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WHS Reports and the Challenge of Underreporting

Posted by Andrew Watters on

WHS reports are meant to be submitted in a variety of situations. Yet as every experienced worker and supervisor knows, that doesn’t always happen. Underreporting leads to hazards remaining hazards, incidents being repeated, unnecessary injuries, and a host of other issues. As you’ll discover, it’s also a common occurrence on Australian worksites. This topic is thick, important, legally significant and interesting for those who like a little challenge. We’re going to explore the issue over two (maybe three) articles. 

Just to be clear, when we speak of underreporting, we’re talking about when something should be brought to official attention, and it is not. In this article, we will specifically consider:

  1. Are WHS reports really that important?
  2. Who is responsible when WHS reports are not submitted?
  3. What broken windows teach us about WHS underreporting. 
  4. How user-friendly work health and safety reports help you.

Are WHS Reports Really That Important?

On the surface, it’s easy to see that an unreported hazard, incident or injury potentially leads to a later repeated incident or injury - maybe even a fatality. But that awareness doesn’t adequately represent the problem, nor does it inspire action or provide any solutions. 

How Bad is the Problem?  

When you consider that a study in the USA found that 27 percent of workers had failed to report an injury. A similar Australian study found our numbers to be even higher. 

Ben Carnell, from Sensis, raised some eyebrows at the June 2019 NSCA Foundation event when he shared their research. It showed that have a very significant problem:

  • Approximately 31% of Australian workers do not always report incidents. 
  • Australian workers fail to report at a rate of 6% higher than the international average.
  • This means 6.3% of identified incidents in a year are not reported. 
  • Underreporting rates are even higher for Management personnel (Ouch!).

What does this mean for an organisation of say, 300 people? Based on the number of incidents identified by workers across the year, on average, 284 incidents are NOT being reported

If you’d like to make this more personal, try the following equation:

(Estimated) Unreported Incidents in Your Workplace per Year.

The number of workers you have   X   0.945   =   (an alarming number!)

Yes, we have a serious problem!

What is the Cost of Underreporting?  

In the 300 person organisation simulated above, if just 5% of the 284 non-reports resulted in a significant injury, this translates to:  

  • 14(ish) people getting hurt, per year
  • A considerable amount of lost production time, 
  • Possible fines, restrictions and increased WorkSafe inspections,
  • The longer-term realities of damage to reputation, insurance dues and tendering, and, 
  • A mountain of other worries. 

Also, if only half of one percent (0.5%) of these 284 non-reports resulted in a fatality, that’s one dead worker. If they’re a parent (or should I say ‘were’ a parent) that's one or more children robbed of a parent - and that is no small offence. 

Who is Responsible When WHS Reports are Not Submitted?

The short answer is ‘everybody’! 

PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking), their officers and even workers  share accountability, but no-one gets off this hook. By way of example, consider just one section of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (No 10). Specifically, we’re looking at Part 2, Division 4, Section 29. It stated that:

A person at a workplace (whether or not the person has another duty under this Part) must—

(a)  take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety, and

(b)  take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons, and

(c)  comply, so far as the person is reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction that is given by the person conducting the business or undertaking to allow the person conducting the business or undertaking to comply with this Act.

Note that the focus is NOT very focused. The statement “any person at the workplace” is broad and inclusive. It clearly indicates:

  • Reporting is an action of ‘reasonable care for self’ (item ‘a’).
  • Reporting is an action of caring for others (item ‘b’).
  • Providing instruction in reporting is a clearly implied duty of care (item ‘c’).
  • Managing reporting processes is a due diligence obligation for management (item ‘c’).

There truly is nowhere to hide!

Work health and safety legislation is designed to eliminate wiggle-room. In all states and jurisdictions, they have done an exceptional job of doing this.

Underreporting is a no-no for everyone!

