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Near Miss & Incident Reporting: Everything You Need to Know

Near-miss reporting is essential to help create a strong safety culture and can provide companies with great insights into potential problem areas within their business to help prevent future possible incidents.

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Policies and Procedures - Near Miss & Incident Reporting
Section 1

What is near miss reporting?

Near miss reporting is an important part of any EHS team's process. It helps identify and address potential safety issues before they become serious incidents. Understanding near misses and setting up procedures to report them is vitally important for any company.

Section 2

What is a Near Miss?

A near-miss is defined as an incident that could have resulted in injury, illness, or property damage, but for some reason or other, it did not. Often attributed to just a matter of timing or just pure luck, near misses are often ignored, but can prove to be critical indicators about the safety performance of a particular activity.

Simply put, a near miss is any unplanned event that could’ve caused physical injury or property loss but didn’t. 

Near misses are often called incidents, close calls or narrow escapes. Some of the most common types of near misses include:

  • Slips and trips
  • Working at heights
  • Using hazardous materials/substances
  • Equipment and machinery

Near misses are more than just close calls, they are opportunities for business to identify current risks and take steps to prevent future accidents.

By logging and tracking near misses, companies can gain insight into the root causes of safety problems, helping them reduce the risk of incidents in the future. This can help save time, money and resources that would have been used on repairing damages or dealing with medical bills from an incident. 

Section 3

Near Miss Example

A worker is walking through a construction site, stepping over extension cords and planks from a nearby scaffolding erection. They turn a corner and nearly collide with one of their fellow colleagues. They try to avoid the collision by stepping to the side and spilling their hot coffee on their coverall in the process. This causes them to unconsciously step back and bump into a stacking shelf on which a hammer is placed close to the edge of the second row of shelves. The hammer falls and hits the ground.

No one is hurt in this imaginary scenario. However, the worker has just experienced multiple near-miss and hits situations. Anyone of which could have caused a serious injury. So how do we learn from near misses, how can we get staff to report near misses and how can it help to improve the long-term safety in your workplace? 

The purpose of near miss reporting is to help identify potential hazards and prevent them from becoming dangerous incidents in the future. By analyzing near misses, you can determine what went wrong and put measures in place to ensure that it doesn't happen again. This can include additional training for workers, changes in processes, improved equipment maintenance schedules, etc.

Section 4

Near Miss Reports 

When it comes to applying these definitions to practical situations, however, safety professionals themselves often debate the grey areas. In fact, if you were a fly on the wall in a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) department’s weekly meeting, at some point you would come to hear discussions such as the following:

  • Do we consider a broken tile as a result of a fallen object a near-miss or property damage?
  • But no one was there at the time, why should we consider it a near-miss?
  • We have received a number of near-miss reports, do we really need to investigate all of them?
  • No one has used the step ladder with the loose step yet, why are we classing this as a near-miss?
  • Do I consider the incident involving those persons walking under a heavy load as a near-miss?

Many of these questions are often asked as companies do not always get into the correct amount of detail when it comes to defining incident categories. And make no mistake about it, near misses, are incidents that have already happened. Discussions such as the above often become more intense when other influences are involved, most notably near miss report quotas, KPI’s or the most significant of all… near miss reporting incentives!

Near miss reporting involves documenting close calls or potential hazards that could he turned into accidents or incidents if not for lucky timing or preventive action. For example, a worker may have almost been injured by a piece of machinery, but they managed to get out of harm's way in time. That would be considered a near miss, and organizations may want to look at what steps to take to prevent this from happening again.

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Section 5

Near Miss Procedures

Providing an incentive or having a general quota for near-miss reporting is a practice some organizations undertake. Although well-intentioned and to an extent can create somewhat of a good reporting culture, the end results very often fall short of expectations. Executives and HSE personnel where such programs are implemented will be very familiar with some of the below common issues:

  • The majority of the near-miss reports are not actually near misses as employees have completely got their categories wrong. The incentive, however, drives them to submit anything under the “near-miss” category.
  • The same near-miss reports are being submitted over and over again.
  • Fake near-miss scenarios are being submitted.
  • Near miss reports only start getting submitted when the department manager starts getting pushy about it. A few get submitted and then everything goes back to normal.

When creating a near miss report, it should include all relevant information such as date/time of occurrence, location of incident, type of incident, people involved (including witnesses), equipment used/involved in incident, detailed description of the event and its consequences (if any), hazard identification (including any contributing factors) and suggested corrective actions.

It's important to note that even if no one was injured during an event it should still be reported so that it can be further analyzed and prevented from happening again in the future. Additionally, all reports should be kept on file for easy access when needed.

The bad news is that such problems are likely to be a lot bigger than what most people in a company perceive when it comes to incentivized near-miss reports.

