Near misses happen every day in the workplace. Regardless of their potential for personal injury and property damage, all near misses should be taken seriously and consistently reported.
There are many terms which essentially mean the same thing – accident avoidance, close call, mishap or even narrow escape. It doesn’t matter exactly what terminology your business chooses to use when referring to a near miss. What matters is whether everyone understands exactly what constitutes a near miss and why it’s essential to make a record of it so it can be investigated and addressed.
Overcoming barriers to reporting
Many obstacles stand in the way of operating and utilizing an efficient and effective near-miss reporting program:
Fear of blame: Many employees are afraid to report near misses because either they don’t want to admit that they didn’t follow safety procedures or they will be mistakenly accused of doing something wrong. To create a truly effective near-miss reporting program, this stigma must be eliminated.
For near-miss reporting to work well, employers need to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere. The goal is to make employees so comfortable about the process that they report them as easily and freely as they would report a garbage can is full or a light bulb is burned out. Blame cannot be part of the equation – period.
Incoherent indifference: Another enemy of effective reporting is indifference. When a near miss occurs, some employees may question whether the situation was substantial enough to be recorded. When this happens, employees often simply disregard the event. This mindset can be lethal to a near-miss reporting program.
Hazards that are overlooked or dismissed as minor are lost opportunities for valuable insight. Employees should be trained on the importance of reporting each and every near miss. A clear definition should be provided on what constitutes a near miss, including any situation that appears to be “unsafe.” Once employees understand the importance of reporting and are clear on the definition of what defines a near miss, they will feel confident about their judgment and empowered to report.
Lack of supervisor support: Employees usually follow their direct supervisor’s instructions in most job-related situations. If a supervisor does not treat near-miss reporting as a priority, there is a good chance their personnel won’t either. Supervisors need to encourage this type of reporting and set an example by reporting near misses themselves. When employees know that their supervisors are completely on board with near-miss reporting, it is easier for them to feel comfortable to report, as well.
Near-miss reporting is a critical component of any well-organized and effective safety program. Over time, near-miss programs have been shown to save millions of dollars in medical care and equipment replacement costs. More importantly, they save lives.
Reporting near misses should not just be considered an “extra” thing or something the employee is ashamed or embarrassed to do. Instead, employees should feel proud that they are part of an effective process of prevention and incident management and thanked for their proactive safety behaviors.