Near-miss reporting: 3 dos and 1 don’t


Yes, “near miss” isn’t grammatically correct. Yes, “good catch” or “safety opportunity” or “near hit” makes more sense. We agree and like to use the term “good catch.” However, “near miss” is a widely used and understood term, so we’re going with it.

Near-miss reporting is amazing: It’s like eating the meal but not paying the check. The difference between a near-miss and an accident is usually a matter of inches or seconds. All the learning about how our error defenses failed are still there, but we don’t have to find it through the loss of blood or life. You can learn as much from a near miss as you can an accident.

But here’s the problem: We hardly ever report near-misses. It’s not that they aren’t occurring; we just aren’t recognizing them and reporting them. There’s a bevy of reasons why this is happening, but it can be boiled down to two negative influences: It’s extra work and there’s no trust in the process. If reporting a near miss makes the worker’s life harder today or carries the potential to do so, then they’re less likely to report them. So how can we influence workers to choose reporting?

Do No. 1: Make it easy to report. Ask yourself these questions: “How easy is it for the person in the field to report a near miss? Can it be easier?” From the computer you might be reading this article on, it seems easy. Open a program or download a form and fill it out. Simple. But think about the person in the field. Is there a way for them to report (or at least start the report) while on the job? The longer you wait to report a near miss, the less important it becomes. If the process is not at least started, it will slip behind all the other things on their plate. Make it easy to do it now.

Do No. 2: Integrate near-miss reporting into your work process. If near-miss reporting is not considered part of the work, it won’t get reported by the people who spend their day “getting work done.” It’s just extra stuff, not work stuff. Make the near miss reporting form part of the work package. Make it part of a post-job review. Give it some space at the end of your Pre-Job Brief or Job Safety Analysis. Now the option to report is right there in front of the worker. They must actively choose to not report a near miss.

Do No. 3: Act on concerns. Leadership must act on any concerns that arise from a near-miss report. If workers report issues but nothing happens, then it’s just a matter of time before they give up. If there is a good chance that the person who reports an issue is also going to be the owner of the solution, then they might stay silent to make their lives easier. It’s critically important that leadership address any concerns and reinforce near-miss reporting. 

Don’t No. 1: Don’t discipline based on a near-miss report. Workers are unsure if a near-miss report will get themselves or others into trouble and will likely choose the safest action: not reporting. If there is even a hint of concern that the real reason you want near-miss reports is to find who to hammer, then good luck getting them to speak up. For example, we had one organization tell us this: “For a long time we would get about 20 to 30 near miss reports a month. One time, we disciplined a person based on near-miss information and we haven’t received one near-miss report in the last 3 years.” Recognize that it is going to take time to build trust and probably a little more time to stop using the term “near miss.”

Toolbox Talks offers quick insights and thoughts to use for your toolbox (tailboard) talks. Dave Sowers is a founding member of Knowledge Vine, a veteran-owned human performance training and consulting organization that strives to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors in the workplace. He has almost 30 years of experience in power generation and the utility industry. He is a veteran of U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program and holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.