According to the National Safety Council 75% of all accidents are preceded by one or more near misses. These can be defined as minor incidents or close calls that have the potential for property loss or injury. Most accidents can be predicted by close calls. Below are a few examples of near misses in the workplace.
– An employee trips over an extension cord lying across the floor but avoids a fall by grabbing a sturdy nearby object
– An outward-opening door nearly hits a worker who jumps back just in time to avoid a mishap
– Instead of using a ladder to place a box on a high shelf, an employee reaches too far, loses balance, and stumbles to the ground. Although the employee is shaken, there is no injury.
In 2003 energy company ConocoPhillips conducted a study demonstrating the ratio of serious accidents and near misses. It found that for every fatality there are at least 300,000 at-risk behaviors and an estimated 3,000 near misses (see pyramid below). With effective training, these behaviors and near misses can be diminished, reducing the chance of that one fatality or an injury occurring.
Close calls should be wake-up calls for employees and employers – something is wrong and needs to be corrected. Employees should already report near misses no matter how trivial they may seem. Although there might not have been a serious outcome, a near miss could result in a future serious accident. By recognizing near misses and taking action to correct the problem, employees will not only reduce the number of near misses, but more importantly, will reduce the number of and hopefully prevent accidents in the future.
When incidents like these happen most workers are simply relieved they weren’t inured and soon forget what happened. However, when employees narrowly avoid an accident or injury everyone should assume they’re at risk of experiencing that same incident. The same employee or maybe another is likely to be injured by that same hazard on a future date if the near miss isn’t reported and conditions aren’t changed. In fact, the difference between a near miss and a serious injury is often a fraction of an inch or a split second of time. Near misses are red flags warning employees that something is wrong or unsafe and everyone should take them seriously.
Mike Anderson, CHST