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Is it an Incident or a Hazard? Does it really matter?

Updated: Feb 14

Is it an Incident or a Hazard? Does it really matter? - Safety Suite

There’s often much handwringing over the reporting of hazards and incidents or near misses in an

organisation’s safety software.

Individuals may choose the ‘wrong’ one when reporting, so much effort goes into configuring the safety

software differently for each one, any reports on what went wrong don’t reflect the feeling that people

have around the risks present in their workplace.

In their glossary, SafeWork Australia defines a hazard as: ‘A situation or thing that has the potential to

harm a person’ 

Curiously, SafeWork Australia does not have a definition for an incident! However, a great definition

comes from the University of Melbourne ‘…an unplanned event related to a person resulting in or

potential for injury/ill health or other loss’

Or perhaps the definition of a Near Miss from SafeWork NSW: ‘An occurrence that might have led to an

injury or illness, danger to someone’s health, and/or damage to property or the environment’.

In summary, a Hazard is a circumstance where something could happen, and an Incident is when it did.

If they are essentially the same thing, why do organisations separate these two concepts in their

safety software?

  • Is it tradition and the way it’s always been done?

  • Is it about only having time to manage the ‘did’ instead of the ‘could’?

  • Do we give decision-makers the information they expect, not what they need?

  • Could there be some knowledge hoarding going on?

A different way: Events

Through the work we’ve done with some of Australia’s best-known and most trusted organisations,

SafetySuite have noticed a shift. Some organisations are configuring their safety software to catch both hazards and incidents in the one place and calling them ‘events’.

Name them whatever you like, these ‘events’ share many data elements: what could/did happen,

people involved, location, risk ranking, and hazard categories or risk phrases.

Wrapping them all up and analysing them together makes sense then, right?

Any impacts, regulatory notifications or emergency services are easily added in the case of an incident.

Any follow-up activities such as investigations or assessments can be triggered based on the data


What are the benefits of reporting one or the other?

  • User experience: One reporting process is easier to train, simpler to use and easier to remember

  • Consistency: Both hazards and incidents will be treated in the same way, with actions managed in the same place

  • Complete data: By collecting the same information in the same tables of the safety software you can gain a fuller picture of overall risk profile and things like the site/area performance

  • Alterations: It’s far easier to change a classification in an ‘event’ than void or delete a report an re-key it in the right place

  • Risk-based response: Focus your organisation on serious risks rather than minor failures

  • Reporting: Your will get the opportunity to review and reimagine your reporting

  • Perception and culture: How many times have you heard ‘we only deal with problems when something goes wrong…’?

  • Integration: Take the opportunity to leverage your proactive safety initiatives to help people with the new approach

Common pitfalls of labelling incidents vs hazards

  • Prepare for confusion! It’s a shift of perception and some will need some help.

  • Like any change, education and communication is key

  • Ensure your risk phrases or hazard categories are fit for purpose

  • Consider how your safety system is configured to ensure you’ve hit the right balance between collecting too much data and not enough – we have a blog post on that!

  • Notifications and escalations should reflect the organisations expectations and encourage engagement, not discourage it

The organisations SafetySuite has worked with on this innovation have seen a real shift in the quality

and quantity of the events that are reported, and how the organisation deals with them.

Safety software that’s the solution, not the problem 

If you’re keen to understand how you can improve your people’s perception of their safety software,

while also improving the quality and quantity of the data that you have access to and can analyse, reach

out to SafetySuite or one of our amazing partners today. We have over 25 years’ experience providing quality safety software to organisations that every day Australians know and trust.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to create a safe workplace?

Creating a safe workplace is important because it can have a positive impact on the health, well-being, and productivity of employees. When employees feel safe and secure at work, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, which can lead to improved job satisfaction and reduced absenteeism. Additionally, a safe workplace can reduce the risk of accidents, injuries, and illness, which can result in lower healthcare costs and increased employee morale.

How can a company create a safe workplace for everyone?

It starts with regular safety inspections and investing in safety equipment. Organizations should treat all situations with attentiveness to ensure that their teams are protected at every stage of the work day.

How does a safe workplace improve the overall work environment?

A safer workplace leads to higher employee retention rates, better standards and conditions of work, plus the added benefit of making your team feel engaged and motivated to perform.

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