How Near Miss Reporting Can Transform Your Safety Culture

importance of near miss reporting

Near miss reporting is an integral part of an effectively managed safety system. Reporting can reduce the likelihood of actual accidents taking place and in turn prevent physical harm or property damage. Having an effective near miss reporting system can transform your safety culture by showing employees that all incidents, even those that don’t cause them harm are taken seriously.

What is a Near Miss?

A near miss is an unwanted/undesired event that does not cause any harm or ill health but had the potential to do so. Reporting them is necessary to prevent the likelihood of the event happening again and someone actually getting hurt. They are sometimes referred to as close calls.

Difference Between Near Miss, Incident & Accident

It is important to understand the difference between a near miss, an incident and an accident, especially when explaining to employees, because a clear understanding of each term will aid reporting.

Near Misses: A near miss is a subset of an incident, it is an event that did not result in harm but had the potential to do so. An example of a near miss is a box of tools falling from overhead racking and narrowly missing an employee below.

Incidents: Any unplanned/undesired event in the workplace, regardless of whether there is physical harm or property damage, is deemed an incident. Incidents disrupt the regular working pattern in the workplace.

Accidents: An accident is an unwanted event that resulted in physical injury or property damage. Using the above example, if the box of tools fell and its contents landed on an employee, this would be deemed an accident, as physical harm has occurred.

Near misses, incidents and accidents must each be recorded.

Why Organisations Should Never Ignore a Near Miss

Near miss incidents are an indication that additional safety measures are needed. Ignoring them can prove harmful and in some safety critical industries such as construction, disregard of near miss incidents can result in fatalities if a similar incident was to happen again.

Close calls in the workplace provide an opportunity to implement measures to prevent unwanted events, to learn from them and to see whether the incident reporting system in place is fit for purpose.

As no physical injury or damage occurs as a result of a near miss, ignoring them is easy and can become commonplace in the workplace. So, it is important that the entire workforce is trained on what they are, why it is important to report them and how to report them. Reporting should be seamless and a no-blame culture should be adopted so that employees feel comfortable when reporting.

Conducting Investigations

Alongside reporting near misses, in some instances there may be the need to conduct an investigation. Depending on the likely potential for harm, injury or ill-health.

An investigation will help employers to:

  • Understand why existing measures put in place to prevent incidents have failed and what additional control measures are needed
  • Put together a plan to prevent near miss incidents turning into accidents that cause harm to employees, visitors or members of the public
  • Prompt a review of risk assessments to make sure that all foreseeable risks are controlled
  • Understand what training is needed so that all employees are aware of what a near miss is and how to report them.

Investigations should be conducted as soon as possible, in the same way that accidents would. This shows the workforce that near misses are considered just as important as accidents.

Steps for Setting Up a Successful Near Miss Program

Employee Involvement

Good safety management is not done in isolation. Employee input is essential to increase buy-in, which ultimately will lead to improved safety culture. Involve employees from the onset not midway through or at the end of the planning stage.

Whether face-to-face or in employee online surveys ask employees:

  • What they understand by the term ‘near miss’
  • Have they witnessed a near miss incident in the workplace
  • Do they know how to report a near miss
  • What they think of the existing near miss reporting system
  • What would encourage/discourage them from reporting
  • How would they improve the current system
  • What level of participation would they feel comfortable with in the implementation of a new near miss program.

Hazard Identification

Performing a hazard identification exercise will help to understand what could lead to a near miss. The information gained can then be used to provide training to employees and those who will be responsible for investigating incidents such as supervisors and line managers. It also lends to understanding the root cause of unwanted events and they type of hazards in the workplace so that they can be categorized.

Risk Assessment

A crucial step in the implementation of a near miss program is risk assessment. An extension of the hazard identification exercise, risk assessment will help to identify who can be harmed, how and what controls are needed to prevent harm. Should a near miss occur the risk assessment will need to be reviewed to see if the incident was foreseen and if not the circumstances of the near miss can be added as an identified risk and measures attributed accordingly.

Tips for Successful Implementation

The success of any safety policy, procedure, project or plan is smooth and effective implementation, and for this you will need a plan.

Tips on how to do this include:

  • Gaining buy-in from everyone – from senior management to shopfloor staff, it is important to get everyone involved.
  • Get the workforce up to speed – let everyone know what changes have been made, how easy reporting has been made and to reiterate its importance otherwise they can see it as just another safety initiative being presented to them in a new wrapper.
  • Have a clear implementation timeline in place and stick to it – Drawing out the plan could result in a loss of employee interest and may lead to a lack of reporting, having a negative effect on safety culture.
  • Market the program – Use all available channels – team meetings, 1-2-1’s, company newsletters, social media to let everyone know that a new program exists, why it was needed and how it benefits them and the general working environment.

Summary

Near miss reporting doesn’t need to be arduous. An easy-to-follow process, which ultimately means an easy to report system, will not only encourage employees to complete reports but it may well increase the number of reports received. Increased reporting is an indication that there was a lack of reporting, something that is actually beneficial because it opens up the opportunity to put measures in place to prevent actual accidents from happening.

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Joe Vickers
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