Why and How to Review 'Near Misses'

Sometimes bad things "almost happen" on construction sites. Someone would have stepped on a nail sticking out of a board if a co-worker hadn't given a last-minute warning. An equipment operator might have backed over someone if an alert bystander hadn't run over and banged on his window.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers these types of close calls indicators that future recordable accidents or injuries could happen. While the company doesn't have to report them to OSHA, the agency is in favor of programs that keep track of these near misses and help management take a new look at safety procedures.

But how do you get employees to inform their supervisors when a near miss happens?

First, as with any other successful company initiative, upper management has to demonstrate buy-in. Once workers see that the company has made near-miss reporting a high priority, they're more likely to comply.

Next, develop an easy-to-use, non-punitive reporting system. For each report that comes in, perform what OSHA calls a "root cause analysis," which looks at the episode and asks how and why it occurred and what needs to change so that it doesn't happen again. These assessments aim to get at the core reasons for the incident, not just the immediate cause.

In the example of the worker who almost stepped on a nail, the immediate cause might be that a carpenter overlooked the board as he was demolishing a wall. But one underlying reason could be that there isn’t an adequate, safe waste removal process in place.

Finally, management should educate workers about what the company is trying to achieve — fewer accidents — and roll out the specifics of the plan at a special group training session. The importance of reporting near-miss incidents should also be made part of each new employee's introduction to the company.

A near miss means someone got lucky — and might not be as lucky the next time. Near-miss reporting and analysis helps take luck out of the equation.

 

Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.