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Near-miss reporting

Chris Walker - June 2nd 2021

What is a near-miss?

The HSE define a near-miss as an event that does not cause harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill-health.

In many cases, hazards in the workplace which cause accidents do not result in an injury and often this is due to the person involved taking action to avoid injury, or simply being lucky.  A couple of simple examples might include a forklift truck operator reversing without looking and another employee passes behind then without the operator being aware, narrowly avoiding the collision; or a worker identifying and walking past a trip hazard left in a walkway for the next person to come along, trip on the obstacle but manages to catch themselves.  Because no harm was done it makes the unsafe reversing act or trip hazard seem inconsequential when the opposite is true.

Why report near-misses

Each workplace will have its own specific hazards and a near miss can occur in any of them.  While it is important to take action if a hazard causes an injury in the workplace, it is much better to consider preventative action to stop the risk of injury.  There is lots of data available showing the relationship between near misses and injuries ranging from Heinrich’s ratio of 10:1, or the HSE’s research based on Bird (1969) and Tye and Pearson (1974/75) which found an overall rate of 23.6 near misses/injury. The HSE’s own statistics indicate 0.7 million workers suffered a non-fatal injury in 2019/20. Which would indicate between 7 million and 16.5 million near misses within the same time period.  If these near misses are reported, investigated and corrective action is taken, that is a lot injuries that may well have been avoided.

How to report a near-miss

As with accidents and other incidents, all employees should be informed and understand the need to report a near miss. It is therefore critical that managers ensure clear reporting procedures are in place and communicated to the workforce.  Certain key details should be included in the report to allow effective action to be taken.  This may include:

  • Time and date of the near miss.
  • Location of the near miss.
  • The type of incident e.g. slip, fall, collision.
  • Description of events leading up to the event.
  • Description of the event.
  • Details of individuals involved.

It is also useful to describe the potential consequences should the event have been realised, as this allows relevant priority to be placed on corrective actions.

Barriers to reporting near misses

Whilst it may seem obvious that reporting a near miss may prevent an accident in future, often near misses go unreported. There are several reasons as to why this could be the case, most typically because the employee is not aware that they should make a report, or they are unclear about the procedure. Other reasons may include:

  • The reporting procedure is onerous – and time pressures are perceived not to allow it,
  • Management failing to follow up on previous reports - reducing the incentive to report,
  • Concerns that raising a near miss report will get themselves or a colleague in trouble,
  • Staff not realising the seriousness of the event – i.e. it seemed funny or trivial, and
  • Near misses may blot a clean incident record, which may affect rewards for maintaining it e.g. safety bonuses.

Employers and managers should strive to create a workplace culture where accidents, incidents and near misses are treated as a learning experience and employees are comfortable and encouraged to highlight safety concerns without negative consequences.

Legal requirements – RIDDOR

The majority of near misses will be relatively minor and managed internally, however there are some certain, specified near-miss events which require reporting as a Dangerous Occurrence under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).  There are 27 categories of dangerous occurrences that are relevant to most workplaces:

Examples include:

  • the collapse, overturning or failure of load-bearing parts of lifts and lifting equipment;
  • plant or equipment coming into contact with overhead power lines;
  • the accidental release of any substance which could cause injury to any person.

Accurate near-miss reporting will give employers greater understanding of the hazards in their workplace or associated with their work activities which in turn increases the chance of avoiding injuries.

If you require assistance with developing accident, incident or near miss reporting arrangements please contact our health and safety team at healthandsafety@napthens.co.uk and one of our consultants will be in touch