We’ve all heard or used the phrase “close call” or “near miss” at some point in time. I’ll even wager it’s happened while driving your car and almost being in an accident. When that happens do you say to yourself, “Whew, that was close?” That is a near miss. We can look back and think what almost caused the accident; going too fast, looking at our phone, or another driver cuts in front of us. At that point we can trace the steps of what almost caused the accident and try to change our behavior and actions. It’s the same thing at work.
A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage but had the potential to do so. The simple fact that nothing bad happened to us now becomes a learning opportunity to improve our safety, health, and environment to reduce the chance of that happening again.
Now think about how many times you came close to a near miss and just shrugged it off. Did you change anything after having a close call? The difference between a near miss and an accident most of the time is a fraction of a second or an inch. When it happens again, the outcome might not be the same, therefore it is important to recognize these situations.
H.W. Heinrich created a study that estimates for every 330 incidents of the same type, 300 produce no injuries, 29 produce minor injuries and 1 produces a major injury (these stats vary with the job being done). The problem is we never know which time the major injury will occur.
These numbers are shown in the chart to the left.
In 1969, Frank E. Bird, Jr. who used the “Heinrich Safety Pyramid” as the basis of his study, found results that were even more astounding. After analyzing 1,753,498 accidents reported by 297 cooperating companies, Bird determined that the number of near misses is even greater than we once thought. For every 600 incidents (near misses), there are 30 accidents, 10 serious accidents, and 1 fatality.
The conclusion for this is simple. Near misses are excellent warnings that we need to correct the process, the behavior, or the work environment. If we don’t address these warning signs by being proactive, then we are just waiting for the accident to happen and we fall into the reactive category.
What are the causes for Near Misses?
- Unsafe acts – such as improper lifting; walking under an overhead load; cutting, grinding, or chipping without safety glasses; not using proper Personal Protective Equipment, etc.
- Unsafe conditions – such as poorly maintained equipment, oil or grease on floors, welding leads that have been laid in walkways, trash and boxes that have been left in hallways, etc.
- Hurrying and taking risks to complete a task or to wrap up a job at quitting time.
Report Near Misses Before They Become Accidents:
- Once a near miss occurs, report it immediately to your supervisor. The potential for such incidents exists in every workplace, so ALL employees (not just supervisors) must help identify them.
- If the near miss is a result of an unsafe condition, don’t continue to work under that condition until the problem has been corrected and your supervisor gives the okay to proceed.
- If the incident is a result of unsafe acts, be certain that everyone involved has been alerted to their actions before they continue with the job.
Examples of Near Misses
- A floor is just mopped and employees forget to place a wet floor caution sign. You walk through it and slip, but regain your balance and no injury occurs. What about the next person that walks on the wet floor? Will they be able to avoid slipping and escape an injury? Report this near miss immediately.
- A nail or debris hits your safety glasses but does not injure your eye. This suggests that work procedures might need to be re-evaluated and the equipment should be checked for the proper guards.
- What about the person that uses the same machine or tool after you? They might not be so lucky.
- Other near misses include: Electrical cords causing trip hazards. A falling object that hits the ground in front of you. A fork lift that almost ran into you or materials. A crack in the cement that causes someone to trip, but they regain their balance. If any of these happened to you, did you report it?
Usually in our daily routine we are busy going from task to task or place to place and reporting a near miss will take time out of our day. But think about the person (could be a co-worker, friend or family member) that takes the same path after you. How bad would you feel if they got hurt because you didn’t say or do something. The few minutes spent reporting and investigating near-miss incidents can help prevent similar incidents, and even severe injuries. Remember, near misses are warnings. If we heed these warnings, look for causes and focus on changing behavior, we may be able to prevent injury or damage.