Safety/Published: March 25, 2024

How to Write an Incident Report

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When you see a sign on the plant floor declaring the number of days since the last employee injury, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

While on the surface a high number might seemingly demonstrate good safety performance, it may also conceal certain risks.

People feel pressured not to report injuries. Hazards stay hidden. Manufacturers miss vital opportunities to learn from incidents and prevent similar recurrences.

In truth, all workplace injuries are preventable—all it takes is a commitment to learning from previous incidents. For that, you need a robust incident management process, the foundation of which is accurate and complete incident reports.

To help manufacturers get there, this article explores how to write an incident report, including:

  • What an incident report is, its purpose and benefits of incident reporting
  • Key elements you should include on your incident report
  • How incident reporting fits into the larger incident management process
  • Best practices to follow and mistakes companies should avoid

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What Is an Incident Report?

An EHS incident report describes details of workplace injuries and illnesses as part of the incident management process. A thorough and detailed incident report is critical to identifying factors around workplace incidents and implementing corrective actions to prevent recurrence and should include:

  • Basic details such as where and when the incident occurred
  • Any injuries sustained in the incident
  • Relevant circumstances surrounding the event, such as contributing factors and treatment administered

Purpose of Incident Reporting

Incident reports are an integral part of the incident management process. Incident reports are used to:

  • Document incidents for internal recordkeeping and compliance reporting to agencies such as the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
  • Investigate the root cause of incidents so companies can implement corrective and preventive actions
  • Share lessons learned with the organization about how employees can reduce risk


Download your free incident report template here

Benefits of Incident Reporting

Transparency around incidents is paramount to improving safety, but this is still something many organizations struggle with. A culture of openness is required to get people to report incidents, which in turn enables companies to:

  • Raise awareness of safety issues: Incident report data can be used to highlight key hazards that workers should be aware of on the plant floor.
  • Investigate and prevent future incidents: Identifying new hazards and trends in incident data can help guide your efforts around future safety improvements and preventive activities.
  • Foster a culture of safety: Prioritizing incident reporting demonstrates to employees that incidents are taken seriously and not just swept under the rug, providing evidence that management is genuinely committed to worker safety.

What to Include in an Incident Report

The incident report should use objective facts rather than subjective opinions to describe the details of the event. The incident report should answer the following basic questions:

  • Who: Who was involved in the incident?
  • What: What happened leading up to, during and after the incident?
  • Where: Where did the incident occur?
  • When: When did it happen?
  • Why: Why did the incident occur?
  • How: How did environmental conditions and worker behaviours lead to the incident?

EHS incident reports can vary from company to company, whether using paper forms or digital incident management software. With the larger questions above in mind, however, let’s take a look at some common elements that should appear on most incident report forms.

Basic Details

Every incident report should capture basic details such as:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location in the plant

Individuals Involved

The incident report should record all individuals who were involved in the event, including:

  • The affected party
  • Any witnesses
  • Anyone who responded to the scene and/or provided medical assistance

Injury Details

If an employee was injured in the incident, you’ll need to document:

  • The type of injury
  • Injury severity
  • Which body part(s) were injured
  • Any treatment administered

Property Damage

You’ll want to note any equipment or materials damaged as a result of the incident.

Description of the Incident

The incident report should include a detailed narrative around the sequence of events and actions leading up to the incident.

Here you’ll want to make sure to note any plant floor conditions that could have contributed to the event, including any hazards present on the scene.

Witness Statements

It’s important to record the names of those present at the time of the incident and their statements of what happened. Witnesses can help provide more context on the event, and their signatures should be added to the statement to verify you’ve captured their perspective correctly.


Where possible, attaching photos of the injury or incident scene can aid in root cause analysis. If you’re using incident reporting software, for instance, you may be able to upload photos to the incident record.

Follow-Up Actions

The incident report should note any follow-up actions taken or recommended as a result of the incident, such as:

  • Containment activities or immediate corrections
  • Recommended corrective actions
  • Any preventive action needed or other areas of the plant that might be at risk


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Which Incidents Should You Report to OSHA?

