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June 26, 2006
Near Misses—Don't Miss These Great Training Opportunities
Most accidents can be predicted by near misses. A near miss is a close call. It's an accident that almost happened or even did happen—but just didn't result in an injury this time around. For example:
  • An employee trips over an extension cord that lies across the floor, but avoids a fall by grabbing the corner of a desk.
  • An outward opening door nearly hits a worker, who jumps back just in time.
  • Instead of using a ladder, an employee puts a box on top of a drum, but once up, loses his balance and falls to the ground. He's a little shaken up, but unhurt.

When incidents like these happen, most workers feel relieved that they weren't injured and simply forget about them. But when employees narrowly avoid an accident or injury, neither they nor you should assume that they are safe. Someone, the employee who had the close call or someone else, is very likely to be injured eventually by that very same hazard. In fact, most accidents can be predicted by near misses. The difference between a near miss and a serious injury might be a fraction of an inch or a split second of time. So near misses are actually a sign that an accident and injury is likely to occur. They're red flags--warnings that something is very wrong and requires your immediate attention.

A close call is a call to action. What you do about these warnings can make the difference between future injuries and a zero-accidents safety record. If you seize the moment and use the close call as a training opportunity, you could very well prevent the imminent accident.

Why It Matters...
  • According to the National Safety Council, 75 percent of all accidents are preceded by one or more near misses.
  • Close calls should be a wake-up call for you—they're saying: "Something's wrong! You need to fix it! Now!"
  • Employees might not realize that they are expected to report near misses or that these incidents could result in future accidents.
  • By recognizing near misses and taking action to correct the underlying problems, you'll not only reduce the number of near misses but, far more important, also the number of real accidents.

So right after a near miss, call a safety meeting and talk about what did happen, what could have happened, and how to make sure it doesn't happen. You might also decide to use the occasion to conduct a full-scale training session on near misses in general. You might start the session by mentioning some examples of close calls from your own experience. You could then ask trainees to talk about their own experiences with near misses. This will heighten awareness of the safety hazards illustrated by the near misses and the need to take action to correct those underlying problems. The lightbulb will go on. Trainees will say, "Oh, yeah. I see. I didn't think of it that way. I just thought I was lucky to avoid an accident." Then you can turn the discussion to causes and, finally, corrective action.

You can't fix it if you don't know about it. Of course, in order to act on near misses, you need to know about them. And that's a problem because all too often these incidents don't get reported. Employees just say, "Whew! That was a close one!" and then go back to work without mentioning the incident to their supervisor. They figure if nobody gets hurt and there's no damage, it isn't really an accident, and so they don't have to report it. If that's the way things work around your facility, then that's the first thing you need to change. Getting employees to treat close calls exactly the way they treat accidents, including reporting them right away, is the essential first step to finding causes, taking corrective action, and training employees to avoid the real accident waiting to happen.

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