Near misses are usually incidents in which nobody has been injured – but which could have resulted in injuries if circumstances had been slightly different.
Once again, focusing simply on achieving “zero” near misses is not advisable. It is more important to take a more nuanced view of the results. Instead of indicating a dangerous workplace, a high number of near misses might in fact indicate an open, high-functioning culture of failure in which employees freely and openly report near misses. As a safety manager, you rely on employees reporting near misses – as only then can you identify risks and take appropriate action. If employees fail to report a near miss, a repeat occurrence could result in a genuine accident. This is backed up by Heinrich’s accident triangle, which states that 300 unsafe situations will result in 29 accidents with minor injuries and 1 serious accident or fatality. Heinrich’s triangle also illustrates that, given their relative frequency, focusing on achieving “zero” near misses is hardly realistic.
Instead of reducing the number of near misses, a more sensible approach would be to look at the ratio of near misses to accidents. How closely does it correspond to the accident triangle? What conclusions can you draw from that? Employees and managers may not be bothered to record every minor incident in the first-aid log – and the same goes for near misses. It might, therefore, be sensible to aim to achieve a ratio of reported near misses to accidents as outlined in the accident triangle. The rise in this figure is a good indicator of improvements to your safety culture.