OSHA Sets Rules on Reporting, but What About Reporting Near Misses?
Near misses are events that could have resulted in worker injury or illness, or damaged property, but for some reason, people and property were spared. Unsafe conditions or behaviors are also considered near misses. Other terms for a near miss include a close call or a narrow escape. In the case of avoiding a motor vehicle accident, they are called a near collision.
A culture of reporting near misses at worksites saves lives and prevents catastrophic incidents. Today’s workplace health and safety professionals develop robust near miss reporting systems, and managers improve safety procedures from the lessons they learn investigating near misses as they are reported.
Near misses don’t just happen. According to the National Safety Council’s Near Miss Reporting Systems Guidelines, flawed processes or faulty systems are often the cause of near misses. Situations not anticipated by the system’s designer can also result in a close call.
When safety incidents or near misses happen, employers and workers dig deep to discover exactly what happened and how to prevent a serious injury in their workplace. Once problems are identified, supervisors and employees work together to determine how to prevent future worksite incidents or near misses.
OSHA Near Miss and Incident Investigation
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly recommends companies require the tracking of all near misses. The safety agency created a near miss policy template to make it easy for companies to create a policy.
Managers should review OSHA incident investigation guidelines and use OSHA forms to keep a log of work-related injuries and near misses. Those who want to keep everything online can use the HSI paperless incident reporting tool.
To conduct an effective worksite incident investigation, a supervisor needs to:
- Avoid rushing to blame a worker who made a mistake or didn’t follow directions.
- Look for the underlying cause of what happened. For example, if the worker involved didn’t follow the rules or the right procedures, why not? Was the team working too quickly because of a production deadline? If so, why was the deadline so tight?
- Focus on maintaining or developing a positive work environment to improve morale.
- Demonstrate that management cares about having a safe worksite.
Managers who empower employees to report every incident requiring medical treatment, as well as every near miss, prevent work-related injuries and fatalities, and save their companies money. Empowering employees includes ensuring they will not be punished for reporting a near miss, after they report it. If trust does not exist, employees are far less likely to report close calls.
How to Report Work-Related Incidents and Near Misses
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles an annual summary of work-related injuries and deaths. Over the past ten years, work-related fatalities totaled 4,000 to 5,000 per year. A worker died on the job every 111 minutes in 2020. Incidents in private industry injured 2.7 million workers.
As the watchdog of workplace safety, OSHA monitors deaths and injuries of employees. The agency requires companies to report a work-related fatality no more than eight hours after the death occurred. If a worker dies days after the incident, a report must be made to OSHA if the death is within 30 days of the work-related incident.
When an employee requires in-patient hospitalization from a work-related injury or illness, companies need to file an OSHA injury report within 24 hours. The formal requirement states that “all employers, including those partially exempted by reason of company size or industry classification, must report to OSHA any workplace incident that results in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye”. (OSHA defines in-patient hospitalization as formal admission to a hospital or care center for treatment.)
There are three ways to report fatalities and injuries to OSHA:
- Call OSHA's incident reporting line at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
- Contact your nearest OSHA Area Office by phone.
- Use OSHA’s online form.
Companies also must maintain injury and illness records for incidents resulting in a worker losing consciousness, missing work, or being transferred to another position. Other recordable injuries and illnesses include:
- All injuries or illnesses that need treatment beyond first aid.
- Cancer, broken bones or teeth, and irreversible diseases caused by workplace conditions.
- Needlesticks and sharps injuries, hearing loss, and tuberculosis have special recording requirements.
If a worker has a heart attack on the job, it must be reported only if it was the result of an exposure in the workplace.
Managers must file an illness or injury incident report on an OSHA recordkeeping form within seven calendar days of learning of the recordable illness or injury.
Some companies are exempt from regularly reporting employees’ illnesses and injuries to OSHA, including employers with ten or fewer employees in the previous year; and low-hazard industries, which are partially exempt from routine reporting.
How to Set Up Near Miss Reporting System
Developing an effective near miss reporting system is a proactive step toward preventing workplace incidents. Benefits of a robust reporting system include:
- Safety managers can complete correlation studies, examine trends, and measure performance over time, if they have data about near misses and worksite hazards.
- Reporting near misses creates a culture in which all employees feel empowered to give feedback on workplace safety.
- The number of near misses can be used as a performance metric.
Gaining employee buy-in to a near-miss reporting system requires thoughtful planning. First, put policies and procedures in your safety and health programs materials. Maintain the required OSHA records using a near miss reporting template or something similar. To ensure employees embrace near-miss reporting:
- Explain why near miss reporting is crucial to safety and that every worker’s compliance with the process is important.
- Ensure the near miss reporting system is easy to use and understand.
- Emphasize that workers who report a near miss will not be punished.
- Provide rewards for recognizing and reporting hazards.
Finally, pay attention to performance indicators related to near miss reporting and celebrate every improvement.
The HSI EHS Platform analyzes data with an injury tracking application. Read a case study about an electric company seeing great improvements in productivity by using the HSI EHS Platform.