OSHA has specific recordkeeping requirements for employers around workplace injuries and illnesses. In addition to fatalities, OSHA recordable injuries and illnesses are defined as any injury that results in:

  • Medical treatment beyond first aid
  • Days away from work, restricted work or job transfer
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fractured or cracked bones or teeth
  • Punctured eardrums
  • Work-related cancer or chronic irreversible disease diagnosis

The agency also has specific reporting criteria for cases involving hearing loss, needlestick injuries, removal under medical surveillance programs and tuberculosis.

Employers are required to document workplace injuries and illnesses on OSHA 300 forms, including:

  • OSHA Form 300: Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses
  • OSHA Form 300A: Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses
  • OSHA Form 301: Injury and Illness Incident Report

What Incidents Should You Report Internally?

While OSHA only requires some injuries to be reported, widening your net for internal reporting purposes can provide valuable data to improve safety and prevent future incidents.

For instance, requiring incident reports for accidents that don’t necessarily require first aid—such as a trip and fall where a person is only left bruised—can help ensure hazards are appropriately addressed. Near misses should also be considered incidents since they are a primary predictor of where actual injuries are likely to happen in the future.

Internal incident report data can be used for root cause analysis, finding patterns of risk and identifying corrective and preventive actions. Fires, small chemical spills, minor vehicle incidents—all of these, while not necessarily OSHA recordable, can provide important information to guide safety improvements.

Incident Report Training Tips and Best Practices

When training your team on incident reporting, there are several key elements you’ll want to focus on:

  • Reporting requirements: Make sure that your team understands OSHA reporting requirements and internal policies in terms of what injuries need to be reported, reporting timelines and information that must be included. For example, OSHA requires employers to submit OSHA Form 301 within seven days of a recordable incident and report any severe injury within eight hours.
  • Timeliness: Whether or not an injury is considered OSHA recordable, you’ll want to emphasize timely reporting of all workplace incidents. That’s because the longer you wait to report an incident, the less likely people are to remember important details—if they remember to report it at all.
  • Objectivity: It’s important to stress the need to collect objective facts rather than subjective opinions. Those writing reports should avoid speculation, assumptions or assigning blame.
  • Avoid finger-pointing: Make it clear that management isn’t interested in incident reporting for the purpose of shaming workers. Rather, the goal is to collect more data on workplace hazards to improve the entire team’s well-being and reduce risk.


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Incident Report Template and Example

To see how a manufacturer might structure its incident report form, below is an example of an incident report describing a slip and fall in a warehousing operation.

Date of incident 7/14/2023
Time of incident 2:24 p.m.
Location of incident North Warehouse
Description of incident
Provide a detailed description of what happened, including the sequence of events leading up to the incident, contributing factors, and any injuries or damages incurred.
While walking towards the storage area, the employee slipped and fell on a wet surface, subsequently sustaining a bone fracture. Further investigation revealed that a pipe on the warehouse ceiling was leaking, causing water to drip onto the floor near the entrance. Upon inspection, it was discovered that a pipe located on the warehouse ceiling was leaking, resulting in water accumulation on the floor surface. The dripping water created a slippery condition, contributing to the slip and fall incident.
Injured persons:  
Name John Doe
Department Quality
Job title Quality Inspector
Nature of injury Ulnar bone fracture
Treatment provided The employee was immediately provided first aid before being transported to Southwest Hospital for medical treatment
Name Jane Smith
Statement I, Jane Smith, witnessed the slip and fall incident involving John Doe 7/14/23 at approximately 2:30 p.m. I observed John Doe walking near the entrance when they slipped on the wet floor surface and fell, resulting in an injury. Upon further inspection, I noticed water dripping from a pipe on the warehouse ceiling, contributing to the hazardous condition.
Actions taken The wet floor was mopped and signage was placed to warn employees of wet conditions. A maintenance order was placed to investigate and repair the leaky pipe.
Recommendations for preventive action Check other areas in the plant for pipe condensate.
Submitted by:
Name Joe Johnson
Job title Safety supervisor

Incident Reporting as Part of a Closed-Loop Process

Reporting safety incidents is just one step in a larger process aimed at reducing safety risks for your team. From a high-level perspective, a closed-loop process that does this effectively would include the following steps after an incident.

1. Provide Immediate Incident Response

The first step in the aftermath of any safety incident in the workplace is to notify management to ensure that any injured persons receive appropriate medical treatment, if necessary.

Containment of any hazards is also essential. For example, if a slip and fall happened due to an electrical cord lying in the walkway, you would want to remove the cord so someone else doesn’t trip on it.

