Confidential reporting systems aim to protect the identity of the reporting person. Often this is a means to ensure that the voluntary reporting systems are non-punitive. Confidentiality is usually achieved by de-identification, often by not recording any identifying information of the occurrence. Such a system returns to the user the identifying part of the reporting form, and no record is kept of these details. Confidential incident reporting systems facilitate the disclosure of human errors, without fear of retribution or embarrassment, and enable others to learn from previous mistakes. (ICAO Doc 9859 - Safety Management Manual)
The person reporting an incident must be confident that his/her identity and other information that may be used to identify him/her and others involved will not be disclosed to legal and other authorities. In some States legislation on access to information makes it increasingly difficult to guarantee confidentiality.
It is important to distinguish between confidential reporting and anonymous reporting. Many successful voluntary reporting systems contain provisions covering the way the reporting person is to be contacted if needed, to receive additional details and better understanding of the reported incident or hazard (call-back capability). However, heavy use of a confidential reporting scheme may indicate a deficient safety culture in the organisation.
Anonymous reporting systems generally have several disadvantages. The main drawback of the anonymous reporting is that it is impossible to call-back the person who originated the report, thus it makes it difficult to provide clarification of the information, if needed. Another disadvantage of this type of reporting is that it could be used for purposes other than safety.
Examples of national bodies which run confidential reporting systems include:
- UK CHIRP (UK Confidential Reporting Programme for Aviation and Maritime)
- NASA ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System)
The way these two schemes, and others set up more recently, work in respect of 'confidentiality' and the extent (if any) to which the act of reporting to them can prevent individuals from being the subject of regulatory action varies quite widely.