130301 Agenda Under Reporting of Incidents 660w 72dpi


The majority of home and community care workers work alone and are responsible for their own safety. However, there is widespread inconsistency and under reporting of incidents of aggression and violence, with the number and severity of reported incidents lower than that of actual incidents. This may lead to inaccurate assessment of risk resulting in poor decisions being made about safety.

There are many contributing factors inhibiting the reporting of incidents.

Given the compassionate nature of those working in community care, staff may become desensitised to, and consequently accept a certain level of aggression and violence as part of the job. This is particularly so when the staff member believes the aggressor did not intend to cause them harm.

Other examples include situations where staff members believe that:

  • Reporting an incident is inefficient and takes too long;
  • Colleagues do not share the perception that there is a threat to safety;
  • Violent incidents may represent professional failure on the part of the staff member;
  • Management may think the staff member does not have the skills to handle difficult situations, or that the staff member may be seen as the cause of the incident;
  • Corrective action is unlikely to be taken should the staff member take the time to report an incident; and/or
  • Debriefing and support for staff members is unavailable.

You will see a broad range of incidents listed in increasing severity or consequence from intimidation through to fatality on the Continuum of Incidents chart.

If we were to ask a member of management, a staff member, and a client’s family member to plot the number of incidents against the nature of those incidents on a chart, we would see lines in three different positions. The three lines would reflect each individual’s perception and differing assessment of the risk which in turn would influence their decision making in a given situation.

Those who have been directly or indirectly exposed to serious incidents or repeated exposure to minor incidents might overstate the gravity of the personal safety risks facing their organisation.

Staff who overestimate the seriousness of the situation are at risk of becoming unnecessarily anxious, stressed or even fearful when visiting clients.

On the other hand, staff who take the seriousness of the situation too lightly may become complacent and fail to apply suitable risk control measures exposing themselves to avoidable harm.

If relying on reported incidents alone, management may be underestimating the number and severity of the actual incidents their staff are exposed to. As a result, management may fail to allocate adequate resources to mitigate the foreseeable risk of physical, emotional and psychological injury. This presents obvious issues for the organisation, for individual managers, and for the staff and clients involved in the incidents.

Management should implement strategies to minimise under reporting of incidents. For many organisations, consideration should be given to streamlining the incident reporting process and continuing to nurture the culture of reporting of all incidents and near misses.

When reported incidents more accurately represent actual incidents, all concerned will share a better understanding of the risks involved. This will enable more meaningful collaboration on safe work practices and training in personal safety and risk awareness to effectively reduce the number and severity of actual incidents of aggression and violence.

This article is an opinion piece written by Travis Holland, Managing Director, Holland Thomas and Associates.

This article first appeared in ACSA Agenda, Autumn 2013 edition.

Trav photo
Travis Holland
Managing Director
Holland Thomas & Associates
Travis Holland email address