Broken Windows and How They Influence WHS Report Rates 

There’s another aspect of responsibility that’s worth considering; it’s called Broken Windows Theory. This social order theory is broadly implemented and widely verified. 

It argues that when visible signs of disorder and misbehaviour are not corrected, it encourages more of the same. In other words, if a broken window is not repaired, it says that broken windows don’t matter, and this psychologically encourages the breaking of more windows. We have decaying neighbourhoods the world over that testify to the power and truth of this phenomenon. Some of us also have bathrooms and garages that testify to the same.

In our current situation,  Broken Windows Theory argues that not attending to underreporting leads to more of the same. When people know underreporting is happening, AND they don't see remedial action or interventions taking place, it encourages them to skip on submitting that report.

It also says that WHS report rates will be significantly influenced by leadership.

How Our User-Friendly WHS Reports Help You

We know that a submitted and acted on WHS report involves a variety of people and processes. Ultimately, the duty and liability almost always rest with the PCBU and their designated HSR(s) (Health and safety representatives), but the responsibilities and roles are broad: 

  1. Management and leadership can create a report-welcoming culture at every level.
  2. Specialist suppliers (such as Occupational Safety Solutions) can (and in our case, do) design effective reports.
  3. Management and leadership can purchase from suppliers that effectively support their due diligence obligations.
  4. Workers can complete and submit the reports. 
  5. Management and leadership can act swiftly and effectively on these reports.

There’s a whole lot of ‘can’ in there, and purchasing from the right supplier (item 3) will undoubtedly help more of these ‘cans’ to happen.

If you’ve encountered our WHS reports and resources, you already know they are:

  1. As easy to complete as they can be, 
  2. Are designed to facilitate accuracy and thoroughness, and 
  3. They actively reduce underreporting and error vulnerabilities.

This investment is one of the most effortless and most significant actions you can take.

Why Invest in Report Resources from OSS?

Firstly, we have a comprehensive and diverse range. If you run a search on our website for ‘report’, you’ll return 39 different products. Search for ‘form’, and you’ll have 248 to sort through. There’s a wealth of WHS reports and resources available to choose from.

If you’re in doubt or want a quicker search result, just give us a call on 1800 304 336

Secondly, we take care of the details, so you don’t have to.  Our ‘micro’ (or task level) reports and forms:

  1. Facilitate accuracy through intuitive design.
  2. Encourage thoroughness by asking questions that draw out the necessary information.
  3. Enhance timely completion through logical sequencing and clever use of space.
  4. Instil a sense of care and gravity (or seriousness) through formatting and word choice.

Thirdly, we ensure everything fits and facilitates the more extensive (macro) goals from a policy and procedural level - but we’ll look at that more in the next article. 

If you’d like to explore some of these options, here’s a sample collection of single reports (at just $13.50 each) that workers will routinely deal with at site level. 

The Challenge We Face

Everyone and (almost) anyone can suffer in an environment of work health and safety underreporting. Even when we don’t factor in injury costs, fatalities or pain, it continues to be a problem worth solving.

It is no exaggeration to say that you, your people, your projects and your worksite(s) are all at risk at this very moment. 

You have likely invested a great deal of time and money in establishing safe practices and installing appropriate safety equipment. Why negate all that effort and investment by letting a dangerous but common practice have its way?

We’ve shown that:

  1. It’s likely that important WHS reports are not reaching your desk. 
  2. It's probable that the underreporting dynamics we've discussed here are at work at your location. 
  3. We’d like to help.

When we’re your preferred supplier, we help you make an effective, efficient and affordable purchase. That’s a lot of good ‘F’s’ that contribute to improvements in your WHS reporting rates. 

If you have questions about any of the forms and resources listed or the concepts discussed, please make contact. The simplest way is to call 1800 304 336, or you can Request a Callback by using the online form. We’re here to help you avoid critical errors, lost tenders, lost productivity, prosecution, fines, incidents, injuries and deaths. 

We save lives, we save businesses, and we love what we do!


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