What is a near miss?
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."
In other words, a close call where the only thing that prevented an injury or accident was sheer luck.
What Makes Surface Near Misses Unique?
Slips, trips, and falls are responsible for a significant portion of occupational incidents and injuries. One reason for this is the prevalence of hazards and obstructions on walking surfaces. For example:
- Extension cords laid across walking paths
- Debris on the floor
- Tools left lying around in between uses
- Cluttered and crowded traffic paths
These hazards are so common that they are often ignored. As a result, near misses involving walking surfaces are often tolerated and go unreported.
This is a missed opportunity, since taking a proactive approach to these near misses could reduce the risk of slips, trips, and falls - and reduce their prevalence overall.
Why Is It Important for Employees to Report Near Misses?
Reporting near misses is valuable for two reasons.
First, it's data. Knowing where accidents almost happened will help you identify high-risk zones and give you insight into which control measures aren't working as well as they should.
Second, addressing the underlying issue that caused the near miss can prevent more serious incidents from happening. The conditions that resulted in a close call are the same ones that could cause an injury, harmful exposure, or a fatality.
Suppose, for example, that there's a rug with a curled edge on the worksite. Normally, it doesn't pose much of an issue but every week or two someone almost trips against it. They falter, they lose their balance, they have to steady themselves - but they don't actually fall over or get hurt.
Those are the near misses. But it's only a matter of time before someone does fall - and might fall while holding something heavy, sharp, or corrosive.
Reporting the near misses calls attention to the tripping hazard and provides an opportunity to correct it before anyone gets hurt.
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What Is the Job of the Safety Program Committee?
Every workplace needs a safety management committee that takes steps to encourage the reporting of near misses and conducts an investigation when a near miss does occur.
Every safety committee's goal is to reduce the rate of incidents, but they can only do this effectively if they take near misses seriously.
Near misses might not result in harm, exposure, or property damage, but they are still incidents. They should always be treated as such.
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