Picture this scene.
You are asked to be a witness in court about an unfortunate incident that happened some time ago. You believe you can recall what happened, to who and when.
The date of the case arises. You are sitting on the witness bench outside the court. People are walking backwards and forwards to different parts of the building. As each person walks past you hear their footsteps echo around the large hall, heavy boots to heels, clipping. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
Every now and again a person opens the doors near you. And calls out a name. The name of another person you know that was also involved. They leave their seat and walk into court. Then some time later they walk out look at you and leave quietly. They are told not to talk to people as they leave.
Next it’s your name that is called. You feel uneasy, wondering what will happen. You get up and go into the court room. You are guided to the witness stand.
You are sworn in and almost immediately a person approaches you and starts asking questions….
“So on the day in question… what were you doing?” you reply from the best of your memory
“What happened…?” you reply, giving the best details you can recall
As the questioning goes on, things get more and more specific. “was it on the left or the right”… you reply “I’m not sure”.
The case falls apart. its all YOUR fault!!! Someone has now lost their job, or their income or their house… If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen – that is what every lawyer can argue.
The slippery slope starts.
The questioning starts to build doubt in your mind. You respond with…”but this was over a year ago, How am I supposed to remember this detail”.
The judge says, by all means refer to your notes….. Notes? What notes…?
There is the problem.
If something happens at work, and you sign a permit to work, or provide first aid or provide a statement of a near miss or anything else its critical you make a record. For this COULD be the ONLY notes you are allowed in a court if called as a witness at some point in the future.
But this is a fairy story…isn’t it?
Often an incident, a slip on a stair, a cut finger, dust in the eye etc can lead to a complex situation over time. The only record is the one that was made at the time.
Look back at the last record you made. If you read that in 12,24 or 36 months’ time, would it help you answer difficult questions?
A Line Management example
You have an employee that is not meeting objectives. You have had several discussions with the individual and decide to dismiss them. But you have not made a record of time, places, events and what was said…
Of course a court or tribunal will trust your word…. Won’t they?
If you cleaned and dressed a cut to the hand… what hand? Where on the hand, how long is the cut?
For if an injury occurred out of work to a different part of the hand, a person might claim it was a work condition. How do your notes PROVE what the injury was or was not?
A work permit (or permit to work) example
What goes on the permit? Method of entry, method of exit, PPE required. What task will be done using what tools, to what procedure or standard work? Where is the risk assessment? What is the rescue or emergency procedure in the event of something going wrong?
A near miss (incident) report example
What happened? Where did it happen. What PROCESS was being done at the time? Who was doing it. What procedure was being followed and where in the procedure did things start to go wrong? What actions were taken by who? Why?
It’s not just about courts…
The examples given is the worst possible situation, but there is a more practical use. Let’s look at incident investigation as a case in point.
A kitchen as 3 ovens. The oven are used for different things. But an incident or spillage occurs in oven 1. A week later an incident again in Oven 1. But they are different… aren’t they? Maybe its not the oven but the process. If we only record the location…. 3 incidents in oven1, 1 incident in ovens 2 & 3. It looks like oven 1 has a problem. What if the PROCESS being done in each case was the baking of the same items. Unless we record this, it is an easy pattern to miss.
We often focus on the geography or location, and ignore the activity. For example maybe a piece of capital plant is the location, but it’s not job A that causes the problem but job B.
Sorry but…If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen
Many of us hate the paperwork or recording of these things. But it’s the record that can both prevent future occurrences of dangerous situations… or indeed be the evidence that protects us in the case of a situation going out of control.
If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen! Get in the habit. Write it down, make sure you are clear on the details. Look at the document and ask yourself if I were looking at this in 2 years’ time would it give me all the information I need to explain what happened from my perspective?