Mindful Technical Writing: Mastering Workplace Incident Reports

In every professional environment worldwide, the safety, health, and security of businesses and assets are highly valued. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for enforcing standards and ensuring safe working conditions for employees. Record keeping in the areas of safety and health is of utmost importance, and all employees have some level of responsibility in preparing safety documentation. This chapter aims to equip you with the tools for success in writing a workplace-specific genre: the incident report.

Why is Incident Reporting Important?

Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences, whether in the workplace or elsewhere. Have you received training related to safety, security, or health? Have you ever wondered why your organization provides such training? The significance becomes evident when considering the benefits to both individuals and the organization as a whole. By being trained, you gain the knowledge and skills to ensure your own safety and that of your colleagues. Moreover, the organization benefits from reduced risks and accidents, leading to increased productivity and a healthy work atmosphere.

Preparing to Write an Incident Report

Most employers include safety program training as part of new employee orientation. This means that as you embark on your professional career, you will become familiar with your company’s requirements and your responsibilities for documenting accidents and other reportable incidents. Familiarize yourself with the incident reporting procedures specified by your employer. This will enable you to address your responsibility in a clear, concise, complete, and correct manner.

Before Something Happens

Your workplace should provide information collection procedures along with forms to capture initial incident details. Make sure you are well-versed in the incident reporting procedures required by your employer. This way, you can be prepared to document the incident accurately and responsibly.

After Something Happens

In the event of an accident or unexpected incident while at work, be prepared to collect and recall detailed information based on your employer’s plan. It is crucial to make observations, ask questions, write down information, make sketches, and, if possible, take photographs following any emergency procedures. By being familiar with your employer’s safety protocols, you can minimize risks and ensure the well-being of individuals and the company.

Collecting Important Data

While your career may present opportunities for conducting in-depth investigations and preparing detailed reports, every employee has a responsibility to work safely and report incidents or unsafe conditions. Depending on the incident type, you may need to complete specialized forms, similar to the example shown in Figure 1. These forms aim to gather essential facts, answering questions such as what, where, when, who, how, and why. Additionally, incidents may require visual media representations to help readers understand the situation better.

In situations where your organization does not provide a specific data collection form, the reporters’ questions can guide you in collecting incident details. Remember, two essential goals of preparing an incident report are to collect the facts and observations as soon as possible and to create visual data, such as photographs and diagrams, when it is safe to do so.

Organizing and Drafting an Internal Incident Report

The specific requirements for drafting an incident report may vary based on your organization’s policies, procedures, and your position within the company. As an intern or junior-level professional, your responsibility may be limited to completing and submitting reporting forms. However, if you hold management or executive authority, you may be tasked with writing a comprehensive narrative incident report. Safety coordinators or individuals responsible for health, safety, and security may need to conduct investigations, make policy recommendations, and prepare official reports for authorities.

It is important to understand that the content and scope of your report will depend on your organization and the type of incident being reported. To help you navigate the drafting process, consider the following questions:


Identify the audience for your report. Think about who was involved in the incident and who witnessed it. Be sure to gather contact information of non-employee witnesses at the scene. Cooperation may be more difficult to obtain later, so collect their information promptly.


Provide a factual account of what happened, including the steps taken before, during, and after the incident. Focus on objective observations and avoid including suspicions, judgments, opinions, or assessments. To ensure accuracy, provide as complete an account as possible.


Record the date and time of the incident, as well as the end time of related activities. If necessary, include a series of statements indicating the approximate times events took place. Only use this method if you are confident in the accuracy of recorded times.


Describe the location of the incident in detail, including the address, mile marker number, and GPS coordinates if possible. Include relevant maps, aerial photos, and floor plans to provide a clear understanding. Note any significant weather conditions, lighting, or other environmental factors.


When documenting reasons given by those involved in the incident, rely only on first-hand statements from witnesses with direct knowledge. Avoid including personal theories, suspicions, or speculation. Stick to the facts.


Explain how the location was accessed and how safety protocols were followed. Utilize a memo format to draft your narrative report unless instructed otherwise. Ensure you are aware of your responsibilities regarding disciplinary actions and policy changes, respecting your employer’s expectations.

Remember, mastering the art of technical writing requires practice and attention to detail. By crafting thorough and accurate incident reports, you contribute to a safer work environment and help your organization improve its safety measures.