What is a near miss? For those of you who are new to occupational safety, it’s typically defined as an event in which no workers were injured and no equipment or other property was damaged, but – had things gone just a little differently – injury or damage could have occurred.
Let me give you an example. A group of employees were digging a trench with an excavator so they could install some underground piping. At one point, the bucket came in contact with an old, abandoned 480-volt temporary power line that was not supposed to be in the area. Fortunately, the line was not energized, so no employees were injured, nor was the line damaged. Because the trench was already deep enough to set the pipe, the crew chose to re-cover the 480 line and continue working. This event should be considered a near miss, but it also is exactly the type of event that some workers may choose not to report to their company. The fact that the circuit was not energized in this case is not the most important issue. The crew did not know the circuit was there and did not identify it in the utility locates that should have preceded the excavation. Those issues indicate defects in the planning process, records and archives, and execution of the project. A near-miss report has the value of helping to ensure those defects are identified and corrected. Just because this line wasn’t energized doesn’t mean the next one won’t be.
The topic of near misses and the lack of employee reporting has been an interest of mine since I started working in the industrial sector. At first, I thought employees perhaps didn’t know what a near miss was and that reporting would increase if they were properly trained on the subject. I learned that wasn’t the case after I invested a good deal of time in training as well as talking to employees about what defines a near miss. After making those efforts, I only witnessed a slight increase in employee reporting that eventually slowed to a stop. I did find that lack of knowledge about near misses was true for newer employees, but that didn’t explain why older, seasoned employees were still keeping quiet. I also learned that the lack of near-miss reporting happens just about everywhere, whether it’s an established chemical plant with tenured employees, a new construction site with a diverse workforce, or even a remote oil and gas site.