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Near Miss Reporting: A Proactive Approach to Safety Management

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on November 17, 2014 at 3:30 PM

Near miss reporting is an important indication of safety management system maturity. "Near miss” or “near hit” refers to any unplanned event that has the potential to incur loss, injury, or damage, but didn’t. An organization that not only tracks near misses, but examines how and why they occur can prevent future incidents through the use of corrective actions.[1] With enough commitment to such a system, an organization can foster a culture that promotes, pursues, and praises proactive efforts such as near miss tracking.

A mature safety management system, and the safety personnel who operate within its framework, leverages a healthy mixture of both leading and lagging indicators. The opportunity to learn lessons from an event that had potentially disastrous consequences is valuable. Such occurrences within the company can be measured as a leading indicator, and could predict future outcomes when compared to lagging indicators from analysis gathered during incident investigations.

There can be obstacles to introducing a near miss reporting program. Near miss reporting is often seen as a top-down management initiative and does not appeal to the average employee, who has a “what’s in it for me” mentality. Many companies struggle to make near miss reporting part of their culture because of a gap between management and the workforce that they are charged with protecting.

Because of the nature of a near miss, i.e. lack of evidence that a loss-producing incident could have occurred, employees tend to lack the confidence that their reports will be acted on, or even viewed positively, by their supervisors and upper management. Fear of punishment and retaliation cripple these efforts when employees have to consider if their report will make their supervisor look bad. In an article Mike Williamson, a Senior Safety Consultant from Caterpillar Inc., mentions a training session where workers told stories about supervisors giving the most undesirable jobs to “troublemakers who made waves by reporting problems."[2] This is a clear example of failure by management to establish a culture that promoted safety performance through reporting near misses, and rewarding those who participate.

There are also pressures that exist through workplace interaction that can affect a near miss reporting program taking root in an organization. Upon observing an unsafe condition, an employee must quickly decide whether the observed hazard is worth the immediate attention, and potential work interruption, that may ensue.[3] However, in a near miss situation, taking action can be the difference between a hazard being mitigated, and serious injury being sustained by a worker. It is up to the employer to establish a sense of confidence and security in near miss reporting, removing the fears associated with raising questions about workplace safety. 

To help organizations achieve safety success, we published an eBook which examines five practices that help strengthen safety cultures. Download it today and learn more about how you can implement each practice in your organization.

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The following are several ways to improve the chances of a successful program taking hold in your organization:

  1. Perform an investigation – Near misses should be taken seriously, especially those with a high potential severity. Performing an investigation to determine root causes, then applying appropriate controls, is a great way to develop lessons learned that can be distributed back to the organization. This shows that near miss reporting is important to management, that action is being taken, and that the safety of the workforce is being put first.
  2. Introduce near miss reporting during training - A first impression will stay with an employee as they go through orientation and are introduced to a new management system. Share information about successful near miss reporting from the past, and train employees on how to speak up in their work environment. Have a member of management present to work through these scenarios with employees in order to build confidence that reporting an unsafe observation is the right thing to do.[4]
  3. Make the process easy – Eliminate red tape by presenting a streamlined near miss report form. Increase the chances of gathering quality information by cutting down on the number of questions. Ensure that the reporting system is non-punitive and, if consistent with management policy, anonymous.

When these best practices are adhered to, the benefit to a safety focused organization is significant. Here is some feedback we’ve heard from our clients who use EHS Insight as part of their near miss reporting strategy.

  1. Information - Near miss data provides the chance for meaningful statistical analysis. Trending and performance measurement are made easier with near missing as a telling leading indicator. Understanding near misses will aid in predicting where serious injuries and losses are likely to occur, which is useful information for management.
  2. Culture – Create an open accountability system that is dependent on support from employees all the way up to management. Avoid setting quotas; instead incentivize reporting with meaningful rewards. Praise good efforts; provide updates on progress and make the count of near miss forms submitted available.
  3. Safety – Organizations that implement near miss programs almost always credit them with improving safety. Near miss programs go a long way in improving a range of safety goals, from OSHA recordable numbers to lower total incident rates.

The success of a near miss reporting program is dependent on an entire team’s commitment to safety. Once implemented, a near miss reporting provides a great leading indicator of safety performance, a core tenant of a hazard identification system and a means of engaging and empowering employees throughout different levels of an organization.[5]

 

[1] Morrison, Kyle W. "Reporting near Misses." Why Reporting near Misses Is Important. Safety & Health Magazine, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/10994-reporting-near-misses>.

[2] Williamsen, Mike. “Near-Miss Reporting: A Missing Link in Safety Culture,” ASSE, Professional Safety, May 2013. 

[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] "Near Miss Reporting Systems." National Safety Council, 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nsc.org/WorkplaceTrainingDocuments/Near-Miss-Reporting-Systems.pdf>

Topics: EHS Software, Performance Improvement, Process Safety, Workplace Health and Safety

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