Do’s and Don’ts of incident report writing

When an incident, accident, injury, or near miss occurs in the workplace, the first steps are to provide medical care to the injured person and secure the accident scene. Then the investigation should begin immediately with the objective of identifying the root causes of the incident, documenting the lessons learned, and making recommendations to prevent a similar incident in the future.

A well-written report will be concise, factual, and impartial and reflect the fact that a thorough and fair investigation was conducted. Its content should include:

  • Summary: One page abstract that summarizes the event, consequences, causes and recommendations.
  • Background: Process description, conditions preceding incident, events leading up to the incident, safety devices in use, housekeeping, weather, lighting, noise, level of training, and so on.
  • Narrative of what happened: Time of day, witness accounts, sequence of events, the facts surrounding the actual incident, and the events immediately after the incident. Consequences of the incident.
  • Causes – Root & Contributing: Analyzing who, what, where, when and how the incident happened should answer the “why.” The root cause is the most fundamental and direct cause of an accident or incident and there may be one or more contributory causes, in addition to the root cause.
  • Findings: Stick to the facts, avoid speculation and opinion.
  • Recommendations: Be specific and constructive. Immediate and long-term recommendations.

A well written, carefully prepared report can help avoid similar incidents in the future, demonstrate good faith, promote job satisfaction and inclusion, as well as help shield a business from legal liabilities. On the other hand, botched investigations and poorly constructed reports are fodder for plaintiff attorneys, regulators, third party litigation, media and even competitors. Regulators from OSHA and EPA have subpoena authority to access relevant, non-privileged incident reports.

Conn Maciel Carey, a boutique law firm focused on Labor & Employment, Workplace Safety, and Litigation, presented the following do’s and don’ts in a December 15, 2015 webinar:


  • Assume the report will be a public document
  • Limit use of abbreviations and acronyms
  • Use photos, figures, tables
  • Stick to the facts
  • Use a neutral tone
  • Carefully describe concerns
  • Draft thoughtful (practical) recommendations
  • Use good professional judgment
  • Use past tense
  • Consider mitigating factors
  • Determine whether a safety rule was violated
  • Tread lightly when employee misconduct is an issue
  • Establish a realistic implementation plan
  • Anticipate use of report in OSHA and civil litigation
  • Consider seeking legal review


  • Speculate
  • Exaggerate or Oversimplify
  • Overstate
  • Assume
  • Admit to a legal /regulatory violation
  • Discuss similar prior incidents
  • Discuss money, cost, or spending decisions
  • Discuss failures to act or delay
  • Characterize conduct (improper, inadequate, gross negligence)
  • Predict outcomes from inaction (injuries, deaths or damage)
  • Write anything you would not want to see in the newspaper

Related articles:

Eight keys to a successful post incident investigation

Six common roadblocks to optimizing incident investigation

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on slashing Workers’ Compensation Costs visit

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