1st June, 2023

The Definition Of A Near Miss In Health And Safety

Near misses (or close calls) are events that didn't harm anyone - but could have. They are not accidents, but they could have been accidents if the circumstances had been slightly different. Near misses happen more often than you might think because they are easy to forget.

The Definition Of A Near Miss In Health And Safety header image

The HSE defines a near miss as an event that doesn't cause harm but has the potential to.

near miss: an event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill health

But if nobody got hurt, why do near misses even matter? Everything is fine, nothing to see here, let's move on.

Well, when a near-miss happens, if no one got hurt, it's down to luck. And that's both a good and a bad thing. It's good because, well, no one got hurt this time. It's bad because something has gone wrong, and it's put people in danger. And someone might get hurt next time.

What is a near miss?

A near miss is an event where no one got hurt. You might also refer to these events as close calls.

Near misses, or close calls, are situations that didn't harm anyone but could have. They are not accidents, but they could have been accidents if the circumstances had been slightly different.

For example, a hammer falls from a scaffold platform and hits the ground below. No one is injured, so it's not an accident. But is it a near miss?

workers on scaffolding

Yes, it is.

If someone had been below that working platform, and the hammer had fallen and hit them, it would have injured them.

It's an accident that was narrowly avoided. A close call. A lucky escape. Something unintended that could have been worse.

You have probably experienced a near miss before. They happen more often than you might think because they are easy to forget. If you ever felt like you had a lucky escape or a close call, something could have hurt you, but luckily it didn't, then that was a near miss. But because it's an accident that didn't quite happen, it's easy to say "phew, that was close!" and carry on with what you were doing.

Because no one gets hurt in a near-miss event, there is no need to report it. Not legally, anyway. No one was injured, so no need to record it in your accident book. No reportable events to report under RIDDOR either. But, just because it's not a legal health and safety requirement to report near misses, doesn't mean you shouldn't report them and investigate them internally. You should.

Find out more about starting near-miss reporting in your workplace, with 5 simple rules for near-miss reporting.

What do near misses mean?

Near misses mean that something went wrong. Why did that hammer fall from the scaffold? Was there a toeboard missing? Was it resting on a handrail? Was someone messing around?

A near miss is an indicator that there is a problem. It might not be a big problem. It could be that:

Near misses mean that there is room for improvement. Because near-misses mean that you are relying on luck to keep people safe. Which, let's face it, is a recipe for disaster.

While it is never possible to eliminate all risks, a near miss is an event that tells you risk isn't being suitably controlled. Something could be done better.

Can near-miss reporting really prevent injuries and improve health and safety? Here are 5 examples of how near-miss reporting can stop accidents.

The near-miss triangle

We know that a near miss could have caused harm. And if it happens again, somebody could get hurt.

But researchers have gone further than this and actually looked at the statistics. And these statistics give us the near-miss triangle.

near miss triangle diagram

The near-miss triangle was first introduced back in 1931 by Herbert William Heinrich and further developed in 1966 by Frank E Bird based on an analysis of 1.7 million accident reports. This is also known as the accident triangle.

The near-miss triangle doesn't mean it takes 600 near-misses until you get 30 accidents or death. You might get an accident on the first, or second near-miss.

It does mean that for every 600 near-misses, you are likely to get minor and major injuries and fatalities too. And that a near-miss could be a warning that, without making changes, an accident is heading your way.

Why you should investigate near misses

If you don't have near-miss reporting in place in your business, then it's likely that near misses happen - but you don't know about it.

Here's how things usually happen when you don't have near-miss reporting in place.

The first time you find out about an issue is when an accident happens. Someone says, "oh yeah, that happened to me last week, but luckily I wasn't hurt".

Not great, because now someone is hurt - and it could have been prevented. With near-miss reporting, you would have known about that close call last week. With near-miss reporting, you could have stopped the accident before it happened.

By putting in place near-miss reporting, you can investigate what went wrong.

Once you know what caused the near miss, you can fix the problem.

Because the likelihood is if you don't fix the issue that caused the near miss, it will happen again. And next time, someone might be under that hammer when it falls.

worker injured

The definition of a near miss is that it could have caused harm. So if it happens again, that is exactly what might happen.

Reporting near misses is important so that you know about any failings in health and safety controls. But reporting near misses alone isn't going to stop them from happening again. Reporting is the first step. It makes the management or supervisor aware of what happened.

The next step is to look into the problem. To investigate why the near miss happened.

Investigating why the near miss happened, and resolving any problems you find is how you can prevent it from happening again.

Near-miss reporting shouldn't become a blame game. By reporting a near miss, workers are taking the time to let you know about a problem. They are putting forward ideas for improvement. They are involving themselves in helping create a better health and safety culture. That's a good thing.

If your workers fear near-miss reporting because they are worried about the consequences, you will be back to square one and not get told when things are going wrong.

Remember a near miss is an event that could have caused harm. If you don't investigate a near miss, you are missing an opportunity to prevent an accident. If the near miss repeats, next time, someone could be injured. And, when an accident occurs, it does become a legal requirement to record it - and if it's serious enough - to report it under RIDDOR to the HSE.

Want to get started with near-miss reporting? Use the free near-miss report form and stop accidents before they happen!

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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