Why We Tend to Miss Near Misses

In the workplace, reporting incidents is a crucial component in keeping workers safe. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that “incidents” and “injuries” are not the same thing. In fact, many incidents occur without any tangible injuries or damages; nothing may really come from an incident at all. In these cases, we refer to the occurrence as a “near miss.” A near miss is simply an incident in which something goes wrong, but there are no serious repercussions involved.

Near Misses Are Important

Just because no one was seriously injured, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore near misses and simply move on. Most of the time, a near miss is an indication of something that went wrong on the work floor and, if repeated, could be much less benign the next time around. Near misses indicate that parts of your operation may need to be tightened up or improved. In reality, you should think of near misses as a blessing in that they allow you to address problems before they really become serious problems. This could be an area in the warehouse where materials or spills are commonly on the ground and increase the chance of someone slipping. Or maybe there is a blind corner around which a vehicle could approach too quickly and run into a worker passing by. Maybe it’s even a machine that can get caught on certain types of clothing and could present a life-threatening danger. In any case, you should act on near misses as quickly as possible and implement corrective measures. Placing new warning signs, talking to employees about safety-related behavior, and tuning up or replacing machinery are all appropriate responses to various near misses.

Simple, right? Well, it should be but…

The problem with reporting near misses is that there are often barriers which prevent reporting from occurring. For example, new employees are at the highest risk for near misses because they are busy learning the new work space, but they also want to be seen as competent so they are able to make a good impression. In addition, new workers don’t want to be burdened with filling out incident reports and going back and forth with management over a slip that didn’t even involve them. This raises another point, if an employee doesn’t see any immediate harm in an incident, they may not think much of it and opt to not report it at all.

Another issue can be communicative: If management conversations are not an enjoyable experience for your employees, they might not want to have them at all. It’s important that your managers view the issue of near misses as importantly as you do, and have an effective way of communicating with workers about them. On a most basic level, make sure employees know that they’re expected to report near misses; if this isn’t the case, the blame is on you, not them.

In any case, near misses are an important tool that have been blown off in the past but are now being taken more seriously. Make sure you take advantage of this upward trend as well as it is becoming a highly important practice within many workplaces.

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