Getting employees to report near-misses is a common struggle for many safety professionals. There’s a lot of speculation as to why it’s such a challenge to get workers to submit near-miss reports, with a range of reasons cited, including fear of retribution and not feeling it’s their job to report.
A near-miss can be defined as any event that could have resulted in an incident. Since nothing dire happened, a near-miss is often misconstrued as a free pass when it should actually be viewed as a life-changing event. You aren’t always going to get the opportunity for the close call to be a wake-up call, so it’s important to recognize how serious near-misses are.
In a conversation about near-misses, a company might identify a puddle on the floor as a near-miss. While the puddle itself is a potential hazard, if the puddle is in an area where no one could have an interaction with it then it does not have near-miss potential. Hazards and near-misses are not synonymous.
According to the NSC, “A Near Miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so.” The purpose of reporting a near-miss is to proactively identify why the potential for injury was present and eliminate the hazard before it results in an incident. In almost all cases, there was a warning sign before an incident occurred—meaning if the near-miss had been reported, the incident could have been prevented.
A hazard has a similar definition to a near-miss: “A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone.” The hazard is the source and the near-miss is the event that occurred. Both have the potential to result in an undesirable incident—which is preventable.
In order to identify and eliminate hazards, typically you’d conduct a hazard analysis. You’d also perform a similar process when it comes to near-misses—getting people to proactively think about hazards is a great way to eliminate a near-miss. If you’re familiar with a hazard analysis, you know that the first step identifies the hazard, the next step analyzes the risk associated with the hazard and finally, you determine a corrective action (elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, PPE).
Unfortunately, most workplaces are focused solely on what affects them at the moment. If hand injuries are high, they will put a lot of effort and focus into preventing the costly minor injuries, when only a small percentage could actually turn into a serious injury or fatality.
The potential outcome for a serious incident needs to be addressed during the hazard analysis to determine how much focus should be paid, especially taking into account the fact that complacency is at its highest when there haven’t been any accidents for a while.
Employees need to be trained on how to identify potential hazards and what they need to do to complete a near-miss report. Explain why a near-miss reporting process is necessary—that it’s not to blame the worker but to improve the safety system in place. It’s also important that the reporting process is easy, and everyone within a facility should be shown how to fill out a report and where to submit them.
If employees have a fear of reprisal for raising safety concerns, it may be wise to allow anonymous submissions. It’s the best way to get an honest account of what happened because the reporter’s name won’t be tied to it. It also helps to not use any names in the reports (make them incident specific) so that the employees don’t feel like they’re snitching on their co-workers, which could also be a deterrent.
Collecting near-miss reports will create a culture that assesses risks and determines a control to reduce the likelihood of incidents. In order for a near-miss reporting process to work, you first need to encourage employees to identify the hazard. Reiterate that near-miss reports are part of a positive process and not a punitive one. Creating a positive culture, without the threat of reprisal will inspire workers to be more forthcoming.
You need to have the type of safety culture that allows employees to be comfortable reporting hazards. All levels of management need to comply with the same rules and report all near-misses. More importantly, when a near-miss is reported, something (analyze, communicate, corrective action) needs to be done with that information. Nothing kills a near-miss reporting process faster than employees coming forward with an incident, only to have it dismissed or treated like it’s nothing.