Near misses, also referred to as close calls, are incidents or accidents where workers were almost injured or could have been if circumstances were just slightly different. While OSHA doesn’t require employers to report near misses, they do encourage investigation of these instances to improve workplace safety.
Investigating near misses gives both workers and employers the opportunity to evaluate hazards and where their safety program falls short. These investigations are meant for managers, employees, and supervisors look for the root cause of the close call and implement safety measures to prevent the future possibility of an accident. One way employers can ensure near misses are being reported is by providing reporting forms that workers can fill out and give to their supervisor. Every individual that was involved (even witnesses) should fill out their own form, providing as much detail as possible.
The next step is finding the true cause of the close call instance with a root cause analysis. Using a fishbone diagram or the five whys framework, the investigation’s focus should be on identifying the root cause of the near miss. This will get to the root of the problem and give employers system failures that could be corrected. Whatever tools are chosen, OSHA has outlined the following four questions that should be asked regardless:
- What happened?
- How did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- What needs to be corrected?
Employers should keep records of all near miss incidents and when a close call occurs, the investigation is carried out, and a plan of action is put into place, it is important to check back in from time to time to evaluate the results.
Example: A worker experiences a near miss on the production line because they were not wearing the correct PPE. The investigation doesn’t stop here. After some digging, the manager finds out the worker did not know what the proper PPE was when operating the machine. Why didn’t they know the procedures they needed to follow? Was it due to improper training or a lack of visual communication? Both of these could cause the near miss, and both could be solved by implementing safety measures.