What Are Near Misses?

Near misses are potential health and/or safety issues that did not cause accident, death, or injury, but logically might have done so. Why did they not cause problems? Typically, nothing but good luck.

OSHA defines near misses as episodes where no property was damaged and no personal injury occurred in spite of the fact that, given a slight shift of time or location, damage or injury would most likely have occurred. Near misses can also be referred to as close calls, near accidents, accident precursors, injury-free occurrences or potential collisions.

Why Is It Important to Address Near Misses?

If it had not been for luck, the near miss could have caused injury or death. It is important to note the presence of near misses, report accurately and devise a plan to correct the situation.

What Are Surface Near Misses?

Surface near misses involve objects out of place on ground, floor, counter or other flat area where people walk or work. Following are examples:

  • Cords over which workers have to step
  • Debris on the floor
  • Tools littering the floor, ground or counter area
  • Coffee, oil or other substance spilled on work surface(s)
  • Extension cords improperly used
  • Tools placed too close to the edge of a counter or shelf
  • Corners where oncoming traffic cannot be seenIcy steps
  • File cabinet drawers left open
  • Wet, or slippery floor surface
  • Loose wire
  • Mats that skid or flip up
  • Irregular ground surface
  • Obstacles in workers’ pathway
  • Holes in floor or ground

How Can You Recognize Near Misses?

The following steps were devised for creating an effective near-miss program:

  1. Begin with an agreed-upon definition of a near miss
  2. Create a form for submitting a written disclosure of an identified near miss
  3. File reports and classify for future actions Inform the near miss committee of the details of each incident
  4. Discuss and analyze the causes of each near miss reported
  5. Brainstorm solutions to the near miss problem
  6. Arrive at the best solution to each incident
  7. Disseminate the solution to those involved
  8. Answer any questions
  9. Make sure proposed solution and needed changes are understood
  10. Resolve all actions
  11. Make changes and check to see they are executed

It is necessary to prioritize problems and needed changes. These will vary from company to company and instance to instance. It is vital to look after events in a logical order.

What Steps Ought to Be Used to Avoid Near Misses?

When these incidents occur—even without mishap—they are a warning that something should be changed to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible.

Safety professional, Jeff Ruebesam, notes that employers need to track near misses, discover how they occurred, learn why they occurred, and, finally, take preventative action to avoid a repeat of the same situation.

Near misses should be sparking inspections. These inspections and their resulting actions may help prevent an injury or a fatality. However, an investigation will not occur if the near miss is not reported immediately and accurately.

The workplace needs to set up a safety management committee. It is the job of this committee to ensure near misses are reported and consequently investigated. The result will be reduction of the instance of serious incidents.

How Does This Work In the Workplace?

It is realistic for the near miss safety management to deal with between five and ten near-miss reports in regularly scheduled meeting. The committee needs to meet with employees from each shift.

In order for the committee to do its job, employees must report near misses as soon as they occur. Otherwise details will be lost. If unreported, that near miss may become an injury or fatality next time. If something is repeatedly reported as a near miss, the committee will begin to look deeper into the problem to get at its root.

Management needs to involve employees as part of the safety management committee, as well as in the implementation of changes. Feedback then needs to be sought regarding how these changes worked. There must be trust between the safety management committee and the employer, as well as between the committee and employees.

It’s Not About Blame!

Reports on near misses must be perceived as constructive safety measures, not finger pointing. The goal is to fix a potentially dangerous situation before someone is hurt or killed and/or valuable property is damaged and costly repairs ensue. No one reporting should feel he will get in trouble or get someone else in trouble.

How to Encourage Employees to Report Near Misses

Encouraging employees to report near misses is both the responsibility of the employer as well as the safety committee. They must feel that reporting is a job responsibility and that they will not get into trouble.

Focus not on ‘Who is to blame?’ but, instead, how and why the system is flawed. This must be a blame-free work environment with no negative consequences to reporters. Moreover, research shows the safety climate of a workplace directly effects the reporting of near misses.

Make reporting as easy and fast as possible. Provide several avenues for reporting a near miss. Follow up needs to be efficient and visible to the workers. They need to know their reporting is taken seriously. When it comes to creating an inclusive safety culture within an organization, reporting near misses should be viewed as being as important as reporting actual accidents.


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Near Miss Reporting - What You Need to Know