Why Do Employees Fail to Report Accidents?

Getting hurt at work is hard, & reporting accidents can be worse. Protect yourself & learn about why employees fail to report workplace accidents!
An employee and employer sitting down to report a workplace accident and filling out paperwork.

Virginia recorded 118 work-related fatalities and approximately 52,600 non-fatal injuries and illnesses in 2020. An employee accident can cause severe injuries requiring extensive, costly treatments besides impacting the victim’s quality of life. When an employee is injured in a work-related accident caused by someone else’s negligence or carelessness, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation.

The most crucial step after a workplace injury is reporting the accident to the employer immediately. Quick reporting allows the company to address hazards and provide proper treatment promptly. Doing so also ensures one is complying with company rules and procedures, which is crucial when seeking compensation. Unfortunately, many employees choose to remain silent, so accidents and near misses go unreported. Here are eight reasons workers often fail to report accidents.

When an accident goes unreported it could result in denial of your claim. Further, when accidents are unreported, both the company and the employees suffer financial losses. From the employee’s perspective, they miss out on compensation that would otherwise aid their recovery.

Regardless of the reasoning behind failing to report an accident, there’s no denying it leaves the door open for future accidents. After all, underreporting means that hazards go unaddressed, putting others at risk of accident and injury. This inaction can make workplace health and safety policies redundant in the long term.

Addressing the root causes of underreporting will mitigate risks and improve workplace safety.

1. Fear as a Barrier to Reporting

Fear is one of the reasons workers avoid reporting workplace accidents. According to a recent study, more than a third of workers are “too scared” to report workplace injuries, with the majority feeling it could jeopardize their employment. This is especially common in workplaces that cultivate an environment where employees are punished for getting injured.

If workers fear losing their jobs, they will likely report near misses (when an accident occurs but it doesn’t appear there is a major injury at that time) and incidents that happen to them or others. Similarly, employees may develop a fear or concern of being blamed for accidents, especially if they have witnessed negative reactions to near-miss reporting in the past.

Despite this, there are legal protections for employees who report workplace accidents, such as Virginia’s retaliatory firing statute and OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Beyond this, however, familiarizing themselves with their rights as an employee can empower those looking to report poor workplace safety.

For this reason, companies should address fear-based reporting barriers wherever possible. This often begins by creating a workplace culture where reporting is actively encouraged and where those speaking up are not blamed for doing so.

2. Downplaying Incidents & Unseen Injuries

Not all near misses are severe. Some employees may downplay incidences when the injuries are less severe. An incident can also go unnoticed if it doesn’t result in significant damage.

However, symptoms of injuries may not be apparent immediately after an accident. Some injuries develop with time to become major health issues later on. In addition, many so-called minor incidents that go unreported lead to more significant safety issues down the line. What doesn’t seem to be a big deal today may develop into a big deal later.

Downplaying incidents and unseen injuries can have long-term effects on employees, as it often acts as a barrier to proper healthcare and support. For example, a recent study found that “untreated or poorly managed back and neck injuries can lead to chronic pain, decreased mobility, muscle imbalances, and even nerve compression.”

Working with occupational health professionals can help identify and treat hidden injuries within the workplace, bringing forth benefits such as “reduced sickness absence, increased productivity, and recruitment and retention.”

Employees should also be given insight into ways to spot the signs of injury so that they know when to seek medical treatment. For example, employers should discuss common workplace injuries within their field and how they manifest themselves so that employees know what to look for. If your employer doesn’t do this for you, look into it yourself to keep informed.

3. Lack of Knowledge & Clarity in Reporting Procedures

Some employees may not be aware of the basic procedures for making an accident report. This is primarily attributed to insufficient company policies and procedures that leave injured workers completely confused about what they should or should not do. Company leaders must demonstrate their commitment to workplace safety by providing the right training and accessible system for reporting near misses. Clear company policies and procedures can guide workers in reporting their injuries within established timelines.

Employers should work to build clarity in reporting procedures. Accident reports should be easy to access and formatted clearly. This way, they can be completed without difficulty.

While this should be covered during onboarding, this information should remain at the forefront of the employees’ minds, even if they feel shaken up after an accident or injury.

Many companies have improved incident reporting policies by utilizing reporting software instead of requiring reports to be completed on paper. For example, one Appenete customer reported a 29% increase in incident reporting after introducing the software.

