Most of us are used to the idea of reporting a hazard when we see one. We know that it is our responsibility to ensure something is done about it before anyone is harmed. We also know why it’s important to report incidents when someone has been hurt. However, when no one notices the hazard beforehand and no injury or damage occurs, do you still need to do something? That is the question we asked Toni Volpato, Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. “Reporting a near miss is somewhere in between reporting a hazard and reporting an incident,” says Toni. “It can be a bit confusing.”
A near miss is an incident in which there is no injury or property damage, but, given a slight shift in time or position, injury or damage could have occurred. Toni recommends that organizations include near misses in their reporting strategies. “We need to report a near miss so that we can investigate,” explains Toni. “We need to identify the root cause to prevent it from happening again. Next time you may not get so lucky and someone may get hurt.” When a near miss occurs, it’s a golden opportunity. It gives organizations a chance to identify and control a hazard that they may not have known existed, without anyone experiencing an injury. Organizations should use these opportunities to prevent a costly incident, which would impact both the employee and the business.
Get to the root cause
Toni goes on to explain that it’s really about understanding the root cause. When we collect data on near misses, we can analyze that data to figure out what caused it. Getting down to the root cause of a near miss is the most effective way to prevent the circumstances from arising again.
“Let’s say you’re walking up to a building and almost slip, but you catch your balance and don’t fall. When you look down, you realize that the reason you almost slipped is that there’s ice on the walkway,” explains Toni. “You may think, ‘boy, that was close’, and continue on your way, being careful not to walk on the ice. However, if you don’t get rid of the ice or find out how it got there, it will likely be there the next time someone walks up to the building,” says Toni. “And next time, someone may fall and get hurt.”
Toni provides a framework we can use to help isolate the root cause and identify the most appropriate controls. Break it down into these five categories-people, equipment, materials, environment, and processes. “Let’s look at our example of the ice. We need to figure out why the ice was there,” says Toni. “Does it have something to do with the building’s downspouts emptying onto the walkway? Have we put out salt for people to put on the walkway? Maybe there isn’t a clear procedure for who is supposed to keep the walkway clear of snow and ice. Are shovels and salt readily available?’ Using this framework to systematically ask the right questions will help you consider all the possible contributing factors until the actual root cause(s) becomes clear.
Control the situation
Once the root cause has been identified, the next step is to put appropriate controls in place to prevent the situation from happening again. Then, develop clear procedures that outline what each person is expected to do. Communicate and train your staff on their responsibilities. And don’t forget to evaluate the procedure to ensure it’s working well. Make necessary changes until you get it right.
When you take the time to report, investigate, and analyze near misses, you greatly contribute to a healthier and safer workplace for all. If you ignore them, you waste a valuable opportunity to protect everyone who enters your workplace or works remotely and improve your business’s bottom line.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a consultant to find out more about our Health and Safety Consulting Services. WSPS experts offer a wide variety of occupational health and safety consulting services. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, WSPS safety professionals will work with you to build a custom plan personalized to your business.
- Accident Investigation (eCourse, 1 hour)
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- The Effective Investigator: A Practical Case Study (in-person, 3.5 hours)
- Hazard Identification Assessment and Control (eCourse, 3 hours)
- Managing Hazards and Risks (classroom, 3.5 hours)
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