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17th June, 2019

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.

For example, if a hammer falls from a scaffold platform, and hits the ground below. No one is injured. It's not an accident. Is it a near miss? Yes, it is. If someone had been stood below that working platform, and the hammer had fallen and hit them, they would have been injured.

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

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 is 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.

What near misses mean

Near misses mean that something went wrong. Why did that hammer fall from the scaffold? Was there a toe board 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 something is being used incorrectly. It may be that shortcuts are being taken. It might be that workers haven't been trained on how to use something properly. Or a control measure has failed or isn't adequate.

Near misses mean, there is room for improvement. While it is never possible to eliminate all risks entirely, 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.

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. The first you might know about it 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.

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Near miss reporting highlights problem areas

By putting in place near miss reporting, you can investigate what went wrong. What caused the near miss? Why wouldn't you want to know about this? Once you know what caused the near miss, you can fix the problem.

The likelihood is, if you don't fix the issue that caused the near miss, it's going to happen again. Next time, someone might be stood below that hammer. The whole 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. Did something fail, did someone make a mistake, are the controls in place enough? Investigating why the near miss happened, and resolving any problems you find is how you are going to prevent it from happening again.

Near miss reporting shouldn't be used to play the 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.

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 its serious enough, to report it 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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