How to Categorize Incidents at The Workplace?

Incident reporting is crucial in every workplace, but prior to creating an incident report, every HSEQ manager should understand different safety categories and emphasise the importance of positive observations. Clear pre-determined categories facilitate continuous reporting. This will help in order to be ahead of potential occupational dangers in field operations. 

Six distinct incident categories

All possible work-related incidents can be divided into six different categories depending on their status. On the top are the rarest incidents and on the bottom the most numerous ones.


The graph is an adaptation from the Heinrich’s Triangle. The first top five categories are the same, but the bottom category Positive Observations is an additional layer. The ratio between the six categories is important. Positive observations are the ones which should be the most numerous in any company.

The top category is self-explanatory - fatalities are the most severe workplace incidents that can happen. The second category, lost time injuries, refers to injuries that cause the employee a permanent or nonpermanent injury that keeps the employee out of work for some time. These types of injuries vary from sprained ankles to broken bones or even amputations.

Minor injuries and near misses are exactly what the titles entail. A minor injury is an event where somebody gets hurt, but the person doesn’t need to take time off from work. Near misses refer to events where nobody gets hurt, but it’s close. A good example is imagining a pile of wood panels falling off a shelf when a worker is standing nearby. He or she doesn’t get hit, but a possible injury isn’t far.

Unsafe acts refer to behaviour and circumstances that don’t necessarily produce direct danger to anyone but are seen as matters to be fixed. A good example of an unsafe act is not wearing a helmet at a construction site. 

Positive observations highlight acts of safety

The sixth category, positive observations, refers to all those observations that highlight the safe behaviour at the workplace. Examples of positive observations are:

  • Everybody is wearing a safety helmet at all times at a constructions site
  • Supervisors show sincere interest in employees’ safety and act immediately if a problem arises
  • Employees are well-informed about the exit routes at a work site
  • There are clear instructions how to report different observations to supervisors
  • Employees are familiar with company safety policies

Many companies concentrate on collecting data only from the top five categories of the pyramid. But positive observations shouldn’t be left out. Collecting positive data is extremely important in order to predict the number and type of future incidents. Negative events usually result in blaming the person accountable whereas the same person also often deserves praise for other jobs well-done. The focus shouldn’t be only in spotting the mistakes, but rather noticing good safety and security efforts. Moreover, collecting these types of data is also a way of preventing uncertainty and increasing the knowledge of what a good safety and security culture looks like.

The strategy to learn more about the uncertainty of specific situations and areas, comes from the U.S. Army Military term, VUCA. Read more about what it means for companies in VUCA - The Beginning.

The next step after this is to consider the best way to collect all these above-mentioned observations. It’s time to look at How to Make an Incident Report

Metrics and Safety KPIs set the base for effective Incident Management. Download our FREE guide and dig more into the subject:

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Konsta Vesterinen

Chairman of the Board