4. Embarrassment & Social Stigma

Reporting accidents and near misses can be uncomfortable for some employees. When a worker has to choose between being honest and receiving a barrage of criticism and judgment from peers and supervisors, many will remain silent. Employees generally hate being stigmatized for getting into a workplace accident, even if it wasn’t their fault. It is crucial for employers to foster a supportive and collaborative workplace culture that helps employees admit errors without being judged.

Simply put, workplace culture plays a crucial role in accident reporting. When employees feel judged, mocked, or viewed as inferior because they’ve been injured, they are more likely to remain silent.

This can be remedied by working to create a more supportive working environment. Take the social stigma out of an accident or incident, and instead encourage the whole team to focus on what can be done to prevent this in the future.

You can also develop a better working culture through team-building exercises, which foster a sense of belonging and unity and reduce workplace embarrassment. This serves many additional benefits, with a study finding that “employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are 54% more likely to stay in their jobs.”

5. Complicated Accident Reporting Processes

If an organization makes accidents and near misses challenging to report, workers won’t be motivated to take the necessary steps. A reporting procedure that has confusing paperwork and a complex process doesn’t inspire people to make their injuries known. With approximately 77% of US workers dealing with burnout, the prospect of filling out a never-ending form will deter many from completing an accident/incident report – they simply have too much to do.

In a supportive workplace, supervisors listen to the employee’s account of the incident and then complete the necessary paperwork on the worker’s behalf. As such, employers should work to streamline the process as much as possible. Forms should be concise and easy to fill out, and the access needs of each employee should be taken into account.

6. Peer Pressure

Under-reporting could also result from peer pressure from other workers. This is particularly true for team projects where members could be linked to the cause of the accident. In such a scenario, some workers may avoid reporting out of fear of social backlash from coworkers. Organizations should simplify their reporting procedures while ensuring it remains as confidential as possible. Additionally, superiors should educate workers about the importance of near-miss reporting and how it impacts their safety.

Developing a peer reporting program could also be beneficial, strengthening employee bonds and encouraging them to look out for each other’s safety. This can also be useful in creating a culture of accountability, wherein employees are more likely to admit to mistakes or safety violations rather than trying to sweep them under the rug.

7. Lack of Support From Management

Workplace leaders play an integral role in the adoption of any policy or system. They are, therefore, central to the success of workplace practices aimed at enhancing transparency. Those in leadership roles set the tone for how everyone in their team behaves. If they are uncommunicative and unsupportive, especially where safety procedures are involved, reporting will likely drop, while incidents will likely increase.

Managers and supervisors hold individual workers accountable while motivating them to uphold company protocols that foster safety. If there is no support from management, workers won’t find it necessary to report their near misses.

Managers can demonstrate their commitment to workplace safety in many ways. For example, they should play an active role in improving safety policies and procedures and conveying this information to employees. They should also involve their team to ensure policies are as robust and effective as possible.

8. Addressing the Issue with Quick Fixes

Another common reason for underreporting employee accidents is when the company takes immediate steps to deal with a hazard. In such a scenario, the employees are persuaded they have done more than enough and won’t take measures to analyze the event further. Unfortunately, quick fixes serve to mask an underlying problem. No matter how minor an incident is, reporting them is the best thing to do. It helps managers address the underlying problem and eliminate hazards to make the workplace safe for everyone.

Quick fixes are often comparable to putting a bandaid over a serious wound, but when this becomes a common practice, the chances of a more severe accident happening in the future will increase. Reporting is a great way to combat this, as it encourages those in positions of responsibility to hold themselves accountable. This means that more lasting solutions will be put in place instead of temporary solutions.

In short, companies should take a proactive approach to safety, wherein issues are not only brought to light but tackled. While immediacy is key, long-term solutions should be favored over quick fixes.

The Importance of Seeking Legal Assistance for Your Workplace Injury

Seeking legal counsel when it comes to reporting workplace accidents (and seeking compensation) will also help to improve workplace safety as a whole. It encourages employers to take action when facing hazards so that they are better able to protect their team.

The team at Renfro & Renfro are on hand to support you throughout every step of the process, increasing your chances of making a successful claim.

Contact a Richmond, VA Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Workplace accidents are a common occurrence in Virginia, with many of them causing injuries that go unreported due to reasons such as fear, peer pressure, etc. However, reporting all workplace accidents and near misses helps companies address hazards and minimize risks. If you have been injured at work, you could be eligible for workers’ compensation.

Unfortunately, dealing with insurance companies can be a daunting task. Insurance companies typically look for reasons to deny or reduce your claim. A workers’ compensation lawyer at Renfro & Renfro, PLLC can help handle the complex parts of pursuing a reasonable claim, giving you ample time to recover from your injuries. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


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