To get the best data to help illuminate future accidents, understanding the difference between incidents, near misses, unsafe conditions (Good Catch) and unsafe acts (behaviours) is vital. The following illustration very well puts the different definitions into context:

unsafe act graphic

Section 6

Practical Measures for Near Miss Reporting 

To improve this process, you may want to consider some of the below practical measures that are likely to enhance near miss reporting within your organization:


1. Consider calling a "Good Catch"... something like HSE Observations" instead to incentivize the action

Perhaps you may want to consider a more proactive mechanism in which employees can report unsafe conditions, acts as well as near misses in one place. By focusing on HSE Observations you could very well reduce the number of near misses.

I have used the term “HSE Observations” before and developed forms that would allow employees to highlight the category and describe what they have seen. From experience, the majority of the findings are likely to be unsafe conditions, followed by unsafe acts and then the avoiding of a near miss because of the observation.

Many organizations may also see the unsafe act category as a part of their behavioural safety programs and may want to consider other methods of capturing that particular data.

2. If you really need to incentivize something, incentivize the act of doing an HSE observation before a near miss occurs

To better eliminate issues such as having to report a near-miss by having it tied to employee quotas or incentives, you may want to award the behavior of having an employee perform on HSE Observation. In this situation, they would not have to be obliged to go and actively seek out near misses and can use the process to identify unsafe conditions in the workplace for example. A more proactive approach than waiting for a dangerous situation to present itself.

We must always remember that incentives best work as a reward for a behavior, not for a result.

This includes creating a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up about potential hazards without fear of repercussions or punishments; implementing a comprehensive training program for all employees on near misses; providing clear guideline on what should be reported; actively encouraging employees to report incidents; making sure all reports are logged accurately, and using data analytics to better understand trends in order to prevent similar situations from happening again in the future.

3. Train everyone within the company to understand the categories of reporting

Employees must understand the differences between accidents, near misses, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions early on when joining the organization. This will allow the company to receive much better information on the at-risk activities or areas within its premises.

Explaining the categories must be one of the essentials of any company's general health and safety or Induction training. This element of the training must include everyone from junior staff all the way to the company CEO.

Training sessions should also be conducted at regular intervals to update any new changes and identify any threats or hazards that may come to light.

4. Train your HSE department to understand the data and determine criticality

The answer to the common question of do we investigate all near misses does not always have a straightforward answer. Significant expertise, understanding of the company culture, understanding of the workplace risks and the criticality of the event comes into making that decision.

Generally, an HSE department would categorize near misses as either high potential or low potential. High potential is a grouping of situations which could have resulted in significant injury, environment or property damage, often investigated similarly to an actual accident. A low potential near miss refers to incidents which are not too significant and generally only awareness is needed to prevent future occurrence.

As subject matter experts, HSE departments would be best suited to make that determination. They must develop the correct procedures to determine criticality, use the correct incident analysis techniques and be able to prevent the issue from occurring through a series of recommendations and actions.

5. Develop systems to capture and analyse the data

In larger organizations, it is likely that hundreds of such reports are received on a monthly basis. HSE departments are usually tasked with going through the data to determine what is significant and what is not. In many companies, this places a huge strain on human resources unless the right support can be obtained through the use of good information technology systems.

Some organizations may develop databases where reports could be electronically uploaded directly onto a common network. Such systems also allow better analysis and tracking of any actions as a result of the findings.

Having a centralized system that you can use to capture and analyze data related to near misses and incident reports can prove to be vital and allow the organization re view and glean important insights.

6. Link HSE Observations to employee performances

To develop a stronger reporting culture throughout your company, one thought might be to set a targeted number of observations an employee would need to do on a monthly basis. This can also be reviewed by the line manager on an annual or bi-annual basis and be a factor considered when providing feedback to the employee.

This can be a great way of demonstrating the importance of health and safety within an organization and further highlights management's commitment to the cause.

The reporting and investigation of significant near misses are instrumental in preventing injuries. Ner misses are really a free learning opportunity, because it signals a potential problem without resulting in injury or loss. Unsafe acts and conditions leading to accidents are even more critical to the safe performance of any operation and systems must be in place to capture these.

Near misses are really a free learning opportunity, because it signals a potential problem without resulting in injury or loss. Unsafe acts and conditions leading to accidents are even more critical to the safe performance of any operation and systems must be in place to capture these.

If your current safety program doesn’t include a mandatory requirement for reporting near misses or unsafe conditions, perhaps it should. Any reporting mechanism should also take unsafe conditions as well with a clear distinction to ensure the correct data is always captured. This commitment to continuous improvement will demonstrate the importance of safety to all employees.

Life doesn’t always give us warning signs, but when it does, we should be mindful of them. Having an internal HSE observation and investigation structure is critical to overall accident reduction efforts. Being able to anticipate and avoid incidents is far less costly than reacting to one.

Near miss reporting is essential for keeping our workplaces safe and preventing accidents before they happen. By understanding how these reports work and taking steps towards improving our current systems we can ensure that our EHS teams have the information they need when they need it most - before an accident occurs!

This will ultimately lead to fewer injuries, improved safety standards overall, increased productivity levels within our organization, as well as cost savings by reducing damages or medical costs associated with injuries due to incidents that could have been prevented through near miss reporting.

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