Turn Your ‘Close Calls’ & ‘Near Misses’ into a Better Safety Program

Tip: Encourage full reporting and do not assign blame

Close Calls

After a near-miss or close-call safety incident, you may breathe a sigh of relief. But, as environmental, safety and health industry professional, you’re likely also analyzing the incident for lessons learned. And you should—because these events, if you do more than document and forget them, will help you improve safety and reduce risk.

Close-call reporting provides essential metrics to track, says safety expert John J. Meola ; that’s why employees should be encouraged to fully report near misses—with no blame attached. Meola details the analysis process and how to best disseminate lessons learned in a webinar for Audio Solutionz, “Leverage Near-Miss & Close-Call Reporting to Prevent Accidents.”

Heed the Wake-Up Call

Basically, a near miss or close call is an incident where no damage or personal injury occurred “but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage and/or injury or illness easily could have occurred,” explains the University of Nebraska on its close call reporting form.

Put another way, close calls are a wake-up call, adds Oregon Health and Science University’s close call reporting page.

After a near miss, you should consider yourself lucky “only from the standpoint that nobody was injured”—but don’t let that stop you from reporting the incident, because luck doesn’t often strike twice, the school warns. “Many times, as unfortunate as it may seem, we learn from our mistakes. Usually, it isn’t until somebody gets hurt that we correct the situation.”

Don’t do that; instead pay attention to the seemingly minor but common ways that employees thwart danger every day in your workplace. Examples of close calls and near misses, explains Construction Business Owner, include:

  • Tripping over an extension cord
  • Bumping into open doors
  • Standing on a box instead of a ladder

“When employees narrowly avoid an accident or injury, everyone should assume” that they won’t escape injury next time, Construction Business Owner states. In other words, see—and act on—the risk.

Systemize & Standardize Your Blame-Free, Near-Miss Reporting

Close-call and near-miss reporting is key to preventing future accidents, Safety and Health Magazine writer Keith Howard agrees, but simply asking employees to report goof-ups does not cut it. Put a reporting system in place, and use it to proactively evaluate and resolve trouble. Howard suggests you:

  • Create a clear definition of a near miss or close call
  • Create a detailed report form
  • Prioritize reports and classify information
  • Analyze causes and identify solutions
  • Disseminate solutions to the people impacted
  • Resolve actions and check for any changes

Another way to leverage near-miss reporting for risk reduction is to avoid assigning blame for incidents that you what to turn into learning opportunities.

Instead of asking who is to blame, “ask what system flaws exists,” recommends consultant Phil La Duke in the Safety and Health Magazine article. “You really have to have a blame-free environment. Very few people are going to report a near miss if there is going to be a negative consequence to them.”

With comprehensive, blame-free reporting, adds Meola, companies can easily turn near-misses into opportunities for increased safety and improvement.

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Jeff Schmerker
About Jeff Schmerker
Jeff has extensive professional experience writing on a variety of topics, from pharmaceutical research to environmental history. He has published more than a half-dozen books, and he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and son.