Are You Missing Your Near Misses?

by Jacob Worek, Dir. of Operations for Event Safety Alliance

It goes without saying that you should be performing a thorough investigation of all accidents that occur on your worksite. But are you taking the time to investigate all near-miss incidents, as well?

By definition, a near-miss incident is an unplanned event that does not result in an injury or damage, but has the potential to do so. Such events are more common than you may think. A dropped tool that mercifully avoids striking anyone...a stagehand who just manages to dodge a quick-turning forklift...a stair rail that collapses without causing a fall. Each of these cases present a critical opportunity to identify weaknesses in your operation that may compromise safety at your event.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Safety Council both state that near-miss reporting can significantly improve worker safety and enhance an organization’s safety culture. Unfortunately, most near-miss incidents go unnoticed and unreported. With no immediate consequences experienced, many people simply shrug off the incident and get back to work. Others may forgo reporting an incident due to fear of punishment from management or reprisal from their coworkers. A tight production deadline can also cause someone to delay reporting an incident until an event is over, if at all.

A number of state, nonprofit, and private organizations provide recommendation for instituting a near-miss reporting program. These recommendations include:

  • Keep it simple. Near-miss reporting programs should be simple, relevant, and responsive. The more complicated the reporting process is, the less likely workers are to take the time to report minor but telling incidents.

  • Provide proper leadership. Leadership must reinforce the importance of identifying, reporting, and controlling hazards in the workplace. This includes stressing the importance of near-miss reporting and providing proper training and educational resources.

  • Seek solutions, not blame. The purpose of near-miss reporting is to prevent a future injury-producing event, not to assign blame. Reporting incidents (even those resulting from error) should be non-punitive. To ensure immediate and honest reporting, consider making your near-miss reporting program optionally anonymous.

  • Follow up quickly and visibly. Every time a near-miss incident is reported, it is vital that leadership investigates to determine why and how this incident occurred. If incidents are not visibly followed up on, workers will be much less likely to report in the future. Incidents that are reported should be followed up on as soon as possible, and investigated with an eye towards identifying system deficiencies and developing the corrective actions necessary to prevent a recurrence.  

Near-miss reporting and investigation provides a great leading indicator of safety performance, a core tenant of a hazard identification system and a means of engaging and empowering employees throughout an organization.  

Left unaddressed, your next near-miss may not be.

Shelby Cude