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Incident Reports: The Ultimate Guide

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

Posted by Dawn Lomer on May 11th, 2017

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, especially in health care facilities and schools, but also at every company that values the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees. Many companies with more than 10 employees are required by law to keep records of workplace incidents. But many managers don’t know how to write one.

Almost 3 million non-fatal workplace incidents were reported by private industry employers in 2015 and almost 800,000 in the public sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No matter how safe you think your workplace is, there’s a good chance you will need to complete an incident report this year, so it’s a good idea to have a process in place when the inevitable occurs.

Need help getting started? Download the free Incident Report template.

What is an Incident Report?

The initial incident report is the first step in the incident investigation process no matter what type of incident is being recorded.
The answer to this question depends on how we define “incident”. Incidents can be related to accidents and injuries or other health and safety issues, property damage, security issues, workplace misconduct and could even cover conduct of employees outside the workplace. The employee incident report varies according to the type of incident being reported.

The initial incident report is the first step in the incident investigation process no matter what type of incident is being recorded. It is the documentation that outlines:

  1. What happened
  2. When it happened
  3. Where it happened
  4. How it happened
  5. Who it happened to
  6. Who reported it
  7. Everyone who was involved
  8. Any damage or injury that incurred

The report can be initiated by:

  • an employee who witnessed the incident
  • a manager who has knowledge of the incident
  • an automated detection method
  • a hotline call
  • an email from someone with knowledge of the incident
  • a customer report
  • any other way a company becomes aware of an incident

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

How to Write an Incident Report

Certain types of incidents involve special recording requirements under OSHA.
For incidents that have regulatory requirements for reporting, such as those under Title IX and Title VII, and those that involve OSHA violations in the US or OHSA violations in Canada, 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 can help guide you.

incident report form

incident report template


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.

An report may also be completed for incidents not related to health and safety. These could be related to workplace misconduct, fraud and theft, Title IX and Title VII violations, privacy breaches, data theft, etc. These 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. In Title IX cases, for example, incidents should be investigated and resolved within 60 days, so 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. That saves you a step right away.

After the Report

Aggregated information about incidents, accidents and illnesses can be a powerful tool for risk assessment and trend analysis.
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 and, if so, who will conduct it. You’ll need to decide whether to outsource the investigation or assign an internal investigator, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both, but that’s a topic for another article.

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.

And 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.


Managing workplace incidents can be complex and time-consuming. Learn how to do it effectively with our free eBook.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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