Is Near Miss Reporting a Missing Link in Your Safety Culture?

shutterstock_41393446A near-miss incident is usually defined as one that leaves no injuries, no property or equipment damages and little or no evidence that it even occurred. And this may be one of the reasons why near misses are not reported as frequently as they should be!

How many times have you shrugged off a near miss? Maybe you never even gave it a second thought? Next time, think twice. The difference between a near miss and an injury is often a fraction of a second, or an inch or two in one direction or another. And when it happens again, that difference may not be there.

Let’s start with a question: would you do anything if your saw your colleague climbing a ladder with a broken rung? Let’s say the employee made it down safely – do you say anything then? Assuming this person made it down without any harm or damage to any property, would you report this as a near miss?

Statistics: We never know which “Unsafe Behavior” will bring us serious injury. A safety study performed by Herbert William Heinrich[1] noted that for every 330 unsafe behaviors that occur, 300 result in no injuries, 29 produce minor injuries and one produces a major injury or even a fatality. What that means is the more risks you take, the better the chance for a serious accident or worse. But we never know which unsafe behavior will be the one that causes major injury.

When reported and acted upon, near misses enable early intervention and are great opportunities to improve your safety performance! If you heed the warning and change your behavior, you’ll be far more likely to avoid any and all injuries in the future.

Here’s an Example: You never wear your seatbelt when driving your vehicle – you never have. You’ve had to stop short a number of times when driving, and you’ve even hit your head slightly on the windshield several times because you stopped quickly for one reason or another. But you still didn’t consider those near misses as warnings, and you still don’t wear your seatbelt. Making matters worse, you think you’re such a good driver that you can drive faster than most. Well, that “fender bender” that you’re likely to have sometime in the future may only result in minimum properly damage to your vehicle. But you won’t have your seatbelt on, and the result for you will be far worse.

Everyone in HSE has a goal to develop a culture that doesn’t wait until someone is injured, but identifies the risk before injuries occur. To do this, you have to engage your employees on the front line to eliminate personal risks. But how can you accomplish this? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Create a near miss report so that anyone can easily fill out a report within minutes (e.g. online or through an app).
  2. Don’t punish employees for unsafe acts that caused a near miss. This is a learning experience and you can use it as one in a positive way. As long as the near miss wasn’t a deliberate violation, it should be used as an opportunity for re-education on the subject.
  3. Communicate the misses to your employees using meaningful data generated from them. When the data is leveraged to achieve positive outcomes that can be celebrated, celebrate them.
  4. Develop and implement a ‘spot the trap’ exercise during your training sessions. This will build situational awareness. The more your employees are trained to recognize hazardous situations, the more comfortable they will be in reporting near misses.

If you are considering an award for employees who report near misses, I would like to deter you from doing so. In my opinion, you wouldn’t want to bribe an employee to tell you things that they should be communicating freely and openly. You will be better served by developing a culture of positive recognition and reinforcement to build safe work habits. Recognition alone should be powerful enough without needing some kind of gift to go along with it.

The success of a near miss reporting program is dependent on an entire company’s commitment to safety. Once implemented, near miss reporting provides a great leading indicator of safety performance, a core tenet of a hazard identification system and a means of engaging and empowering employees throughout different levels of an organization.[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_William_Heinrich

[2] http://www.nsc.org/WorkplaceTrainingDocuments/Near-Miss-Reporting-Systems.pdf

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