Note: Yes, “near miss” isn’t grammatically correct. Yes, “good catch” or “safety opportunity” or “near hit” makes more sense. We agree and like to use the term “good catch”. However, “near miss” is a widely used and understood term…so we’re going with it.
Near miss reporting is amazing; it’s like eating the meal but not paying the check. The difference between a near miss and an accident is usually a matter of inches or seconds. All the learning about how our error defenses failed are still there but we don’t have to find it through the loss of blood or life. You can learn just as much from a near miss as you can an accident.
But here’s the problem: we hardly ever report near misses. It’s not that near misses aren’t occurring, we just aren’t recognizing them and reporting them. There’s a bevy of reasons why this is happening, but it can be boiled down to two negative influences; it’s extra work and there’s no trust in the process. If reporting a near miss makes the worker’s life harder today or carries the potential for making their life harder later, then they’re less likely to report them. It’s not heresy to say that people are motivated to make their lives easier and NOT reporting is certainly easier than reporting.
How can we influence workers to choose reporting?
Don’t #1: don’t discipline based on a near miss report (trust). Workers are unsure if a near miss report will get themselves or others into trouble and will likely choose the safest action; not reporting. If there is even a hint of concern that the real reason you want near miss reports is to find who to hammer, then good luck getting them to speak up. If trust is lost the results are drastic.
For example, we had one client tell us “For a long time we would get about 20-30 near miss reports a month. One time we disciplined a person based on near miss information and we haven’t received one near miss report in the last 3 years.”
Do #1: make it easy as possible to report (easy). Ask yourself these questions, “How easy is it for the person in the field to report a near miss? and Can it be easier?” From the computer you might be reading this article on, it seems easy. Open a program or download a form and fill it out. Simple.
But think about the person in the field. Is there a way for them to report (or at least start the report) while on the job? The longer you wait to report a near miss, the less important it becomes. If the process is not at least started it will slip behind all the other things on their plate. Make it easy to do it now.
Now, the option to report is right there in front of the worker. They must actively choose to NOT report a near miss rather than choose TO report a near miss as part of a separate process.
Do #3: act on concerns (trust and easy). Leadership must act on any concerns that arise from a near miss report. If workers keep reporting issues but nothing happens, then it’s just a matter of time before they give up. If there is a good chance that the person who reports an issue is also going to be the owner of the solution, then they might stay silent to make their lives easier. It’s critically important that leadership address any concerns and positively reinforce near miss reporting. Meet their effort (taking the time and energy to report a near miss) with your effort (take the time and energy to address concerns).
On a final note, recognize that it is going to take time to build trust and probably a little more time to stop using the term “near miss”.