The definition of a near miss in a workplace context is an unplanned event that has the potential to cause but does not result in, human injury or fatality, damage to equipment or the environment, or interruption to normal operations.
The HSE estimates that there are about 90 workplace near misses for every accident that occurs.
Examples of Near Misses
A wide range of incidents can fit within the definition given above. Some may seem so innocuous that an untrained employee may think them not worth reporting, especially if they have a heavy workload.
A worker slipping on spilt liquid and just recovering their balance by grasping a shelf or desk is a near miss. Such an incident may be due not only to a spillage remaining uncleared but could also be due to the person slipping being unsighted as a result of poor lighting or having their view of the floor obstructed.
A spanner slips from the hand of an employee working at height and falls. The falling object has the potential to injure someone on the ground. Possible solutions include securing tools to the employee’s wrist while in use and setting up barriers so no one can access the potential impact area below.
Reacting to Near Misses
The following should be recorded when a near miss incident occurs:
- The time and date of the near miss incident.
- Where the incident occurred.
- The type of incident.
- The work activities that were being carried out before the incident.
- Details of what happened.
- Details of the people affected by the incident.
However, a successful near miss program is not just about creating an incident report. It should also include careful investigation of near misses, determining their root causes and implementing appropriate preventative changes.
The potential severity of a near miss can determine the response. For example, if a near miss could have resulted in an injury or death, a full investigation should be conducted. However, if a near miss is less dangerous, like a trip hazard due to the positioning of a cable, steps should be taken to reduce the potential danger ard and the risk communicated to everyone.
Reporting near misses is usually an internal matter, but certain types of near misses must be reported to HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
Lessons learned from near misses can be shared with employees through meetings and noticeboards. For example, sharing the most critical reported hazards in weekly team meetings, including a description of the solution and when it is going to be implemented.
Near misses with the most severe potential consequences should ideally be communicated by a person in a senior position, such as a director.
Employee participation in a near miss program is vital because it is the employees who are most likely to experience or witness near miss events.
Workers should be trained to identify and recognise potential hazards and encouraged to submit near miss reports.
An essential part of encouraging complete and accurate reporting is to ensure the focus is on what lessons can be learned and what not to do, rather than focusing on assigning blame for a near miss incident.
The key is not to look for blame, but to ask what system flaws exist and how they can be improved.
To help increase employee engagement the process of reporting near misses should be as simple as possible. The method of reporting to a department or management should be as convenient as possible. Not wanting to report a near miss because it is too difficult or embarrassing will prevent any progress.
There can also be incentives to encourage reporting. A good incentive program will recognise workers who report hazards. Celebrating positive outcomes from the near-miss reporting process with employees will lead them to believe there is a positive management culture towards safety and they will be more willing to report near misses.
Components Of A Near Miss Program
Within a company, it is everyone’s responsibility to report near misses. There should be a policy and procedures in place for reporting near misses and ensuring that everyone in the workplace understands the process.
There are several parts to a successful near miss program:
- A clear definition of a near miss.
- A simple process to produce a written report for a near miss.
- A system to prioritise reports and classify information for future actions.
- Analyse the causes of the problem.
- Identify solutions to the problem.
- Disseminate the solutions to the people impacted.
- Implement solutions and check they are effective.
- Training to ensure every employee is and remains aware of the program
Prioritising is an essential part of the process to ensure near misses are treated appropriately. The steps taken to achieve this will differ from company to company.
It is also vitally important to make it very easy for anyone to report a near miss. Removing all of the hurdles that can deter employees from reporting could involve ensuring there are appropriate templates prepared or even that appropriate technology is available. For example, using mobile technology like a tablet if it is impractical to get to an office to record an incident.
Disseminating solutions is also important, not only because that will prevent accidents, but also being seen to be proactive in taking action will encourage people to report other near misses. Openly discussing issues will also be an opportunity to emphasise that the process is about making a safer workplace and therefore to everyone’s advantage.
If a business creates a workplace culture where employees feel encouraged to report near misses, there are a number of benefits to the company and its staff. The reporting of near misses provides valuable information about the overall effectiveness of a business’s health and safety management practices. It also increases safety ownership, involves the workforce in solving problems, and can reveal useful information and potential problems that otherwise might not be discussed.
Although near misses do not cause immediate harm, they can precede incidents in which damage, injury or even fatalities can occur. Employers who track near misses, determine how and why they occurred, and take corrective action can prevent similar or more serious incidents from happening in the future.
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