Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them

By Laura Surowiec
Last updated: September 22, 2018
Presented by Cority
Key Takeaways

Near misses often go unreported because they don't seem like a big deal. But the information you get from reporting them can prevent future accidents and injuries.

When most people think of failures in workplace safety, they think of accidents, injuries, and fatalities.


We often forget that near misses fall in the same category. After all, no one gets hurt by a near miss and no property gets damaged.

So, what's the big deal? Why bother reporting an incident if nothing serious happened?


In this article, we'll go over exactly what a near miss is, how to avoid them, and why reporting them is essential to improving the safety of your workplace.

What Are Near Misses?

Near misses are incidents that did not cause property damage, injury, exposure to harmful substances, or a fatality, but might have done so had the circumstances been slightly different.

Why don't near misses lead to these bad outcomes? In most cases, it's nothing but sheer luck.

OSHA defines near misses as:

"a potential hazard or incident in which no property was damaged and no personal injury was sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred."


Another great way to think of it comes from Vince Butler, who highlights that what makes a near miss is simply the outcome:

"A person steps through the wet floor, slips and falls and breaks a wrist – an injury accident.

A person steps through the wet floor, slips and falls and suffers no harm – is a near-miss event.

The unplanned, uncontrolled event was the same – but the outcome was different: one an injury accident – the other a near miss event."

Same hazard. Same behavior. Same risks. But a different outcome.

In one case, someone had the misfortune of getting hurt. In the other, they were lucky to come out of it shaken but unharmed. The only difference between the accident and the near miss is nothing but luck.

Free Download: 5 Key Things You May Be Missing When It Comes to Avoiding Workplace Incidents and Near Misses

What Are Unsafe Surface Conditions That Could Lead to a Near Miss?

Unsafe surface conditions are a common cause of near misses. They involve objects out of place on the ground, floor, counter, or other flat area where people walk or work.

There are too many types of surface hazards to list here, but some examples include:

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

(Learn more about Safety Mats: The Easiest Safety Decision You'll Ever Make)

Why Is It Important to Address Near Misses?

If it had not been for a bit of good fortune, a near miss could have caused injury or death. When a near miss happens, you can thank your lucky stars that it wasn't worse, but it's also important to take the extra steps of recording it, reporting it accurately, and devising a plan to correct the situation that led to the near miss.

By devising and executing a plan, you're taking proactive steps to ensure that the conditions that led to the near miss aren't repeated. Preventing it from happening is a much safer approach than simply hoping the workers' luck doesn't run out next time.

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 so everyone can recognize one when it happens
  2. Create a form for reporting near misses
  3. File these reports and classify them for future action
  4. Inform the near miss committee of the details of each incident
  5. Discuss and analyze the causes of each reported near miss
  6. Brainstorm solutions to the problem
  7. Arrive at the best solution to each incident
  8. Disseminate the solution to those involved
  9. Answer any questions they may have
  10. Make sure the proposed solution and needed changes are understood
  11. Resolve all actions
  12. Make changes and check to see they are executed

It is necessary to prioritize identifying the underlying problem and acting on a solution to resolve it. The issues and the course of action you take will vary from company to company and instance to instance, but it is vital that you address issues in a logical order.

What Steps Should You Take to Avoid Near Misses?

When these incidents occur, they're 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 spark inspections. These inspections and their resulting actions can then be used to help prevent injuries or fatalities. However, an investigation will not occur if the near miss is not reported immediately and accurately.

You also need to set up a safety management committee. It is this committee's job to ensure that near misses are reported and investigated.

How Does This Work In the Workplace?

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

For the committee to do its job, employees must report near misses as soon as they occur. Otherwise, critical 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 or valuable property is damaged. No one reporting should feel he will get in trouble or get someone else in trouble.

Want to learn more? Check out our free whitepaper:

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. Employees must feel that reporting is a job responsibility and that they will not get into trouble.

Don't ask yourself who is to blame for the incident, but how and why the system is flawed. You must create a blame-free work environment with no negative consequences for those who report safety issues. 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 in a way that is effective, 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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Written by Laura Surowiec

Laura Surowiec
Laura Surowiec is a Client Service Consultant for Medgate providing implementation and consulting services.

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