Our last safety column dealt with how small mistakes can lead to catastrophic events. As the column showed, there will be one death for about every 600 recordable injuries. It also discussed how minor events, even near misses, will eventually lead to something more serious if something isn’t done.
That is why the National Safety Council encourages companies to develop a program for reporting near misses, which it defines as, “An unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so.”
A worker drops a tool that lands safely on the ground below. Ignoring that single close call could later result in that tool hitting someone. According to an NSC whitepaper on near miss reporting, “History has shown repeatedly that most loss producing events (incidents), both serious and catastrophic, were preceded by warnings or near miss incidents.”
An FAA investigation into two near misses over Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2011, for instance, found that two runways are close enough that planes landing on one could cross the path of planes taking off on the other.
The investigation created awareness of the situation, and the FAA quickly made rather simple changes to greatly reduce the threat of a midair collision. The air traffic controllers for the two runways were placed next to each other instead of across the room. A workstation that blocked their view was moved, new procedures were put in place to make sure aircraft wait after lining up for takeoff, and another controller now monitors the clearances on the two runways to help prevent conflicts. A long-term fix will improve overall airport safety at O’Hare by changing runways that create such traffic patterns.
That is the goal of any near miss reporting program; identify root causes and weaknesses with the results used to “improve safety systems, hazard control, risk reduction and lessons learned.”
The NSC whitepaper includes several suggestions that will encourage employee participation:
• Create a policy and procedure that is communicated to all employees with the backing of senior management.
• Promote a culture of reporting with the support and help of all managers and supervisors.
• Educate employees on the reason why near miss reporting is a necessity, the important role that it plays, and the process for reporting.
• Ensure that the near miss reporting process is easy to understand and use.
• Continue to communicate the importance of near miss reporting encouraging the participation of all employees.
• Use the near miss reporting as a leading indicator and report back to the organization on the positive steps taken to improve workplace safety.
• Reinforce with employees that near miss reporting is non-punitive.
• Consider incentives that encourage reporting and enhance the culture. Incentives that have the potential to discourage reporting must be avoided.
o An example of a good incentive is one that recognizes the participation of workers in the recognition and reporting of hazards. This activity helps to enhance a reporting culture, engage workers in meaningful safety activities, and continue a process of risk reduction.
o An example of a poor incentive is one that recognizes supervisory and management performance based on OSHA recordable rates. This type of incentive has been shown to suppress reporting and can lead to punitive actions that further undermine safety efforts.
• Include training for new employees as a part of their orientation.
• Celebrate the success and value of the near miss reporting process with all employees.
The National Safety Council’s 2013 whitepaper on near miss reporting includes other sources to help you establish a proactive near miss reporting system.