What is a near miss?
A near miss in workplace health and safety is commonly defined as an unexpected event when someone could have gotten hurt but didn’t. Yet, the same situation could pose a risk in the future.
It is important to log and look into all near-miss incidents because they could be symptomatic of an underlying health and safety hazard in the future. Repat near misses show a dangerous pattern and if left unaddressed could result in financial damages, severe injuries or even death.
Near misses usually fall in one of the below categories:
- Slips and trips
- Fall incidents
- Narrow escapes
- Working at heights
- Improper hazard communication
- Equipment operation & maintenance
- Risky behaviour
Incident vs Accident in the Workplace
When deciding whether something qualifies as a near-miss incident, you need to understand the difference between incident and accident first. Both incidents and accidents represent an unexpected occurrence that has endangered a person’s health and safety and may result in property damages. However, there is one key difference between the two and that is that an incident doesn’t result in a serious injury or illness for the person involved while an accident does.
20 Near Miss Examples
Still not sure what constitutes a near miss? Check out these 20 scenarios below – they are some of the near-miss situations that you could encounter at work.
- A leakage in a manufacturing plant is left unattended, an employee slips and falls but doesn’t get seriously hurt
- An employee trips on a cable and grabs the edge of a shelf to prevent the fall
- Someone trips on the edge of a carpet in a dimly lit corridor
- An improperly stacked heavy box falls off a shelf and lands close to a warehouse staff member who’s standing nearby
- A heavy door slams close and a worker barely avoids getting hit by jumping out of the way in the last second
- A staff member turns around while carrying a long heavy object over their shoulder and nearly hits a coworker tanding behind them who escapes the impact by ducking or moving aside quickly
- A worker puts a box on top of a chair and climbs on top to get to something that’s placed out of reach but stumbles and falls; no serious injury occurs this time
- An electrician attempts to begin work but realises the electric wire is still live
- A live electrical cable is noticed in a wet area before anyone gets electrocuted
- Engineers pass under a crane carrying a heavy load, said load drops and falls just a few feet away from the passers-by
- Rooftop repairer who isn’t secured with fall protection slips and slides but manages to stabilise themselves and prevent falling off the edge
- Fall anchors aren’t mounted correctly but someone spots the issue before work begins
- A machine jams and the machine operator tries to fix the issue without stopping the machine first
- A new employee operates a piece of heavy equipment without having received the appropriate training yet
- Someone enters an area where hazardous materials are stored without wearing PPE because there is no hazard label to indicate that they should
- An employee almost touches a scorching hot surface because the indicator light is broken
- A visitor enters a construction site without a helmet because there are no signs indicating the danger of falling objects
- An employee continues operating a piece of machinery even though they are feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Coworkers organise a race between a digger and a dump truck during their lunch break and nearly hit a pile of construction materials
- A builder is distracted by their phone and accidentally drives a bulldozer into a wall causing the construction to crash but there’s no one inside so no one gets injured
Why is near-miss reporting important?
You are not required by law to report near misses unless they fall under the 27 categories of dangerous occurrences outlined under RIDDOR. In addition to that, if no one has gotten hurt as a result of the unexpected event, you might be wondering why make such a big deal of reporting it. The short answer is: because reporting a near miss can save lives, time and money but there’s a lot more that can be said about the benefits of near-miss reporting.
Near-miss reporting reduces the risk of injury
According to Henrich’s triangle, also known as the Accident Triangle, for every 300 near misses, there is one serious accident. More recent research has shown that approximately 90 near misses precede one serious accident at work. However, that single serious accident can result in severe injuries, illness and even the loss of human life, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to reduce the number of occasions when workers experience close calls.
Near-miss reporting improves your risk management
As you know, it is your legal responsibility as a business owner to ensure that everyone is safe at the workplace and effective risk management is the way to achieve compliance. Near-miss reporting allows you to pinpoint new risks or unsuitable control measures for existing risks without having to wait for your next scheduled risk assessment or a workplace accident to take place. This proactive approach to risk management means that you are constantly improving and reviewing your OH&S practices.
Near-miss reporting promotes a positive safety culture
Systematic near-miss reporting is a sign of a healthy safety culture within the business. It shows that the employees are motivated to log potential hazards and if the report response is handled correctly, it also shows that the management is actively involved in improving the health and safety of their staff. When OH&S is addressed across all levels of the business, it becomes a shared responsibility, makes everyone feel involved and subsequently becomes the most effective it can be.
Conducting near-miss investigations
Once a near miss has been reported, the incident has to be thoroughly investigated to determine the cause. By doing that, you can uncover previously unknown hazards and also, you can see if the control measures at your workplace are truly effective. Having gained all that information, you can then take action to improve the health and safety of everyone in your business.
