An Effective Safety Program Starts with Managing and Acting on Near Misses
November 18, 2019

As a follow up to the previous article, Does your company’s culture support an effective Safety program?, this discussion will focus on how an effective Near Miss Management and Reporting program will drive improvements in safety performance in your Organization and be the foundation of a Safety Focus culture.

So, what is a Near Miss? A Near Miss is an outcome of actions that could quickly have become a potential safety incident, that if overlooked, not understood nor managed, could ultimately result in a recordable safety incident, or worse. In other words, “Reportable incidents are the result of many Near Miss rehearsals.” When correctly reported, Near Miss reports and reviews can provide a wealth of information on unsafe conditions and unsafe acts. And when properly followed through, Near Miss investigations and corrective actions will lead to a safer workplace and a more engaged workforce.

How you and your Organization manage Near Misses largely determines how deeply safety underpins the organizational culture.

For this discussion, we will focus on the center three characteristics of the evolutionary scale for safety management: (1) Reactive, (2) Developing, and (3) Proactive.

Organizations at higher levels of “Safety Maturity” continually and actively identify, record, and manage Near Misses to achieve long-term benefits.  Though all companies benefit from some version of Near Miss reporting and the associated corrective activities, they can often be inconsistent with varying levels of success and real, long-term improvements.  Strong leadership, commitment, and trust are needed to advance programs to Proactive and beyond.

The “Safety Iceberg” shows that there are potentially many thousands of unsafe conditions, and Near Miss outcomes that happen before an injury or worse occurs (Heinrich theory). The diagram also highlights that investigations and their rigor vary in each type of situation.

Experience indicates that the effectiveness of Safety reporting is directly linked to the maturity of the company concerning where they are on the safety maturity curve.

Reactive” companies, in many instances, easily fall under the false assumption that they will eliminate Lost Time Injuries using a Near Miss leading indicator, making the workplace safer. In these types of organizations, Near Miss reporting is often viewed as a “check the box” activity with high levels of compliance, where managers are satisfied with meeting a mandated KPI, and all is good until a recordable injury occurs. At this point, crisis management takes over, incident investigations can miss the fact that the near-miss may have previously been reported, or that the workforce had stopped reporting it and become complacent with the condition because “things don’t get done.” The incomplete understanding of the Near Miss reporting process met the KPI but failed the Organization, and the near-miss is likely to recur.

Companies in the “Developing” stage of the maturity curve, are characterized as those that have not fully recognized the value of Near Miss management. They report Near Misses as a Daily KPI, and often discuss recent Near Misses at their morning toolbox meetings. These organizations recognize the need to act but can fall short in the process if there is a lack the accountability to complete Near Miss management actions or fail to engage the workforce in the process. Failure to act responsively can result in a buildup of Near Miss reports, potentially overwhelming the system and safety leaders. These “Developing” programs all have good intentions. Still, without strong leadership or a commitment to the process, they can fail to get the necessary traction to improve real performance can easily fall back to the Reactive mode on the maturity curve.

Proactive” organizations see the full value of Near Miss Management. They stress quality reporting, time-relevant communication, and ensure that learnings are shared to create awareness, improve conditions and behaviors to create a safer workplace. These organizations empower their workforce. They have an underlying culture of teamwork to identify and immediately implement solutions, rather than merely checking the box, or making the issue somebody else’s problem.

Proactive” organizations routinely analyze Near Miss data to exploit all potential improvement opportunities. Analysis of Near-Miss data potentially helps highlight a specific area of the operation that generates a higher percentage of Near Misses, incidents, or safety concerns. It might also suggest that a particular task or activity is more likely at risk and needs greater awareness to prevent an event. Learnings from the analysis will lead to a more proactive safety program. They can lead to training activities that target the right people at the right time, resulting in greater trust within the Organization.

In summary, successful Near Miss Management cannot be overlooked or dismissed. It offers invaluable information and will form the foundation of your safety culture. The Near Miss process must include the following steps to provide a complete and effective program.

1. Identification or recognition
2. Immediate control and reporting
3. Discussion, awareness, and engagement
4. Action to correct
5. Analysis and exploitation of learnings

How are your Near Misses being reported and managed? Is it a “check in the box” activity, or is it the foundation or your safety program and seen as an opportunity to improve conditions and eliminate hazards?


Author Bio
Bob Moak has 25 years combined in Management Consulting and EHS.  He currently specializes in Operational Excellence and Change Management in the areas of asset management, energy management and environment, health and safety (EHS).

(1)   Audere Partners article, “Does your company’s culture support an effective Safety program?” March 2019
(2)   Heinrich Safety Theory
(3)   SHP: Safety Health Practitioner, “Heinrich’s Accident Triangle Explained