David Cant
Stop Accidents and near misses

Motivating workers to report near-misses

Recently, I ran a poll on my LinkedIn page, asking how easy managers felt it was to get workers to report near-misses. Out of 296 votes, 42% said they found it not so easy, with 34% saying they found it challenging. Just 24% of people reported that it was easy to get people to report close encounters at work.

Of course, a LinkedIn poll can’t be considered an in-depth survey, but I was surprised at the high number of people who said they were struggling to get their employees to report near-misses.

David Cant - Health and Safety Professional

Let’s delve a little deeper into the subject and look at ways to make the reporting of near-misses clearer and easier.

What is a near-miss?

To get your workers to report near-misses, you first need to identify what exactly a near-miss is. From the comments on my poll, I’ve come to realise that there are a few schools of thought on the subject.

I feel we need to start by differentiating between ‘accidents’ and ‘incidents’. In my experience, the difference between these is that an accident = an event that causes injury or death, and an incident = a breakdown in health and safety that did not result in injury but highlighted a flaw in health and safety.

This outlook is backed by the Health and Safety Executive, who we can safely assume are the arbiters of definitions within health and safety.

The section of their website, which discusses accidents and investigations, discusses various terms – including accident, incident, and near-miss – which can help clarify these various ‘adverse events.

According to the HSE, ‘accident’ can be defined as an ‘event which results in injury or ill-health.

Meanwhile, ‘Incident’ is broken down into two definitions, ‘near-miss and ‘undesired circumstance’.

  • near-misses are defined as ‘an event not causing harm, but which has the potential to cause injury or ill health.’
  • Undesired circumstances, meanwhile, are defined as ‘ a set of conditions or circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health.’

The final term is ‘dangerous occurrences, which are defined as ‘one of a number of specific, reportable adverse events, as defined in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)’. The Regulations use ‘near-miss and ‘dangerous occurrence’ interchangeably.

Under RIDDOR, employers and those in control of work are legally bound to report near-misses as ‘dangerous occurrences. Thankfully, the HSE has supplied a handy list of reportable events within the regulations under this definition. Some good examples include:

  • ‘Any explosion or fire caused by an electrical short circuit or overload (including those resulting from accidental damage to the electrical plant) which either:
    • (a)results in the stoppage of the plant involved for more than 24 hours; or
    • (b)causes a significant risk of death.’
  • And ‘the collapse, overturning or failure of any load-bearing part of any lifting equipment, other than an accessory for lifting.’

So, although some might think there is a lack of clarity in the term ‘near-miss, the HSE is pretty clear cut on what it sees as near-misses, as well as what needs to be reported. 

What are the reasons for not reporting a near-miss?

There is any number of reasons why an employee might feel uncomfortable reporting a near-miss.

They are afraid of blame

The worker might not have been following standard procedures, or perhaps previous events have led them to believe that they will face punishment for the incident, even if it wasn’t their fault.

They don’t believe it will happen again, or it wasn’t that bad

The worker might feel that it is unlikely to happen again and is not worth reporting. Many employees often feel a sense of invulnerability at work, unaware that simply being ‘good at your job’ or having plenty of experience doesn’t make you invincible.

They don’t believe anything will be done

If a company has a lax safety culture, employees might not think reporting near-misses is worth the effort. Unless you make a real effort to take employee concerns into account and act on them, this can become a real problem.

The only way to honestly know why employees are not engaging with the safety culture is by making an effort to get to know your workers as people rather than statistics. I’ve discussed the ‘human factor’ in previous blogs and what you can do to overcome the unpredictability of people at work.

Why is it so important that workers report near-misses?

Outside of RIDDOR requirements, employees must report near-misses as part of a greater health and safety effort.

Health and safety is more than just putting up notices on the board and filling out risk assessments. The only way to effectively push down accidents and safety failures in your business is by implementing a culture in which safety is a top priority for everyone, from directors to employees to sub-contractors.

Only by encouraging everyone to participate in this culture will you reap the rewards of a truly safe company. Employees must see their safety and the safety of others as a top priority.

Once you have staff openly reporting the near-misses and safety failures they see, you’ll be able to properly analyse the gaps in your safety strategy and improve it, avoiding potentially much more severe failures in the future. The more information you receive from those on the ground, the more data you have to work with.

Encouraging workers to report near-misses

So, what steps can you take to ensure your employees feel comfortable and correct in reporting near-misses?

Recognition over rewards

The first port of call for many health and safety managers looking to encourage a certain behaviour is incentives. This seems to be simple human psychology: offer a reward for a particular act.

However, these rewards often do not work the way you would expect them to and can lead to unintended consequences, such as over-reporting on frivolous things to get the reward.

Instead of taking the easy road with incentives, you should invest in recognition. When employees bring a near-miss to your attention, recognise both the risk and the employee. Take visible steps to close the gap in your safety systems, and do what you can to ensure that the employee feels like they are being taken seriously.

Highlight a particular near-miss in your safety briefings

Often, employees might fail to report a near-miss simply because they didn’t know they were supposed to report it. As I mentioned earlier, there can be some uncertainty around what counts as a near-miss and what doesn’t.

By taking a recent, or even theoretical, example – such as equipment failure or a close call with a forklift – you can clarify what employees need to watch out for and report.

Please keep it simple

Even employees engaged with your safety culture don’t want to spend hours filling out forms. They’ve got better things to do. A simple hotline or email address for near-miss reporting is all you need. The system must be short and straightforward if you have any hope of employees engaging with it.

Never punish reporting

Just as you should not over-reward, you also should not punish those who come forward to report safety failings. All punishing responsible employees will do is make them less likely to report near-misses in the future.

If the safety failure was the employee’s fault, you should make sure you do what you can to identify what went wrong and educate them to prevent it from happening again. Safety coaching is a fantastic alternative to disciplinary action.

A safer workplace

Once again, this comes down to a matter of encouraging a better workplace safety culture. By ensuring that employees are engaged and feel that coming forward is worthwhile, you will find that more and more employees report near-misses because they genuinely care about making their workplace safer.

I’ve worked with hundreds of companies over the years to improve their safety culture and get employees engaged. If you think I might be able to help you, send me a text or WhatsApp message on 07814 203 977, or get in touch via my contact form.

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