Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine near-miss reporting.
Incident investigation often focuses on finding the causes of adverse safety events, but it’s also a good idea to investigate near-miss incidents (also known as “close calls”). Near misses are leading indicators of safety performance, which are measurable factors or statistics that may indicate future value or direction of another variable, such as workplace accidents.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a near miss as “a potential hazard or 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.”
The agency in its blog post “What is OSHA’s Definition of a Near Miss?” says near misses are indicators of accidents waiting to happen. Researcher Frank Bird found that for every single serious injury, there are 600 near misses, according to the post.
OSHA requires some safety and health incidents to be reported immediately (e.g., death, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye) and others to be recorded (in the case of less serious health and safety outcomes that fall under their definition of an incident). OSHA doesn’t require employers to investigate near misses, but it says they should follow a similar investigative process to help correct hazards before injuries or illnesses occur. Near-miss recordkeeping can also help employers prioritize job hazard analyses.
OSHA offers up a sample near miss reporting policy on its website. The policy says a near miss is “an opportunity to improve health and safety in a workplace based on a condition or an incident with potential for more serious consequences.” These include:
- Unsafe conditions
- Unsafe behavior, such as a worker modifying personal protection equipment for comfort
- Minor incidents and injuries that had potential to be more serious
- Events where injury could have occurred but didn’t
- Events where property damage could have resulted but didn’t
- Events where a safety barrier was challenged, such as a worker bypassing a machine guard
- Events where potential environmental damage could have resulted but didn’t
The policy requires workers to report all workplace incidents, hazardous conditions, near misses, and property and environmental damage to their immediate supervisor as soon as possible. An employee who witnesses a near-miss incident must complete the Near Miss Reporting form located in the main office and submit to a manager or Human Resources. The reporting system will not result in disciplinary action of the reporter and may be done anonymously.
According to the policy, all near-miss incidents will be reviewed by company management to identify the root cause and the weaknesses in the system contributing to the incident. The reporting individual may be asked to participate in the incident investigation. Results of the investigation will be used to improve safety systems, hazard control, risk reduction, and to educate employees.
The policy also includes a section on non-retaliation, noting that near-miss reporting is encouraged/required and workers will not be subject to progressive disciplinary measures unless their behavior coincides with one of the following offenses:
- Willful breach of safety policies
- Acts of gross negligence
- Acts of gross misconduct (e.g., possession of alcohol, illicit narcotics, or non-prescribed pharmaceuticals while on company property, or use thereof while operating equipment)
- Repeated unreported violations
- Malicious activities (including malicious reporting of untrue allegations against a colleague)
- Workplace violence, including but not limited to: fighting, assault, harassment, or possession of a weapon