8 Components of an Effective Near Miss Training Program
This article is part of our Back To Basics series, which highlights fundamental principles of environmental, health, and safety management. The series is written for EHS professionals new to this industry, as well as experienced pros who want to keep their skills fresh.
Many companies expect employees to report near misses, but few actually spend time training their employees how to do so.
When was the last time you reviewed your near miss reporting procedures with your employees?
If it's been a while, here are some near miss training topics to discuss in your next workshop or toolbox talk:
1. "What counts as a near miss?"
Not all employees — or employers — agree on what counts as a near miss. But if you haven't clearly defined what constitutes a near miss, how can you expect your employees to know what to report?
According to OSHA and the National Safety Council, a “near miss” is an unplanned event that didn’t result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so.
Beyond defining what counts as a near miss, it's helpful to provide examples of near misses that might be encountered in your workplace. Here are some common examples of near misses:
- Slipping on hydraulic fluid on the shop floor and nearly falling
- Almost dropping a heavy wrench on your foot
- Knocking a board off scaffolding while people are working below you
- Almost hitting someone with a forklift load because the lever sticks
By clearly defining what a near miss looks like, your employees will be able to recognize and report them when they happen.
2. “What’s the difference between a near miss and an incident?”
The terms “near miss” and “incident” both refer to an unplanned event. The key difference between a near miss and an incident is that, in a near miss, no harm was caused.
If a worker drops a hammer from the roof and it falls to the ground below, this would be considered a near miss because no harm was caused. If, however, the hammer hit a person or a piece of equipment below, it would be considered an incident. Of course, both situations should be reported immediately.
3. “What’s the difference between a near miss and a hazard?”
Both a near miss and a hazard are circumstances that could potentially cause harm, but didn’t. However, a hazard refers to the potential for an unplanned event to occur, while a near miss refers to an unplanned event that has actually occurred.
An extension cord laying across a walkway, for example, would be classified as a hazard, because it has the potential to cause someone to trip. By contrast, someone actually tripping on the extension cord and almost falling would be a near miss (unless the person is injured, in which case it would be classified as an incident).
Understanding the difference between hazards, near misses, and incidents can be confusing for employees. The most important thing they need to know is that all three should be reported.
4. "Why is reporting near misses important?"
So now your employees know what to report... but do they know why? EHS leaders who want workers to buy into their near miss reporting program need to give them a reason to do so.
We know that there's a strong link between employee ownership and safety culture. Employees who feel a substantial sense of responsibility for safety performance are more likely to report close calls and good catches — even when "nobody is watching".
Do your employees view near miss reporting as "just another form the boss wants us to fill out"? Or do they recognize that their efforts make work safer? Here are some ideas on how to communicate the benefits of near miss reporting.
5."How do I report a near miss?"
Wouldn't it be nice if all you had to do was create a near miss form, upload it to the computer, and tell your employees about it on their first day of work? But that's not how it works at all.
If you want employees to report near misses, you'll need to spend time teaching them how to report a near miss and practicing the procedures regularly. Some topics to cover:
- where the form is located
- how to log in to your system (if you're using near miss reporting software)
- how to complete and submit the form
6. "When should a near miss be reported?"
Now that employees know how and why to report a near miss, they also need to know when a near miss should be reported.
All workplace incidents, including near misses, should be reported to an immediate supervisor as soon as possible. The reason for this is because a near miss can be a precursor to an accident. By reporting a near miss right away, the near miss can be investigated and steps can be taken to remedy the problem before an accident occurs.
7. "What information should I report?"
In order to get useful near miss reporting data, employees need to know exactly what you're looking for. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by walking employees through filling out an actual form and demonstrating the level of detail that is needed.
A well-designed form can also go a long way toward helping employees report the right data consistently. Here are a few guidelines to follow when creating your forms:
- only collect the information you actually need
- keep the forms anonymous
- make reporting available offline (remember, WiFi access isn’t always available)
- allow workers to upload photos/video for additional detail without extra work
For more ideas on how to structure your forms, check out our collection of near miss reporting form examples.
8. "What happens when I report a near miss?"
The near miss reporting process doesn't stop when employees hit "submit", and neither should your near miss training. Employees also need to know what happens after they file a report.
Specifically, employees want to know that someone in charge is going to see and react to their report. Simply reinforcing that you read and respond to each near miss report can go a long way toward fostering a culture of safety. Better yet, share the data and show employees that their efforts make work safer for everyone.
Another topic to cover is your non-retaliation policy. According to a recent survey by the National Safety Council, 30% of workers said they're afraid to report safety issues. In order to increase near miss reporting, employees must know that they can report incidents anonymously and without fear of retribution.
Expecting employees to report near misses isn't enough, you have to teach them. Plan on spending a lot of time teaching your near miss reporting procedures, practicing them with your employees, and reinforcing them throughout the year.
Note: This article was originally published in April 2018 and was updated in January 2022 for freshness and comprehensiveness.