Finding out the exact root of the incident isn’t always as straightforward as you might think. In example 19, it’s obvious that the reckless behaviour of the workers racing on their lunch break is what puts everyone at risk. However, in example 7, where a person climbs a flimsy improvised construction to get to an item, instead of using a ladder, there may be more than one explanation for why this incident occurred:
- The worker hasn’t had the proper training and doesn’t know the correct procedure
- There was no ladder provided so the worker had to improvise
- The item should have never been placed out of reach which is why it was never considered how anyone would get to it if it was
- The worker has the proper training and knows where the ladder is stored but chooses to climb dangerously anyway
The explanations for near-miss example 7 given above might actually not even cover the real reason. This is why you shouldn’t make assumptions about the cause of an incident. Conduct a near-miss investigation instead to:
- Get a clear picture of what has transpired
- Understand what control measures are failing and why
- Uncover the needs of a risk assessment review
- Improve the risk control measures you have in place
- Create a response plan in case of a future incident
Without a near-miss investigation, near-miss reporting loses its value because you lack the information needed to take action and improve your risk management practices.
How to handle near misses at work
As part of the risk management of a business, the near-miss reporting system involves staff of all levels of the hierarchy. The process starts with the employee who has been in a near-miss incident, goes to the responsible people above them who need to take action and comes back to the staff members who are exposed to the risk to validate whether their safety has improved.
The process of addressing near misses at work involves the following general steps:
- The employee logs the incident and the potential hazard
- The employee notifies their superiors about the near miss
- The responsible people investigate the incident to find the cause
- Once the cause is identified, actions are taken to remove the risk
- Both the employee and their superiors check whether the control actions are effective
- If needed, additional training is provided to the employees
More often than not, each of these steps involves the completion of multiple tasks and keeping track of the updates to an investigation log over time can be difficult, especially if the incident reporting procedure is entirely paper-based. This is why, implementing a software tool, such as RiskMach, that can be accessed from any device, anywhere on the premises and automatically notifies the relevant people about the incident and the progress made can significantly improve the flow of the near-miss reporting procedure.
Reasons why near misses go unreported
Unfortunately, despite the numerous benefits of near-miss reporting, there are many near misses that go unreported. That could happen for a number of reasons, including:
- Fear: In some cases, people may feel afraid that they will be reprimanded for almost having an incident or they may lose their bonus if they own up to it
- Embarrassment: Wanting to avoid ridicule can be a strong demotivator too. Who wants to be laughed at for slipping or for getting hit by a door slammed in their face?
- Peer pressure: Someone who reports an issue may be perceived as weak, incompetent or even as a traitor if their report involves other team members, so they may not want to report a near miss to avoid being judged by their peers
- Too much admin: If reporting an incident that hasn’t caused any harm takes too long or is too complicated, people will be less likely to do it
- Unclear process: It’s simple; if your staff don’t know how to report a near miss, they won’t
- No process at all: For a near-miss report to be made, there must be an established reporting system in place, to begin with
- No visible results: If near-miss reports get ignored or the follow-up actions are not clearly communicated, workers may not see a point in making the effort to report one in the future
- Lack of motivation: It is possible that without an incentive, be it praise or a bonus, employees may not feel inclined to report incidents
- The incident wasn’t noticed: Sometimes workers may not even realise they have been in danger, which may indicate a lack of risk awareness or a bigger issue with the system where potentially dangerous incidents are considered a normal occurrence
How to encourage employees to report near misses
With so many factors that could dissuade your employees to report a near-miss incident, it soon becomes apparent that a strategy on how to tackle these issues should be implemented. The two main areas of concern are the process of managing a near-miss incident and the overall safety culture in the business. Here are some of the things you could do to improve the two:
First of all, you need to implement a near-miss reporting process and you should make everyone aware of it. In addition to ensuring your staff knows exactly what they need to do, you need to make sure that the process is as simple as possible. The best way to do this is to implement a digital tool, such as RiskMach, which allows your employees to record the incident on their phone or tablet as soon as it happens. That way they won’t have to stay after work or interrupt their daily tasks to find a physical logbook stored in another area and fill in endless paperwork.
Also, the RiskMach near-miss reporting software immediately pings the relevant people that an incident has happened, which means that the employee who logged it doesn’t have to have a face-to-face conversation with their managers to report the incident. It also means they won’t simply forget to notify their supervisors that a report has been filled.
Risk-awareness training is where change begins. If the people who work for you don’t recognise near misses as such, they can’t report them to you. So, that’s the first step. Then, it’s important to ensure that the supervisors are giving positive feedback and praise to those who actually invest the time to report a near miss, rather than reprimand them. You should keep an eye on the relations within the teams as well so that any mean-spirited ridicule is addressed immediately.
Another huge part of building a positive safety culture is creating the feeling of shared responsibility; that even workers who might be at the bottom of the business hierarchy matter and their experiences are heard by their higher-ups. The RiskMach App can also help with that. Within the digital platform, it’s easy to see what actions have been proposed, taken and whether they have been verified as working. That way the employees know that their reports are taken seriously, acted upon and are actually leading to change.
A final word…
Near misses are often brushed off as a joke or turned into a workplace legend that people laugh about but they don’t actually get reported up the chain of command, so they aren’t properly addressed. If that’s a situation that you recognise, then it’s time to change your approach to incident management. Simplifying the near-miss reporting process, giving staff the appropriate training and working towards building a positive safety culture that encourages reports to be made, is a sure way to improve your risk management process and to offer a safer working environment for everyone in the workplace.