Column Environmental Personnel Process Safety

Implement Proactive Safety

EP Editorial Staff | February 1, 2021

Reporting and treating near-miss incidents as if an accident actually happened will result in an overall reduction in injuries.

By Ryan Dobbins, CSP, CHST, CIT, CUSP

Industries and employers strive for a culture of transparency and continuous improvement in safety, health, and environmental performance. The goal for all is often simple: zero injuries, zero incidents, zero claims. Executives, managers, and workers at all levels want to know about injuries in their work area as quickly as possible. In many cases, the question regarding safety is often, “What is the injury rate for the facility?” These types of questions foster a reactive culture. To see true improvement in safety culture and overall performance, it’s imperative that leaders shift their focus toward a proactive outlook by identifying the potential for injuries, illnesses, and incidents. 

Push for a culture of transparency and reporting. Management should emphasize continuous improvement and the practice of reporting everything that is necessary to identify gaps, track trends, and implement new programs and procedures. Since incidents occur in many establishments, employees should feel empowered to report them to management.

Near-miss reporting is one way to achieve this culture and identify potential. As a general understanding, a near miss is any unplanned event in the work area that does not result in injury or incident but has the potential to do so. When a near-miss event occurs, it should be treated the same as an injury or illness and undergo a thorough investigation to identify the primary causal factors, no matter how minor or severe.

Through consistent investigation, management can develop effective corrective actions and evolve policies and procedures to prevent a similar event from happening again. Near-miss reporting helps improve procedures without having to deal with the consequences of a claim. We’ve collected data that confirm increased reporting of near-miss events reduces injuries.

For a reporting culture to be successful, workers have to feel comfortable discussing a potential event. There is more to establishing a reporting culture than simply pointing out near-miss events and there is a difference between nice buzzwords and genuine empowerment.

The correct terminology can help. We know of organizations that have successfully put a positive spin on near misses by calling them “good catches.” Instead of telling workers that somebody had a near miss while performing a task, which is typically viewed as a mistake or failure, calling it a good catch praises the worker who called attention to a potential for injury.

Understanding and identifying potential comes with benefits that work in two ways: cultural changes and decreased claims. To be successful, this transparency must be one of the organization’s guiding and core values. Identifying near misses provides a method for communicating potential risk while creating a mindset in which workers are prepared to watch for situations that could be hazardous. A culture of reporting encourages behavioral changes throughout the entire organization. EP

Ryan Dobbins is a Safety Services Manager responsible for developing, managing, and providing services in support of the Safety Management Group, Columbus, OH (safetymanagementgroup.com), Ohio division. Dobbins supports large owner and contractor safety and health programs in industries such as manufacturing, construction, supply chain, automation, and electric power utilities.

He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Construction Health & Safety Technician (CHST), Certified Instructional Trainer (CIT), Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP) and holds a B.S. in Occupational Safety & Health Management from Indiana Univ., Bloomington. Contact him at RyanDobbins@safetymanagementgroup.com.

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