On any given day, facilities are likely to experience events that may cause injury, property damage, or other undesired outcomes. Implementing a process to capture, analyze, and communicate these events will have a tremendous impact on safety.

What is a Near Miss Event?
A near miss is an unplanned event that may not cause injury, property damage, or another undesired event, but could do so if conditions were to change. To put it simply, a near miss is something that could have happened but did not.

Near Miss Event Reporting
Experts have suggested that at least one hundred near miss events occur for every recordable accident. This may seem inflated, but many believe that the number is actually much higher. By capturing near misses, we can communicate the event, determine the root cause and corrective action, and eliminate exposure in the workplace. This ultimately contributes to an injury free workplace.

Each near miss is an opportunity to improve, communicate exposure, and increase employee safety awareness. Near miss forms need to be available to employees. Consider allowing employees to fill out forms and submit them to management in a way that allows for anonymity. Submitting the name(s) of the person reporting the near miss or others involved in the event should be optional. It is best to associate near miss reporting with the “no name, no blame” approach. The value of the near miss is event itself not the person involved.

Analyzing and Communicating Near Misses
Timely follow-up on near miss events is critical. Follow up should include an analysis of the event to determine the root cause, corrective action, and the method for communicating the information to employees. A diverse team of persons with knowledge of the task, work area, or condition should conduct the analysis.

Communication of near miss events provides value to employees. I have often heard employees say, “That could happen to me” or “That could happen here”. If an employee receives value from a near miss, the favor is likely to be returned. This is where the process gains traction. Communicating near miss events across the organization provides maximum benefit. What happens at one facility can surely happen at another.

It is also important to identify near miss events that may provide value to senior leaders. These events can be placed in the “high potential” category. A “high potential” near miss may cause severe injury, a fatality, hospitalization, severe spill, major property damage, or other serious undesired events. Communicating “high potential” near miss events to senior leaders ensures that these leaders are aware of the severity and type of exposure present in the work environment.

Barriers to an Effective Process
When a near miss process fails it can usually be attributed to two main factors. The first is fear of discipline. Employees fear that if they report unsafe conditions or actions that discipline may result. The fear of discipline must be handled carefully. Employees must be trained on the near miss process so that they understand the purpose. The reporting policy must define the parameters surrounding discipline. For example, employees involved in near miss events should only be subjected to disciplinary action if a company policy was violated prior to or during a near miss.

Prior to implementing the process, it is important to discuss the company’s reporting process to include the purpose, benefits, pitfalls to success, anonymous reporting, etc. Without an effective educational campaign, the effort may fail.

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Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at