Near-Miss Reporting

On any given day, a grain handling facility is likely to experience events that could cause harm to employees, property damage, or other undesired outcomes. Implementing a process to capture, analyze, and communicate these events has a tremendous impact on employee awareness and behavior.

A near-miss is any unplanned event that did not cause injury, property damage, or another undesired outcome – but could have. To put it simply, a near-miss is something that could have happened but did not. For example, a worker decides not to attach to the railcar fall protection system. The worker slips but is able to catch their balance prior to falling to the surface below. Communicating this event to employees can positively impact their future behavior.

Experts have suggested that at least 100 near-miss events occur for every recordable incident. Many safety professionals believe that the number is actually much greater. By capturing near-miss events, we can communicate the event to employees, increase awareness, change behavior, determine the root cause and corrective action, and eliminate, control, or reduce exposure in the work environment.

Near-miss reporting must be encouraged in every work environment. Consider allowing employees to submit near-miss forms 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 the event itself and not the person involved.

Responding to a Near-Miss

Timely follow-up on near-miss events is critical. Follow-up should include an analysis of the event to determine the causal factors, root cause, corrective action, and the method for communicating the information to employees. A diverse team of people with knowledge of the task, work area, or condition should conduct the analysis. Frequent communication of near-miss events is desirable. For example, near miss events can be reviewed prior to the shift or during routine safety training.

Communicating 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 reporting process gains traction. Communicating near-miss events across the organization provides maximum benefit. What happens at one grain handling facility can surely happen at another.

It is also important to identify near-miss events that provide value to company leaders. These events are often referred to as “high potential.” A high-potential near-miss may cause serious injury, a fatality, hospitalization, reportable spill, major property damage, or other serious undesired events. Communicating high-potential near-miss events to senior leaders ensures they are aware of the severity and type of exposure present in the work environment.

When a near-miss process fails it can usually be attributed to fear of discipline or lack of employee education on the purpose and benefits. Employees often fear that discipline will result if they report unsafe conditions or actions. The fear of discipline must be managed carefully. Employees must be trained in the near- miss process so that they understand the purpose – and more importantly – how it will benefit their personal safety. A written program should be developed defining the parameters around discipline. Employees involved in near-miss events only should be subjected to disciplinary action if a company policy was violated prior to or during a near-miss event.

“What’s In It For Me?”

Prior to implementing the process, it is important to educate employees on the purpose, benefits, and pitfalls to success and address their concerns surrounding discipline.

Without an effective educational campaign, the effort will most likely fail. Maintaining a focus on the benefits of the process is preferred. At the end of the day, employees want to know, “what’s in it for me?” The answer is a safer work environment and the knowledge required to make important decisions surrounding personal safety and the safety of others.

A near-miss reporting process can improve safety performance by increasing employee awareness of hazards present in their work environment. A company leader once told me, “Every near-miss report is a blessing.” He could not have been more correct. Capturing near-miss events can educate employees on the hazards in their work environment and eliminate, control, or reduce exposure.

Joe Mlynek is president and safety and loss control consultant for Progressive Safety Services LLC, Gates Mills, OH; 216-403-9669; and subject matter expert for Safety Made Simple, LLC, Olathe, KS.