Near Misses and Their Place in the Incident Reporting Culture

Incident Reporting Culture

Arguably the best type of work-related incident is the near miss or “close call.”  OSHA and the National Safety Council define a near miss as an “unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage, but had the potential to do so.” From a safety growth perspective, the benefits of a near miss incident means learning what lessons you can from it, without as many negative outcomes as a serious incident. After all, just because no one was hurt and nothing was damaged, does not mean that the same will be true the next time around. Efficiency and accuracy in gathering all relevant details of that near miss (the who/what/when/where, eyewitness accounts, photographic documentation, etc.) is crucial for organizations to take the appropriate steps in investigation and mitigation of the factors that contributed to the incident. However, even before this, employees should be trained to recognize the importance of near misses with emphasis on why it is critical to report them as they occur. In the modern safety culture–and incident reporting in particular–the old approach of “no harm, no foul” simply will not stand.

Adjusting Employee Thinking

Often workers operate with the impression that something needs to be reported only if an actual incident (an injury, property/equipment damage, etc.) has occurred. However, even with the result being that no one was hurt, and nothing was broken, the situation was not necessarily insignificant and should be reported appropriately. If your team just got lucky, or if nothing is learned from an incident and no actions are taken, the same situation can easily play out again with a much less desirable outcome. 

It is essential for management to develop a working culture where the entire team is comfortable reporting near misses, and where the understanding that reporting is in the best interests of every individual is deeply engrained. To encourage this mindset, management can make reporting easier by implementing a user-friendly reporting system. Cloud-based incident management software systems, like that offered by SafetyStratus, can provide easy-to-use electronic forms and mobile interfaces for workers to submit near miss reports. If deemed appropriate for their situation, administrators can even allow for anonymous submission of these reports. With this culture and groundwork established, safety personnel and decision-makers can have their finger on the pulse of what risks exist within their work areas.

Effective Data Analysis

With near miss data being collected alongside that of the actual incident/injury data, safety professionals can analyze all relevant information at the same time, as a single dataset. An incident occurred (the only difference in a near miss being that no one was injured) and safety managers must investigate why it happened and develop mitigating measures to prevent future occurrences. On a case-by-case basis, these measures may include enhanced training requirements, new work or safety policies, or physical mitigations (e.g., engineering controls, PPE, etc.).

The practice of safety professionals analyzing near misses together with other incident data is also important to identify possible larger trends in overall safety. The more data you have, the better chance there is of seeing significant trends or problem areas within a safety program.  For example, when a safety manager is looking at all the incident data for the year and notices that one of the leading causes of incidents is inappropriate equipment usage, then they can clearly determine that employee equipment training needs to be improved, and a greater emphasis will be placed on those efforts. Near miss data being effectively captured alongside all other incident reports would have contributed to the discovery of this trend.

Promoting the Culture & Long-term Program Success

The long-term success of your near miss reporting program depends on a variety of factors. As previously mentioned, establishing a positive reporting culture is the first critical step. Employees may be afraid of negative consequences from their employers (e.g., suspension, laying blame, etc.) when reporting an incident or a near miss. Senior management, front-line supervisors, and safety managers must create a safety culture that assures workers that reporting is 100 percent non-punitive and that gathering such data is intrinsic to a safer working environment. According to a Near Miss Reporting Systems fact sheet from the National Safety Council, it is suggested that employers develop incentive programs to encourage participation in the reporting culture. Near miss reporting must have a strong focus on positively reinforced employee inclusion to guarantee proper participation and long-term success.


Joe comes to the SafetyStratus team with over 15 years of experience in the biological sciences and laboratory management and safety. At the University of Connecticut, and later at the University of the Sciences, Joe managed multiple high-volume biology teaching laboratories. He also worked as an Aquatic Biologist for the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds. Most recently Joe held the position of Laboratory Safety Manager in the University of the Sciences’ Environmental Health & Safety Department, overseeing all aspects of safety inspections and compliance in over 150 campus teaching and research spaces.

Originally from Connecticut, Joe has lived in the Philadelphia suburbs for the last 10 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science and Biology from the University of Maine at Fort Kent. In his free time, Joe enjoys working out, taking in a good football game or movie, and traveling with his wife to sunny Caribbean destinations whenever possible.

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