Safety management

Understanding Safety Indicators: Near Miss, Near Hit, and More

Author: Urbint

Employers are required to submit a report to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) when a worker is killed or suffers an injury that requires hospitalization on the job, but they’re not required to report incidents where a worker could have been hurt or was almost hurt. Nevertheless, OSHA encourages employers to investigate these close calls, commonly referred to as “near miss events” or simply “near misses.”

Near miss events are common, far more so than illness, injury, and fatality statistics may lead a person to believe. And, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), most safety incidents are preceded by near miss events. When employees, managers, and supervisors are able to identify near miss events, they can take corrective action to prevent future safety incidents.

In this blog, we further explore near miss events, sharing suggested categories of near misses as well as near miss examples.

A near miss continuum

In a Safety+Health Magazine article, safety culture expert Chuck Pettinger suggests that near miss events form “a continuum that spans from the possible to the probable,” with a sharp and blunt end. From the sharp end to the blunt, the categories of this continuum are: near hit, near miss, good catch, and error likely.

Near hit

A near hit is a close call incident where a worker narrowly misses being injured or even killed. Examples include:

  • A worker quickly side steps to avoid being hit by bolt cutters falling from the bucket of a 45-foot bucket truck.
  • A worker scrambles up a ladder as a skid steer operating near a trench edge causes a partial cave-in.
  • A worker jumps out of the path of a moving dump truck in an area with low visibility.

Near hits fall into the probable, sharp end of Pettinger’s continuum. Workers who experience near hits should immediately report them, and managers and supervisors should step in to investigate the incident and enact safety measures to ensure it does not happen again.

Read: Protective Measures for Common Electrical Safety Hazards

Near miss

A near miss is a safety incident that did not result in injury, illness, or death but had the potential to do so. This near miss definition is similar to that of a near hit, but Pettinger differentiates the two in this way: A wrench falling from scaffolding and nearly hitting a worker below is an example of a near hit. In a near miss, the wrench falls to the ground just the same, but no one is close to the wrench when it falls.

Other near miss examples include:

  • A pipefitter enters an unprotected section of a trench to retrieve his tools.
  • Workers aren't notified that an area of the work site is under construction, and they walk through the area without taking proper precautions.

Similar to near hits, near misses should be addressed quickly, as they have the potential for injury or even death.

Also see: Create a Safety-First Culture to Prevent Worker Safety Incidents

Good catch

Working toward the blunt end of the continuum, a good catch is an instance where a worker, manager, or supervisor notices a situation with the potential to cause harm. For example:

  • A supervisor sees 5-gallon paint cans sitting on a piece of scaffolding without toe boards.
  • A manager sees a piece of machinery has not been properly locked and tagged.
  • A worker notices an exposed electrical wire near the end of a ramp.

Workers were not injured or even close to being injured in any of these examples, but the potential for harm is present.

Good catches may also be called hazards, safety concerns, or even unsafe conditions. Regardless of terminology, good catches are leading indicators that forewarn of future incidents.

Error likely

Error likely is the least severe type of safety incident. Similar to good catches, error likely instances happen before any type of incident occurs or before work even commences. Pettinger offers the following error likely scenario.

“This example might find the safety professional assessing the tasks being performed for that day and find some subcontractors erecting temporary scaffolding for a few minutes of work to be performed. Because of the short-term nature of that task, it is likely that these subcontractors might not take the time to install the required toe boards. This opportunity might motivate the site safety pro to attend the subcontractor’s pre-job brief to ensure toe boards are discussed and used.”

Regardless of the type, near miss events can identify safety system weaknesses within a company. When supervisors, managers, and workers keep their eyes and ears open for near hits, near misses, and more, they identify shortcomings in their health and safety programs and implement corrective actions to prevent future incidents.

Up next: The Difference Between Safety Leading and Lagging Indicators

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