8 barriers that stop people reporting hazards


We would like to think that everyone is actively thinking about where they are and what they are doing, looking out for any potential hazards. If they spot something that could cause a problem, be it health, safety, environment, security or a quality issue; then they either stop and fix it or report it to someone who can. All accidents, incidents, and near misses are reported.

But we live in the real world and understand that this is not always the case. There can be many reasons why people choose not to take action. You may recognise some of the comments below. We have a look at some of the more common reasons why people fail to speak out against dangers, and think about how to address them.

“they don’t want to know”

If managers seem to be uninterested, then this quickly becomes the culture of the organisation. The attitude will be “why bother? We have other priorities”.

What to do: Management commitment is the only real way to drive change. There should be a clear message, written into policies, communicated and practiced, saying that the company is interested in finding out and fixing hazards, sharing information and learning so they can improve.

Culture within the organisation is very important – when near misses are viewed as learning experience rather than a problem, people are more likely to talk about them. The key person in this is often the supervisor. They can send a powerful message to employees, particularly when that is backed up with action.

What to do: Train supervisors in soft skills so they become more approachable. They should clearly understand the organisation goals and how they can help meeting them by addressing rather than hiding problems.

If you run an appraisal scheme for supervisors, consider making the finding and fixing of hazards one of the criteria.

“let’s wait and see what happens”

New recruits, young and experienced workers can be the most unsure about reporting. The Journal of Safety Research (vol 45) (htt)says that they often feel they have no influence and take a “wait and see” approach.

What to do: They need strong support from a supervisor to feel less powerless.

“what will people think of me?”

How will peers and supervisors react to reporting? Will you be seen as :

Accident prone and therefore open to teasing and embarrassment. If you have made a mess of something, you probably don’t want to share that.

Fear that they will be seen as a trouble maker, and punished for reporting which may cause delays and penalties. Perhaps they will not be chosen for the next job.

Working in macho industries most people have a story to tell of “that day when…” the bigger, the better. If you are going to brag then you are likely to wear it as a badge of honour rather than report and fix it.

What to do: Praise people for speaking up. Encourage reporting. Incentive schemes should reward good actions, not just numbers of reports. You may even consider anonymous reporting. You can still reward good ideas on a team basis.

“they won’t thank me for messing up the statistics”

Poorly designed incentive schemes can do more harm than good. It may be that having an accident can attract penalties. A glowing notice board in reception with “time since last lost time accident” seen by everyone that comes onto the site is unlikely to encourage you to report something.

What to do: Design incentive schemes that encourage reporting and learning rather than around numbers of accidents.

“Nothing will be done”

Will your report make a difference, will anything change? If the perception is that nothing will be done, then people will not waste time reporting.

What to do: Feedback is very important. You may not see the fix, but if someone tells you that you have made a difference, then you can feel proud.

“I wouldn’t know how to report even if I wanted to”

Workers may want to make a suggestion, but don’t know how to. There may be a system, but it isn’t widely known about, the results are not promoted, and so it has fallen into disuse.

What to do: shout about good ideas, put them on notice boards and meetings of minutes, give a reward. This will help to communicate that ideas are wanted and how to do it.

“It takes too long to report, I am too busy and I hate filling in forms”

No one likes paperwork. If you have to find a form, print it out, fill it in, understand some complex or badly worded questions, get someone to sign it….you can imagine that this is going to disrupt work activities and is unlikely to happen often, especially for less serious issues.

What to do: reporting should be fast and simple. The latest version of forms should be easily to hand wherever you are. Focus only on the most important information. A form that no-one uses is useless.

“but we’ve always done it that way”

When you become familiar with a workplace it can be difficult to look objectively and see the hazards. You may not recognise that something is dangerous.

What to do: recognise that people have different learning styles. Provide information in a variety of formats, always relevant to the work environment and aim for it to be entertaining (not the usual boring drivel). Use examples that people relate to. Understand that short, focused message will have more impact. Important messages should be repeated as a regular reminder. For example: short videos, tool box talks, site walk around, mentoring, notice boards, meetings, awards for spotting things….

Understanding how people think, their fears and vulnerabilities can help you design systems that make a difference. It takes time to build trust. Make sure your approach is transparent and consistent. Then, perhaps, ‘safety is everyone’s responsibility’ will become the reality.