How to Categorise Incidents at The Workplace?

This blog post has been originally published in July 2016.

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 organisations avoid and mitigate potential occupational dangers in their field operations.

Six distinct incident categories

All possible work-related incidents can be divided into six different categories depending on their status. We demonstrate these categories with a triangle, that has the rarest incidents or observations on the top and the most common ones in the bottom.

Heinrich's Triangle Theory

The illustration is an adaptation from the Heinrich’s Triangle. The first top five categories are from the original framework, but the bottom category Positive Observations is an additional layer defined by us. When thinking about organisations, the ratio between these 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 may 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 there was a high possibility for a more severe incident.

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 fail by concentrating on collecting data from only the top five categories of the triangle. And 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.


When thinking about incident reporting, it's extremely important to understand the nature and role of different categories. They help organisations to build their safety culture, and develop causalities and leading indicators to predict risks in the working environment.

Once you are familiar with the different categories, it is time to consider the best way to collect all these observations. We are covering the topic here: How to Make an Incident Report

Is your organisations looking for a modern incident reporting platform to nurture your safety culture by lowering the threshold of reporting? Have a look at our tool and take advantage of the 30-day FREE trial:

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