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What The Heck Are Near Misses Events?

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

Well, Near Misses Events Are...

Near misses events are something that happens that had the potential to cause injury or property damage but didn't. The injury or damage didn't happen due to a fortunate break in the chain of events. Good for you if you had one. It's a wake up call without the potentially nasty consequences. There are typically two major variations of this.

  • Example 1: Two large powered industrial trucks come around opposite sides of a blind corner and almost hit each other. They fortunately stop within about 2 feet of each other, having a pretty severe scare in the process.

The picture below shows what appears to be an injury about to happen. However, the lucky worker just barely misses the nail. Gets a pretty good scare, though when they feel the plank and see the nail! Thankfully, there is no injury and no damage to property.

  • Example 2: Two people carrying many boxes collide with each other and fall down. They drop the boxes they were carrying as they fall. The contents of the boxes and the boxes themselves were not damaged. The two people were not injured.

The video below shows a kid taking a significant tumble off the sled and down the slope. It could have hurt him, but fortunately he wasn't hurt and nothing got damaged.

So... Nothing Happened? What's the Big Deal About Near Misses Events, Then?

The near misses events you are likely to face depend on the specifics of your workplace. This will also determine which of the two major types of near misses that can happen. That said, you probably are wondering why do near misses matter? After all, nothing happened... it just almost happened, right? Well, you'd be wrong to assume that nothing happened. Whether you collide with someone but you both are fine, and nothing was broken, or a giant piece of industrial mobile equipment almost made a colorful cobbler out of you, something did happen.

If nothing else, you had a near encounter with pain, suffering, or death. Or, you nearly had a run in that could have caused serious harm to your equipment or processes. Just because you were lucky doesn't mean that the event shouldn't be taken very seriously. This is especially true if it was a close encounter that could have killed you but for say the driver seeing you come around the blind corner at just the right time and reacted quickly enough.

Because all of these events are at least precursors to a full-fledged issue in the workplace, or even at home, they need to be treated as though they occurred fully. You need to get to the bottom of why it happened so that you can feasibly reduce the likelihood that it will happen again. At the end of the day, if you don't do this, it could happen again. Next time, you may not be so lucky. I don't know about you, but I don't want to rely on luck. I like to "hedge" my bets so to speak when it comes to protecting my skin and processes at work.

Are Near Misses Leading Indicators?

If you don't know what leading indicators are, they essentially are things you measure to help you be proactive about improving safety. OSHA gives some additional details on the topic which can be found here. Near misses, observations, and inspections are some examples of what are often used as metrics for being proactive about safety improvements. At first glance, this makes sense.

In the cases of observations and inspections, they can find unsafe actions and conditions that could, if left unchecked, eventually lead to some kind of incident event. Often, an incident leads to an injury, property damage, or environmental event. In the case of a near miss, something did happen, but it didn't lead to a particularly bad outcome. So, it can look promising to use as a leading indicator. And I am not per say saying not to be as proactive about your near misses events as you can.

The thing is, the way I see it, a near miss is still an incident. The process broke down to the point where something bad happened. The event itself. Just because you weren't hit by the mobile equipment doesn't mean you are supposed to cut it so close. Just because you didn't damage something you dropped when you tripped over some crud in the walkway doesn't mean you couldn't have damaged it... or yourself. You were lucky or fortunate. Safety measures didn't stop the event from happening. And at the crux of the argument, you don't want such events happening at all. They aren't supposed to happen! It's for this reason that I tend to lump near misses as part of lagging indicators.

Wait A Minute, I've Got Some Explaining Do

Some of you may not buy that near misses may not be leading indicators. But hear me out. Something did happen to trigger a near miss event. There was an event or something bad that happened. It could have been worse, but it was essentially luck that prevented it from being worse. While I'm grateful for whatever good fortune I may get, that is not a good way to manage safety.

If you look closer at observations and inspections, you are actively looking to see that conditions and behaviors are where they need to be. If you find that they aren't, you take immediate action to bring them back to where they need to be. If you can't act immediately, at the very least you do what's feasible to bring things back to where they need to be. Sure, a person not wearing a safety vest in an active powered industrial truck area can be bad. But if they are 100 feet away or so, they are probably not in any immediate danger. Thus, no event occurred.

If you are doing things correctly, you should drive all incidents, including near misses, down as close to zero as possible. Why? Because you should be catching most everything before it gets to the level of a near miss, let alone an injury or property damage. And you should be fixing the issues of course. So, this is why I tend to not thing of a near miss event as a leading indicator. But if you do, investigate them the same as full incidents with bad consequences. You need to get to the bottom of what happened so you can fix it and get on with producing.

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