Safety Guide: A Near Miss Could Be an Accident Tomorrow

Call it what you like—a “close call,” “narrow escape,” or “near hit”—a National Safety Council fact sheet refers to it as a “near-miss” and defines it as an “unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had the potential to do so.” The fact sheet goes on to emphasize that it was only because of a “fortunate break in the chain of events” that there were no injuries or damages.  

Some companies might be tempted to write off near misses as a lucky break. Still, safety professionals say that those employers who track near misses, find out why they happened, and take corrective action can prevent similar incidents (with more severe consequences) in the future.  

Here are things you can do to use a near miss to your advantage:  


Enact a near-miss program.

When you start gathering near-miss reports, you create a culture that seeks to identify and control hazards. And while reports are an excellent start toward reducing risks, the program must go well beyond them.  

Near misses should be ranked by potential severity. Those that could have resulted in severe injury or death are given a full investigation. If the near-miss would have had less severe consequences, the hazard is eliminated, and everyone is informed of it.  

The lessons that near misses teach an organization are shared with all workers through numerous platforms, including emails, company meetings, and on project sites.   


Keep your employees involved.

Since your employees see the near misses first-hand, their participation in the near-miss program is crucial. Workers should be trained on how to recognize potential hazards. Encourage them to submit near misses and think about allowing them to turn in near-miss reports anonymously to ensure their involvement.  

The program is designed to focus on lessons the company learns from near misses, so they don’t happen again. Assigning blame is not part of the program since it can discourage workers from getting involved. On the other hand, offering incentives to workers who report near misses can foster a reporting culture.  


It’s also up to management to ensure the program’s success.

While the success of a near-miss program is dependent on the support of all employees, they need to know their employer is serious about it, too. Management must work diligently and persistently in promoting the value of near misses. Unless it’s supported and positively reinforced at all levels of the company, the program will not be nearly as effective. Organizations that demonstrate a commitment to a near-miss program will help to ensure that their entire team develops a commitment to safety.  


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