When most people think of workplace safety, they think of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. But reporting near misses that happen on the job can be just as important as recording accidents. This article will go over exactly what a near miss is, how to avoid them, and why they need to be addressed when they occur.
What Are Near Misses?
Near misses are potential health or safety issues that did not cause accident, death, or injury, but logically might have done so. Why do near misses not lead to these further problems? In most cases, nothing but sheer 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.
Another great way to think of it comes from Vince Butler:
A near-miss event is an 'accident' that didn't cause harm.
An 'accident' in relation to workplace safety is: 'an unplanned, uncontrolled event that causes harm, or has the potential to'.
'Harm' in this context at work is: 'any injury, loss or damage to... people, the environment, assets or reputation'
If there hasn't been an 'accident' there hasn't been a near-miss event. A cable across a stairway - OR - a spillage on a polished floor are hazards (unsafe conditions). A person(s) trying to walk over the cable or spillage is an 'unsafe act'.
Put the unsafe act + the unsafe condition together = the recipe for an 'accident' - take 1 or both away, it's difficult to have an 'accident'. Hazard Spotting and an intervention works much more effectively.
- 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."
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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. For example:
- 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 (see this Safety Moment on Power and Extension Cords)
- 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
- Loose wires
- Mats that skid or flip up
- Irregular ground surface
- Obstacles in workers’ pathway
- Holes in floor or ground
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 accurately, and devising a plan to correct the situation. By devising an execution a plan, you take proactive steps to ensure that workers don't suffer an injury, instead of just hoping that their luck doesn't run out.
How Can You Recognize Near Misses?
The following steps were devised for creating an effective near-miss program:
- Begin with an agreed-upon definition of a near miss
- Create a form for submitting a written disclosure of an identified near miss
- File reports and classify for future actions
- Inform the near miss committee of the details of each incident
- Discuss and analyze the causes of each reported near miss
- Brainstorm solutions to the near miss problem
- Arrive at the best solution to each incident
- Disseminate the solution to those involved
- Answer any questions
- Make sure proposed solution and needed changes are understood
- Resolve all actions
- 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 Should You Take to Avoid Near Misses?
When these incidents occur—even without mishap—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 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 or valuable property is damaged. 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 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 (learn the Benefits of Expedited EHS Reporting). 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.