Safetip #26: Common Definition of a Near Miss

April 27, 2016
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about near miss reporting. Organizations that have a robust near miss reporting system in place can improve their safety culture and prevent incidents by identifying workplace hazards. There are a number of ways to encourage near miss reporting, including and the .

Clearly Define a “Near Miss” and Communicate the Definition

Once an organization decides to implement near miss reporting, one of the first steps consists of . As part of the training, the definition of a “near miss” must be well explained to all employees to ensure that everybody has a common understanding. A white paper by the National Safety Council provides the following definition of a near miss:

A Near Miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage; in other words, a miss that was nonetheless very near.

An OHS Insider article also offers some perspective on the definition of a near miss. If the overriding objective is to improve workplace safety, it makes sense for the definition to be broad and encompass a wide range of events, according to the article. OHS Insider suggests the following definition:

A near miss is an opportunity to improve health and safety in a workplace based on a condition or an incident with potential for more serious consequences, including:

  • Unsafe conditions, such as wet floors.
  • Unsafe behavior, such as a worker modifying PPE for comfort while impacting its effectiveness.
  • Minor incidents/injuries that had potential to be more serious.
  • Events where injury could have occurred but didn’t.
  • Events where property damage could have resulted but didn’t.
  • Events where a safety barrier was challenged, such as a worker bypassing a machine guard.
  • Events where potential environmental damage could have resulted but didn’t.

The definitions from the National Safety Council and OHS Insider are not mutually exclusive. They can complement each other, and a definition of a near miss in your organization can include elements from both. The key takeaways are:

  1. Clearly define what constitutes a near miss in your organization.
  2. Communicate the definition to workers as part of the training on near miss reporting.
  3. Frequently remind workers of the definition of a near miss.  For example, communicate the results of reported near misses to make the definition clear, facilitate learning, and improve safety.

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Finally, remember that defining a near miss is just the beginning. The most important thing is to analyze the reported data on near misses, look for patterns and trends, and act upon it.

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