By Sphera’s Editorial Team | April 11, 2018

This article originally appeared on NAEM’s “Green Tie” blog.

Most safety practitioners want to capture as much data as possible during the incident reporting process. The belief is that more-detailed information will provide insight into the true root cause so that a similar incident won’t happen again.

However, the needs and wants of the Environmental Health & Safety professional must be balanced against the behavioral characteristics of the person reporting the incident. If you ask too many questions, the quality of the response tends to decrease. If you don’t ask enough questions, there won’t be enough information to properly manage the incident.

So how do you know which way your incident reporting form is leaning or if you’ve struck the proper balance? Your data will tell you.

The easiest, albeit most subjective, data to analyze is the feedback from your user community. If you’ve received feedback from multiple users that there are too many questions to answer, the form is too complicated, it takes too much time, etc., then chances are they’re right. Remember: One person’s feedback is an opinion, but multiple people’s similar feedback is a trend that needs to be investigated.

Less subjective are the data that you capture, especially in terms of their quality and quantity. Look at the response rates to the questions and answers you’ve received. Chances are good that the quality of the free text/written responses have been scrutinized during the incident management process, so focus your efforts on the predefined fields. Here are a few tips you can use to strengthen your data collection process.

No. 1: Evaluate the need for questions that have a lot of non-responses or uninformative responses, such as “other”

If you include lengthy lists in your answer choices, you’ll likely find that the number one response will be “Other.” Incident reporters do not want to scroll through hundreds of selections, but they can (and do) easily find the ‘Other’ option.

No. 2: Eliminate obsolete questions

Another common reason for incomplete responses is because they are no longer relevant to the reporter. In one case we encountered, the reporting form included questions that were added by former department managers to fulfill specific data reporting needs. After the initiatives were completed, however, the questions were never removed, resulting in a lengthy incident reporting form that workers could not submit without responding to every question.

No. 3: Be judicious with what you require

Now that you’ve rationalized the questions on your incident management form, all those questions have to be answered, right? Not so fast. Requiring a data field to be completed does not automatically ensure that the right information is gathered at the right time to inform the next step in the process. Excessive numbers of required fields presented to users that may not have the skill or knowledge to adequately respond can only result in frustration, which negatively impacts the reporting culture and forces a user to make selections simply to be able to move to the next step. This affects the data integrity and reliability of the required fields. Sometimes just requiring a question to be answered can lead to poor data quality.

Additionally, a key indicator for user engagement is adherence to policy/procedure. This can be measured by evaluating when and by whom a field is populated. Making fields mandatory eliminates the ability to effectively capture and use this metric. You don’t know if people understand the importance of the field or if they are only satisfying application requirements.

No. 4: Consider segmenting the questions by level of knowledge or authority

Be thoughtful about the skill set of the personas interacting with the different steps in your workflow and match required data fields with their skill set expectations. This way your quality audits or process execution measurements will better identify gaps in skill sets and other deterrents to process/procedure adherence. As the incident workflow progresses, additional required fields can be presented to the different personas (subject-matter experts, reviewers, etc.). In these further stages of the incident workflow, it is assumed that the users interacting with the forms have a deeper knowledge of the process and procedures, which allows for the capture of pertinent and quality data.

No. 5: Regularly audit your incident reporting process

Organizations with effective safety programs audit the quality of their incident reports drive data quality. The audits are performed on a sampling of incidents submitted (not just those with the highest potential risk). The incidents are reviewed for their adherence to the policies, procedures and desired data quality. Feedback from the audits are shared with the organization to continuously improve the process.