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Ask the Hotline | Tracking Near Misses

March 13, 2018
My new safety officer wants to start focusing on tracking and addressing near-misses at work. Do I have to do that? Aren’t we just looking for trouble? 
No - it is not required. But the answer to your second question is no as well. Breathing a sigh of relief because some bad accident didn’t happen is not a reason to rest easy. It is a warning that should be heeded.
Let’s start by defining a near-miss.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a near-miss is an incident in which no property was damaged and no personal injury was sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred. Companies may refer to them as close calls, near accidents, injury-free events and, in the case of moving objects, near collisions. 
Take steps to create a near-miss policy or practice and then educate employees about what a one is, and why it matters. The checklist below offers some building blocks upon which an employer can construct a near-miss program and create a culture of reporting near-misses: 
  • Create a clear definition of a near-miss relevant to your workplace.
  • Make a written disclosure of the qualifying near-miss.
  • Prioritize reports based upon potential severity, how severe of a near-miss it was; classify information for future actions.
  • Distribute information to the people involved in the near-miss.
  • Analyze the causes of the problem.
  • Identify solutions to the problem.
  • Disseminate the solutions to the people impacted.
  • Resolve all actions and check any changes. Setting up a successful safety management program to ensure near-misses are reported and investigated is an important step in reducing occurrences of serious incidents. 
Companies should recognize that a comprehensive near-miss investigation can save time and money and make a difference in two other key ways:
Minimizes the risk of an incident waiting to happen, and 
Ensures that all your employees go home in tact at the end of the workday.
There is detailed near-miss information available on the OSHA website. Another key resource is your workers compensation carrier, who may have significant experience in dealing with near-misses at other companies.
Employee ownership and not a blame game
Any successful near-miss initiative will also involve getting all of your employees involved and motivated to report incidents and making sure the process is not just about blaming someone for the near-miss. If an employee suspects or knows he/she will be disciplined or fired for reporting a near-miss, no employee will report anything.
Any successful near-miss program must be based on effective two-way communication. Information about incidents needs to be timely reported and after it has been analyzed for ways to correct the problem, shared with the employees. And the two-way communication should continue so that employees and management continue to modify and learn from each near-miss. 
The goal of a near-miss program should be to get employees to report incidents and learn from them. 
And the learning is where your safety officer comes in. She needs to compile the near-miss data in a meaningful way that she can then use to explain to the rest of the employees and management -  what almost happened and what can be done to minimize or eliminate it going forward. 
Supporting the efforts of the safety officer will allow employees to see and experience a culture of management creating a safe workplace. 
Some key takeaways for employers seeking to create or improve their near-miss reporting program include acknowledging:
  • Incidents occur every day at the workplace that could result in a serious injury or damage.
  • A near-miss program may help prevent future incidents.
  • One problem that companies face with near-miss programs is employees' fear of being blamed after reporting a near-miss.
  • Employers need to make the process of reporting a near-miss as easy as possible.
Consider creating a user- friendly report and educate employees on how to write-up an incident. A quick search of the Internet yields many model forms, including many from universities. Once adopted, make sure employees are aware of where it is or who to report it to, to be written up. 
Please call the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have any questions about this or any other HR related matter.
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