Near Miss Safety Incidents Are Learning Opportunities

[tweetmeme]Have you ever been involved in an accident investigation where the contributing factors of the accident happened before but weren’t reported?   After one such serious accident involving work on live switchboards that resulted in explosions that caused extensive damage and one forced the closure of an elementary school for a day, the following was quoted in an ABC news report.

“They were very, very lucky indeed. There was a similar incident on the mainland where a person received severe burns to his face working on a live switchboard and that person has been in hospital for months and months and will probably never work again.”

If you were asked to define what a near miss is what would you say? A close call where no one was injured but may have resulted in property damage?

A near miss safety incident is undoubtedly a “do over” without an injury.   However near misses must still be reported and the unsafe situation corrected in a timely manner and they should be used as a learning experience.

Here are some real life examples of near misses.

  • A forklift tipped over while carrying a load that shifted on an uneven work surface.  The driver escaped without a scratch by staying buckled inside the cage.
  • A mechanic working under railcar had just stepped away when the car was struck by another railcar being positioned on an active work track.
  • A forklift ran over a welder’s foot which was protected by his steel toed boots when the driver backed up and did not see him walking behind his lift.

Reporting of a near miss and the subsequent investigation will more than likely reveal unsafe acts and conditions that will need to be corrected.  Near miss incidents that are severe in nature should receive as much attention and corrective action as an actual accident / injury.  But it is difficult to get everyone to report near misses.

Reasons Why Our People are Reluctant to Report

  • There is no system for near miss reporting.
  • Workers believe that their supervisors will hold such near miss reporting against them.
  • Generates additional work,  i.e., paperwork, subsequent investigation, etc.
  • Supervisors and/or workers have not been instructed how to report near misses.
  • Once reported nothing is done to address or correct what caused the near miss.
  • Upon reporting there is no follow-up
  • Near misses are so frequent that they become common place and part of the everyday work life
  • Employees may fear a possible job loss or be penalized if they are found to be a contributing factor of the near miss incident.
  • Workers have the mindset that being safe in the workplace also includes being lucky.

It is important to report and follow up on near misses because you can’t predict severity in accidents.  While zero accidents is a possibility, zero risk isn’t.  It is impossible to completely engineer out all of the risks so you must continue to work to identify those hidden risks and develop ways to minimize the exposure, and reporting and investigating near misses is a critical part of this process.

It is also important to look beyond employee behavior/actions, if this is found as a “root cause” or contributing factor.   Many people will stop there because they can’t answer the “Why Question”.  In reality though if one person feels encouraged to take a risk, usually others are as well.   It is important to look at your organization’s cultural aspects during an investigation/analysis.   When the culture supports the measurement and understands why they need to investigate near misses, an in depth analysis can be a very positive thing.



  1. Larry Cutting, CSP-Retired says:

    I would ask if your “Near Miss” definition isn’t a Near Miss Injury definition instead of a Near Miss Incident definition. As the examples that you gave, there were damages, just not injuries. Striving to report Near Miss Incidents is a much larger world that would help to prevent even the property damage incidents. Notice that I didn’t use the word accidents either. The world just accepts that “accidents just happen” so the change to “incident prevention” helps opens their minds to new possibilities.

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