2. Gather Information

After any injured individuals have been stabilized and hazards contained, the next step is to begin gathering information for the incident report, including:

  • Date, time and location of the incident
  • Name, department and job title of any injured employee(s)
  • The type of injury and severity
  • Any medical treatment given
  • Any damages that resulted from the incident
  • A detailed description of the incident, including what the person was doing leading up to the event and any contributing environmental factors or hazards
  • Name, department, job title, and contact information of any witnesses
  • Witness statements
  • Photos of the incident location

3. Determine Regulatory Reportability

Next, you’ll want to determine whether the incident falls within OSHA reporting guidelines, as discussed above. Certain injuries need to be reported immediately, while others must be reported within seven days or simply reported on an OSHA form.

4. Perform Root Cause Analysis

With incident data in hand, the next step is to begin to look for the underlying cause of the incident so it can effectively be prevented in the future. Here it can be helpful to gather a cross-functional team to conduct a root cause analysis exercise, using tools such as a 5 Whys or fishbone diagram.

5. Implement Corrective and Preventive Action

Once you’ve determined the root cause of the incident, you can implement corrective actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future. Corrective actions should be validated on the plant floor, rather than just assuming they will be effective.

In terms of preventive action, it’s vital to ask whether there are other areas of the plant where similar hazards may exist needing similar controls. As for what type of controls to add to prevent recurrence, one useful tool to keep in mind is OSHA’s hierarchy of controls.

6. Verify and Improve

The last step in the process is to verify that employees are holding in place any new controls added or corrective actions implemented. A program of regular plant floor safety checks is key to ensuring that people don’t backslide into old habits that led to the incident in the first place.

Behavior-based safety questions, for example, can help reinforce desired behaviors and provide periodic verification that employees understand expectations.

Download your free incident report template here

Incident Reporting Mistakes to Avoid

Incident reporting mistakes can hurt the accuracy of your records and your efforts to prevent future incidents. Below are some common mistakes to avoid in the process:

  • Reporting delays: Waiting too long to report an incident can result in incomplete or inaccurate information. Recording details while they are still fresh in people’s minds is essential.
  • Incomplete reports: Failing to gather all relevant details on the incident can hamper the investigation and corrective action process. Using vague or cursory descriptions of events rather than documenting the incident thoroughly can lead to insufficient records, making it important to use standardized forms.
  • Ignoring near-misses: Only requiring employees to report incidents with injuries or damage allows hidden hazards and risks to create future problems.
  • Blaming and shaming: A culture of reprisal can discourage employees from reporting incidents and can land a company in hot water over anti-retaliation laws. Encourage open communication while emphasizing leadership’s goal is to learn from mistakes.
  • Poor visibility: Failure to analyze incident data can lead to missed opportunities for safety improvements. Companies should regularly review their data to pinpoint recurring issues and implement preventive action.
  • Poor communication: Not communicating the findings of investigations means the organization misses out on key lessons learned from the process.
  • Lack of training and team involvement: Failure to train your team on reporting requirements and procedures leads to inconsistencies and underreporting. Similarly, failure to involve stakeholders throughout the organization (i.e., management, plant floor workers and safety leaders) can lead to skewed investigations.

Conducting Plant Floor Verifications with EASE

A digital safety inspection platform supports the incident reporting process by helping teams:

  • Verify new safety countermeasures and employee training effectiveness around safety
  • Capture ad-hoc observations so that anyone can report hazards they encounter in their daily duties, uncovering risks that might otherwise go unnoticed
  • Generate more data for proactive trend analysis and risk mitigation
  • Upload photos or videos to safety observations to simplify reporting and make problems immediately visible
  • Collect data to inform root cause analysis of incidents, such as when one work area has experienced a high rate of failed safety inspections
  • Provide closed-loop issue management to track the resolution of identified hazards and problems from start to finish


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While at face value a low incidence rate may indicate good safety performance, it may also suggest a problem with underreporting. To truly reduce risk, companies must encourage employees to report incidents early and often, expanding their definition of incidents to include no harm events such as near-misses that provide helpful clues on how to avoid actual injuries in the future.

A closed-loop process for managing incidents and observations is crucial to protecting workers, with digital platforms offering new ways to capture more and better data to improve incident management.

Download your free Incident Report Excel Template.

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