Eyes in the Field: The Power of Real-Time Employee Reporting
This article is part of our Back to Basics series, which highlights fundamental principles of environmental, health, and safety management. The series is written for EHS professionals new to this industry, as well as experienced pros who want to keep their skills fresh.
When it comes to safety, hindsight is often 20/20.
Even if employees detect and report workplace hazards, trends or patterns don't emerge until weeks or months later when reports are run.
At best, that puts companies in a perpetual state of putting out fires. At worst, they're only able to see risks and hazards after an accident happens.
The ability to capture and analyze real-time employee observations, then, is the key to a safer workplace.
What is real-time employee reporting?
Real-time employee reporting is a method for collecting employee feedback on safety hazards and incidents on the spot. Instead of waiting until the end of a shift to fill out a risk observation or near miss report and return it to a supervisor, it uses a system like mobile app or kiosk to record this feedback right away.
What are the benefits of real-time employee reporting?
Real-time employee reporting is one of the most important tools in the safety professional’s toolbox. With real-time reporting, employees act as your eyes in the field, alerting you to hazardous conditions and providing early warning of potential problems.
Having access to instant feedback also creates opportunities for continuous improvement. Rather than waiting until an accident occurs, real-time employee reporting allows you to address risks proactively and identify potential corrective actions.
Finally, real-time reporting has the advantage of capturing near miss and risk information when it’s fresh in employees’ minds. This yields more complete, accurate data for things like safety monitoring and ESG reporting.
How to encourage timely reporting of incidents & risk observations
Both tools and culture play a role in promoting timely reporting. Here are some steps safety professionals can take to encourage employees to report incidents and risk observations right away:
1. Identify barriers to employee reporting
There are many reasons an employee might not report a near miss or risk observation right away. When employees encounter a hazard, they're usually in the middle of work — meaning stopping to fill out a lengthy reporting form is inconvenient. In other cases, employees simply don't know what or how to report. And despite anti-retaliation laws, some employees fail to report incidents or observations for fear of repercussions.
2. Provide training
Some of these challenges can be addressed through ongoing training. Safety leaders should review employees' rights and responsibilities, including the right to report a work-related injury, illness, or safety violation without fear of retaliation. Employers should also review the types of incidents that should be reported and how to fill out company forms.
3. Leverage mobile reporting software
To overcome other reporting obstacles, companies should consider using mobile reporting software. This technology enables employees to upload real-time observations, images, and video from any kiosk or mobile device — even offline. It takes less than 30 seconds for employees to fill out a report, requires no special knowledge, and can be done anonymously.
4. Analyze employee observations
Of course, getting employees to report their observations is only half the battle. Another challenge is how to analyze observation data in a timely fashion. Paper forms have to be painstakingly entered into spreadsheets, and manually compiled into reports. While you might glance at individual observations when they're entered, it's impossible to get a clear picture of trends and patterns until you run a report at the end of a period. By then, it's often too late.
Instead, employers can harness the power of EHS software to turn employee observations into real-time safety knowledge. When employees report an observation, it immediately goes into a centralized database. From there, employers can view observations in dynamic dashboards. They can also drill down on trends at specific locations or specific types of incidents.
Using safety dashboards in Perillon, EHS and executives can analyze incident trends in real time.
5. Act on feedback
Finally, employees are more likely to report risks and near misses if they know that managers are taking them seriously. Employees need to know that their input has an immediate effect on safety. Be sure to explain how this information is being used within your organization. Do near miss reports automatically trigger an investigation? Are you rolling out new corrective and preventive actions? Demonstrate that you are actively translating employee feedback into action.
In all, real-time employee observations can help employers proactively prevent accidents and lower risks. By giving employees the right tools and encouragement, you can promote a “see something, say something culture”.
Note: This article was originally published in 2018, and was updated in May 2023 for freshness and comprehensiveness.