The fact that safety and profitability go hand and hand has been written about extensively by myself and many others over the years. While many facilities still look at safety improvement as a costly necessity of doing business, a growing number are actually starting to realize that investing in safety improvements actually results in increased profitability.
There are many reasons that this is the case, but that is not the topic of this article. Instead, I will look at how a specific type of safety data, which is often ignored or not collected at all, can dramatically improve the safety of the facility and increase profitability as well. That type of data is related to tracking ‘near misses’ in the facility.
What are Near Misses?
If you’re not familiar with the term, near misses are any event where someone almost experienced an accident or injury, but it was narrowly avoided. The avoidance could have been caused by quick action of the employee or even just blind luck.
Whatever the case, near misses occur frequently in many facilities and can be an exceptional indicator of safety problems. When they are ignored, they will almost always eventually lead to an actual incident where someone is injured. With this in mind, it is a good idea to begin tracking near miss data right away, and taking action based on your findings.
How to Track Near Miss Data
Tracking near misses isn’t quite as easy as tracking other types of safety data. This is because these types of events occur with surprising frequency in many facilities and many employees don’t even realize they are a problem. Tracking this type of data should begin by educating your team members about the risk they present, and why it is important that they pay attention to these experiences.
Holding a training session that covers this type of data can be very helpful. Whether you are talking to all your employees at once, or you are going through team by team, the following are some important items that you should ensure you discuss in near miss safety training.
What Qualifies as a Near Miss – Letting employees know that anytime they could have been injured if they had reacted differently, or events played out in another way, it is likely a near miss event.
How to Report Near Misses – Providing employees with worksheets that helps them to provide all the important details of a near miss can be very helpful. This can be paper or on a computer. Whichever option you use, make sure everyone in the facility is comfortable with filling out the paperwork.
How to Respond to Near Misses – You should also let the employees know that it is best to stop what they are doing and report a near miss as soon as it happens. This will ensure they have the event fresh in their mind when they report it, and it will allow the safety team to respond immediately. If necessary, the employees should also put up a temporary safety sign in the area to keep people from experiencing the same event.
Who Should Report Incidents – Obviously the person who was directly involved with any near miss event should be the primary person who is responsible for filing an incident. If there were witnesses, however, they should also file their own report to compliment the main one. The safety manager should associate all related reports together so the data is as complete as possible.
Of course, you also want to stress the fact that employees who report near misses will not be disciplined in any way. Some employees fear that this type of reporting will lead to trouble on their part, but this should never be the case. Near miss reporting should be seen as a valuable source of data for the company.
Advantages of Tracking Near Misses
There are many important advantages of tracking as much near miss data as you can. This data can provide both immediate benefits to the facility as long term improvements. The following are some of the most important benefits of tracking this type of data:
Root Cause Analysis – When you gather the information about a near miss you can start looking for the root cause of issues in the facility. This can help you to actually solve issues rather than just taking preventative action.
Corrective Action – Based on the information you find with your root cause analysis, you can take true corrective action. Installing safety equipment or fixing damaged equipment that was leading to near misses can help eliminate the risk of actual accidents.
Immediate Safety Steps – In addition to taking true corrective action, you can also take steps to improve safety immediately, even if it doesn’t get to the root cause. For example, if there is an area where there is a known problem, you can add safety marking tape (similar to this) to let people know about the problem. You could also use safety signs (which can be purchased here) or other items to help with this.
Additional Data for Actual Accidents – Even if you have not yet found a root cause and an actual accident does occur, you will have more data than you otherwise would if you hadn’t been tracking near misses prior to the accident. This can help you to get to the bottom of the issue much more quickly.
There are, of course, many other advantages to collecting near miss data. Most safety managers will agree that the more data they have available to them, the better the decisions they will be able to make. Even if near misses aren’t often seen as a priority at first, you will greatly benefit from the data collection once it begins.
Disadvantages of Not Tracking near Misses
In addition to those important advantages, you will also be suffering quite a few disadvantages by failing to collect this type of data. The disadvantages mentioned below can cause significant problems for your facility.
Cost of Injuries – Since you won’t be able to prevent injuries based on the information from near misses, your facility will have a higher rate of injury. These injuries cost your facility money in lost productivity, potential lawsuits and many other ways.
OSHA Violations – Near misses can be a good indication of some type of safety issue. If you don’t find it and fix it on your own, OSHA or other regulatory organizations might discover it and fine you for the issue.
Employee Satisfaction – When employees feel like you do not care about their safety, they can become disengaged. Disengaged employees are not nearly as productive, which can cost your facility a lot of money.
Correcting Incorrect Problems – If you don’t have the right information to work from, you aren’t going to make the right decisions. This applies to any activity in life, but especially workplace safety. If your facility is not collecting near miss data, you may attempt to address a safety concern after an injury, but without the complete data. This can leave your facility exposed to ongoing hazards without even realizing it.
There are many other ways that failing to collect near miss data will harm your facility. While it is true that collecting this data will take a little time up front, and even have some costs associated with it, there is little doubt that in the long run it will more than pay for itself.
Collecting Data Near Miss & Your Bottom Line
As you can see, collecting as much data as you can about the near misses that occur within your facility will have a very positive impact on the bottom line of the company. There have been studies that show this is the case, but more importantly it can be seen with simple common sense.
If your facility has not been collecting this type of data, or if it has been doing a poor job of it, take some time to implement a new policy that will correct this problem. Once the information begins flowing in from the facility, you will quickly see just how valuable it is and how many safety improvements your facility can implement.
In addition to setting up the process for collecting the data, you may want to consider putting together a near miss response kit of some type. This kit can contain things like the reporting sheets for employees to fill out as well as visual safety gear to put in place if needed.
Whether the employees do it or the safety manager, it is often important to put up warning safety signs in the area where the near miss occurred. If your facility has an industrial label printer, you can create a custom sign alerting people to the potential hazard in the area. If not, generic signs can serve to at least provide a good starting point.
No matter what you put together in your near miss response kit, make sure you always remember that tracking near miss data is only going to be effective if you are also taking action in response to the data you collect.