You could even forget about some files altogether. Storing the incident report and subsequent investigation materials in a centralized location helps you save time and stay compliant.

i-Sight software streamlines your incident intake process and stores all the incident information in one place, ensuring no details slip through the cracks. Learn how here.


How to Write an Incident Report


For incidents that have regulatory requirements for reporting, such as those under Title IX and Title VII, and those that involve OSHA violations, you’ll need to record the incident according to federal and state/provincial government guidelines.

Guidelines may dictate a time limit for reporting and that certain information is recorded and reported to authorities. An incident report template, like the one shown below, can help guide you, regardless of regulatory requirements.

Be sure to include as many details in each section as possible. This ensures that you meet reporting requirements, if applicable, and helps you maintain thorough records.

Certain types of incidents involve special recording requirements under OSHA. These include work-related accidents and injuries involving:

  • Needlesticks and sharp injuries
  • Medical removal
  • Hearing loss
  • Tuberculosis


In the United States, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a division of the US Department of Labor, oversees health and safety legislation and incident reporting requirements. There are also state-level OSHA-approved plans with reporting requirements for health and safety related incidents.

In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) is the federal body that oversees health and safety incident reporting requirements for federal employees and companies that operate across provincial or international borders. The remainder of companies are bound by incident reporting requirements of the province or territory in which they are situated.

A report may also be completed for incidents not related to health and safety. These could be related to:


These reports are sometimes referred to as complaints, but whichever term an employer uses, they all require that a report is filed.


Timeframe for Reporting


The first step in managing an incident is to capture the facts of the incident as quickly as possible after it occurs.

It’s important to file an incident report on the same day the incident occurs, when everyone involved is still on the premises and can remember what happened easily. If you wait too long before reporting an incident, those involved may forget the details of what happened and witnesses might be unavailable for interviews.

Most companies have a policy for incident reporting that dictates the time frame for reporting after an incident has occurred. The time frame may be directed by industry best practices or even regulations.

For instance, under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), companies that process the data of California residents must inform affected users of a data breach “in the most expedient time possible and without unreasonable delay.” Prompt incident reporting is crucial to ensure compliance.

A consistent process and timely reporting are crucial for incidents, no matter the type, severity, or industry. You never know when something that seemed like a minor incident will turn into a court case.

A template can make incident reporting easier and ensures that you include all the information necessary. If you’re using case management software, the incident report can be completed in the system and will trigger the creation of a new case. This will save you administration time and keeps incident response consistent, preventing the risk of further incidents or fines. You can talk to an i-Sight representative to learn more about about how our case management system can help you record and respond to incidents more effectively here.


Are your incident investigations fair, timely, thorough, and consistent?

If not, your risk further incidents, fines, and lawsuits. Download this printable checklist so you don’t miss any important investigation steps.

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Purpose of the Employee Incident Report


An incident report serves as the official record of the incident and all subsequent activity related to the incident relies on the initial information recorded in this document.

A timely report helps companies respond quickly to issues, resolve conflicts, and take preventive measures to reduce risk.

The report:

  • Triggers an investigation
  • Provides documentation for follow-up
  • Supplies information to be used in the investigation
  • Is used for reporting to identify areas of risk
  • Provides data for company and industry research and analysis
  • Shows the company documented the incident within the required timeline
  • Ensures compliance with industry regulations that govern reporting of certain types of incidents and in certain industries


Using the data from your incident report records, you can find patterns and areas of risk that need your attention. Then, focus your preventive efforts on those hot spots to keep similar incidents from happening in the future.

For instance, say you notice an increase in harassment incidents this year. Using that information, you could require more frequent harassment training, frame respect as part of the job description, and encourage victims and witnesses to speak up on your reporting hotline.

i-Sight’s built-in reporting feature can analyze this data for you and present it in an easy-to-understand format such as graphs, charts, and heat maps. Learn how this feature can help your company prevent incidents here.


After the Report


Once all the information is captured in the report, it’s time to assess what happened to decide whether or not to conduct a full investigation.

Not every incident will require an investigation. “Small disputes can usually be dealt with without investigation, but you never want to make issues worse by making an incident seem less impactful than it was,” says Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy.

But how do you decide? “Investigations should be mandatory if they meet all three criteria—first being that they have legal ramifications,” explains HR specialist Jamie Hickey. “Second being that it will have a significant negative organizational impact if [the investigation] is not conducted, meaning it has potential to expose other employees or organizations wrong-doing. Thirdly, letting it go without investigating could lead to costly litigation or legal outcomes.”

Next, you’ll need to decide who will conduct the investigation. You’ll need to decide whether to outsource the investigation or assign an internal investigator, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

For example, an external investigator will approach the investigation fairly and neutrally. They also reduce your liability, might encourage witnesses to share more information, and could have expertise in an area your in-house investigators lack. Internal investigators, on the other hand, don’t cost any extra money and can get to work right away.

Choose an investigator who can remain objective and whose knowledge and skill set match the incident type and scope.

A comprehensive investigation should ensue, involving interviews with everyone involved, evidence gathering, analysis, and a conclusion. The investigator completes an investigation report and this brings the process full-circle. You can use the results of this report to make changes in the organization so that the incident isn’t repeated.

Finally, aggregated information about incidents, accidents, and illnesses can help you conduct effective risk assessments and analyze trends. If you can report on the data gathered in incident investigations, you have valuable insight into your company’s safety culture and work environment. Use this information to identify areas for safety and security improvements, additional training and incident prevention programs.


A poorly-managed investigation can lead to more incidents, lawsuits, and other negative consequences.

Download our free eBook to learn 10 steps to investigation management success.

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Workplace incident reports are a key part of regulatory compliance. But they’re even more useful for internal purposes.

14 per cent of companies don’t use a consistent template to file incident reports, putting themselves at risk. Thorough, consistent record-keeping helps you identify areas of risk so you can take more informed preventive measures, protecting both your employees’ well-being and your company’s reputation.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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