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What is a near miss?

The UK HSE define different incident types as follows:


an event that results in injury or ill health

Near miss:

an event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill health

Is a near miss a big deal?

The very fact that a near miss, by definition, does not result in harm may lead you to believe that it's not that serious, "no harm, no foul" situation.
However, several globally accepted studies prove that employers that track near misses, find out how and why they occurred and then do something about them, can prevent accidents from happening in the future.

In his 1931 book, “Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach” H. W. Heinrich deduced that for every major injury there are 29 minor injuries and 300 near miss events. The implication being that if health and safety management focuses on reducing the number of near misses, then the number of injuries will fall proportionately.

Similarly, Dr Linda Bellamy reviewed a database of 23,000 occupational accidents and concluded that investigating the underlying causes of near misses can prevent the more major incidents of the same hazard type from occurring.

In 2015/16, the UK HSE have reported that there were around 23 near misses for every injury. In other words, every single injury could have been prevented 23 times if someone had just stopped and reported what they saw.


How can you improve near miss reporting?

So, we know what a near miss is and why they’re important, but how can we improve near miss reporting? 

There is no silver bullet and it’s not going to happen overnight but there are some steps you could implement.

1. Embed a culture of safety

Easier said than done but creating a workplace with a great safety culture will ensure that safety becomes everyone’s responsibility.

The key aspects of creating an effective culture include:

  • Management commitment
  • Visible management
  • Good communication

The goal is to get the whole workforce involved in managing health and safety. Everyone, from top to bottom, should be given the right skills and be involved in decision-making making them more likely to raise concerns and offer solutions.

2. Make it fast and easy

For most of human history, it’s been recognised that humans tend to follow the path of least resistance. 

One of the classic examples is Eric J. Johnson and Daniel Goldstein’s study on organ donation rates. Countries with high donation rates have opt-out systems, which require people to take action to not participate in donation programs. Meanwhile, countries with low donation rates have opt-in systems that require people to actively sign up. 

Some may call it laziness, others call it efficient. Whatever you call it, the point here is that we need to make near-miss reporting as fast and easy as possible.

Here are some things you should avoid:

  • A lengthy form that takes more than 5 minutes to complete
  • An over complicated form
  • A form that cannot be completed anonymously
A well-known automotive manufacturer increased their near-miss reporting by 206% in just 6 months after they produced posters with QR codes that when scanned with a mobile device enabled employees to report near-misses via EHS software. The organisation specifically commented on the benefit of dropdown lists and the ability to add images and actions that made reporting easier. 

Another company we worked with opted to develop a safety incentive program to reward employees for reporting near-misses.
3. Close the feedback loop

One barrier to near-miss reporting is the lack of feedback people get when they do report a near-miss. 

To understand this we have to really understand human behaviour. The theory that you can influence your employees by how you and others interact with them is called Transaction Analysis, or, for simplicity ABC Analysis. 

A – Activators
These are things that trigger people to do something. This could be an instruction, a barrier or a sign.

B – Behaviours
This is the behaviour, or action, that is driven by the activators. For example, if you see a sign that says "STOP" you will (probably) stop.

C – Consequences
These are things that happen to you as a result of your behaviour. For example, if you do "STOP" a positive consequence might be that you are kept safe, whereas a negative one might be that you are slowed down or even prevented from getting where you're going all together.

Let’s look at an example:

Activator - I see an oil spillage on the floor

Behaviour - I report the near miss

Consequence - Nothing! Well something might have changed, but no one tells me.

RESULT - Maybe I report a couple more near misses, but eventually I weigh up the effort it takes and the fact that I'm getting no feedback and I stop.

How about this alternate situation?:

Activator - I see an oil spillage on the floor

Behaviour - I report the near miss

Consequence - Someone takes the time to come back to me, congratulates me for reporting and then tells me what a difference it's made.

RESULT - I see the value of the time I spent reporting and do the same again next time.

We’re here to help

We hope that you found this useful, but if you want any further advice our team of environment, health and safety experts are available to help - 0808 168 5874.

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