Near-Miss Investigations: Small Companies are Skipping Them

According to a new report, the smallest contractors are rolling the dice on what happens next time. 

Due to lack of funds or staff or other reasons, small contractors often skip some of the safety measures large companies typically take. Case in point: They are less likely to conduct near-miss investigations, according to the Dodge Data & Analytics SmartMarket Report “Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017.” The report is based on a survey of 334 contractors.

Tracking and investigating near misses — would-have-been backovers, falls, fires, etc. — can help prevent actual safety incidents in the future by identifying the root cause of the almost-accident (often a faulty process or management system) so it can be eliminated.

According to the National Safety Council, “History has shown repeatedly that most loss producing events (incidents), both serious and catastrophic, were preceded by warnings or near miss incidents.”

Yet per the Dodge survey, only 27 percent of companies with fewer than 20 employees and 51 percent of those with 20 to 99 employees said they carry out prompt and thorough near-miss and incident investigations, compared with 71 percent of companies with 100 to 499 employees and 82 percent of companies with 500 or more employees.

Survey respondents from small companies were also much less likely to choose near-miss investigations as a top aspect of a world-class safety program. In fact, they were much less likely to choose any of the aspects the survey presented.

Safety practices not only reduce reportable injuries according to most of the larger companies surveyed, they also improve project quality. And even if they cost money up front, they can potentially save money in the end by preventing costly injuries and downtime. In other words, in many ways, these practices are simply good for business.

What might incentivize more companies to conduct near-miss investigations and implement other safety management practices? The number one answer cited by contractors was reduced insurance rates. Similarly, the biggest factor driving companies to adopt safety management practices, after concern for worker health and safety, was insurance costs.

Investigating near misses starts with getting employees to report them. They’re the ones who witness them, after all. And that requires creating a culture in which employees feel safe reporting them; if they think they might get in trouble for doing so, they won’t. It also requires making the reporting process as easy as possible.

To review near misses, start with these tips. The NSC has more near-miss reporting tips here. It doesn’t hurt to reward or recognize workers who report near misses or, if reports are submitted anonymously, to praise the team. And let everyone know what controls you’ve implemented or other changes you’ve made as a result of a near-miss investigation so they can see the end results.

A near miss this time is an accident or injury next time — one that might have been prevented.


Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.

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