If It’s Not Written Down It Never Happened! – Due Diligence at Work

These were the very precise words spoken to me (and about thirty other bright-eyed police recruits) on Day 1 of my Metropolitan Police Force career at the Hendon Police College in London in November of 1977.
This powerful message was designed to drill into our sub-consciousness that when we, as police officers, attended an incident, we needed to write down everything that we saw, heard and did.
You have probably seen those memory tests that they give to recruits in some industries where the applicant is shown a photograph and asked to study all of the items on the photograph. Another part of the testing phase is then engaged in (as a distraction technique) and then eventually the recruit is asked to recall everything that they can remember from the photograph.
Sound easy?
Not at all.
Have you ever been heading down to the shops with your list of things to buy and while you are on the way, you suddenly remember something else that you are supposed to get as well?
Instead of writing it down, we say to ourselves…” I am bound to remember that! No need to write it down.”
Of course, when you return home, the ONLY thing that you don’t have in your possession, is the ONE thing that you were bound to remember.

Memories are completely fallible.

And they are fallible when everything is going well.
Add to the mixture some stress, some exhaustion, and other sensory input and you have all of the potentials for the average person to remember nothing at all about an incident.
The Metropolitan Police knew this and pushed the message about ‘writing it down’ at every opportunity.
It plays like a jingle in my head still to this day…which is a good thing since within the world of workplace safety, there is this small issue called Due Diligence.
To reinforce the need for people involved in incidents to document what occurred ‘as soon as practicable’ I refer you to a brilliant organization, The Force Science Institute Ltd.
They conduct fascinating, evidence-based research and their website states:

The Force Science Institute is comprised of a world-class team of physicians, psychologists, behavioral scientists, attorneys, and other leading professionals. We are dedicated to the unbiased application and further study of 150 years of existing scientific research on a wide range of areas associated with human factors, including the intricacies of human movement, action/reaction times, how the mind works during rapidly unfolding events, decision-making under stress, etc. 

Here is a terrific study paper on the impact on memory as it relates to stress being experienced by the individual concerned.
An employer’s obligation to take all reasonable care to protect the health and safety of employees or co-workers is called demonstrating ‘Due Diligence’.

What is Due Diligence?

Answer:   Try these…..

  1. Take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances to carry out your work
  2. This is commonly shown by evidence that certain procedures were carried out
  3. Recognizing that liability arises for failure to take reasonable care

 What is the defense of ‘Due Diligence’?

Answer:   In prosecutions for violations of safety and health laws, the prosecutor need only prove the doing of the prohibited act (strict liability).
To be successful in a defense of due diligence you must show you have taken all the precautions that a reasonable and prudent person would take under the same circumstances.
Here is a recent article for reference

What is the key to a safe workplace?

Answer:   An effective and well-communicated Safety and Health Program
Thorough documentation is critical for your Health & Safety Program.

  • Documentation records prove your program has been implemented.
  • Records provide a history of activities and evidence your program is working.
  • ‘Due Diligence’ only applies if your program has been implemented, and your written rules and procedures are understood and followed by workers.

Here is an article about an employer who lost a court case which highlights the issue.

 What kinds of records are required for Due Diligence?

Answer:   Try these to start with…

  • Worker orientation
  • Worker and supervisor training, including date, attendance, and general content
  • Workplace inspections, including corrective actions taken
  • Accident / Incident reports, including corrective actions taken
  • Supervisor notes (e.g., supervisor inspections, meetings with workers or contractors regarding safety, etc.)
  • Health and safety committee meeting minutes
  • Equipment logs books and maintenance records
  • Emergency response drills and exercises
  • Instructions or safe work procedures, including any changes
  • Forms and checklists used when following safe work procedures (e.g., confined space entry permits)
  • Sampling and monitoring records from exposure testing
  • Hearing tests & first aid records
  • Air testing results
  • Respirator fit tests
  • Statistics about the frequency and severity of injuries, etc.
  • Enforcement of health and safety rules and procedures

How to implement due diligence at your workplace?


  1. Policies, practices & procedures
  2. Monitor & ensure effectiveness of policies & procedures
  3. Identify & communicate hazard information
  4. Review OSH Program elements for effectiveness
  5. On-going training & supervision of workers
  6. Disciplinary process
  7. Incident investigation & reporting

All of which require DOCUMENTATION.
Final thoughts….
You may remember that mantra that I have ringing in my head….“If it’s not written down, it never happened!”
Well, last night, my wife Karen, and I were out in Stanley Park in Vancouver at a beautiful restaurant.
I was sharing with Karen the content of this blog post.
I noticed that our server at the restaurant took our order without writing anything down. This is of course not unusual. What was unusual was that our food never arrived. Some time later, the server rushed over to our table, apologizing profusely that our meal had not been prepared due to the fact that the server had forgotten to place it. She had been distracted by her other orders which were taken after ours.
Proof positive that “If it’s not written down, it never happened!”

Yes No  
Do you know and understand your safety and health responsibilities?
Do you have definite procedures in place to identify and control hazards?
Have you integrated safety into all aspects of your work?
Do you set objectives for safety and health just as you do for quality, production, and sales?
Have you committed appropriate resources to safety and health?
Have you implemented appropriate control measures for identified hazards?
Have you explained safety and health responsibilities to all employees and made sure that they understand it?
Have employees been trained to work safely and use the proper protective equipment?
Is there a hazard reporting procedure in place that encourages employees to report all unsafe conditions and unsafe practices to their supervisors?
Are managers, supervisors, and workers held accountable for safety and health just as they are held accountable for quality?
Is safety a factor when acquiring new equipment or changing a process?
Are contractors, volunteers and others in the workplace held to the same safety standards?
Do you keep records of your program activities and improvements?
Do you address concerns and recommendations made by workers, the health and safety committee (or representative), and others?
Have items from reports such as inspections or accident/incident reports been reviewed and corrective actions were taken?  Have these steps been documented?
Do you keep records of the education and training each employee has received?
Do you check to confirm that all policies and procedures are being followed regularly?
Do your records show that you take disciplinary action when an employee violates safety procedures?
Do you review your OSH program at least once a year and make improvements as needed?

Please share this post with someone whom it may benefit.