Fostering a culture of workplace safety by reporting near-miss events
Accidents and mistakes in the workplace are all-too common. A warehouse employee might trip on a piece of equipment that has not been properly stored or a worker might be struck by equipment or objects while on the job. These accidents can result in sprains, bone fractures or in worst cases, death.
Mistakes don’t always result in injury, however. Let’s take the warehouse employee who has tripped on a piece of equipment. Rather than falling and injuring themselves, they regain their balance and don’t sustain injuries. An injury could have occurred because equipment hadn’t been stored properly, but it didn’t — this is called a near-miss event, and nearly any industry or organization will have faced one at some point.
Though no immediate injury or damage occurs, near misses represent potential threats to the safety of the office and its employees and should be reported as soon as they occur. Reporting a near miss helps ensure that future incidents and injuries are avoided and can reduce medical expense costs, workers’ compensation payments, time lost due to injury, accident investigation costs and equipment replacement costs.
Though it sounds simple and straightforward, near misses aren’t always reported. That simple trip or bump doesn’t always register as a possible serious or fatal danger down the line. Employees express a momentary sigh of relief and then go on about their day.
Employees may also fear retaliation from their employers if they report a near-miss incident. Take a 2018 Eastern District of Wisconsin case in which the court held that an OSHA 11(c) retaliation claim would survive summary judgment where the employer failed to comply with its own investigation procedures.
In this employer’s accident reporting/investigation plan if an employee is injured or almost injured at work, they must report the injury or “near miss.” The employer required that employees report all injuries, even if the employee did not consider the injury to be serious. Any employee that failed to report an accident or near miss in a timely manner could be subjected to discipline up to and including termination.
The court noted that employees who suffered injuries on the job found themselves in a catch 22: “if they are injured at work, they must report the injury to a supervisor or face discipline, but if they do report an injury, management may well conclude the injury resulted from their own unsafe act for which they will also face discipline. Either way, the employee risks discipline.”
Employers need to maintain reporting policies with regard to all unsafe acts, near misses, and accidents, and must consistently investigate accidents and enforce all safety rules. It’s vital to foster a culture of workplace safety at all levels to reduce costs to the business — financially and ethically.
Simple steps to foster a culture of workplace safety
- Avoid the blame game. Speak openly with your staff about near-miss reporting and give examples of situations that have happened in the past. Be transparent and open about the process and assure your staff that reporting isn’t meant to place blame on any one person, but to fix processes to maintain a safe environment.
- Allow anonymous reporting. Whispli’s evolutionary platform allows employees to report incidents anonymously. Allowing your employees to report near misses with the assurance they won’t be retaliated against makes the reporting process less daunting.
- Offer training and incentives. Offer in-person or virtual trainings about how to recognize a near-miss event and how to easily report it. Incentivize transparency and honesty.
- Educate your organization on types of near miss events. Similar to the point above, education is key. Employees might not know that something they’ve experienced could be categorized as a near-miss event. Some of these include slips, trips, and falls; working at a height without protective barriers; a lack of warning signs; etc. Define “unsafe acts” for your employees so that there’s no misinterpretation of a near-miss event.
- Make it easy to file a report. Again, using Whispli’s reporting platform means removing the stress of making a report. By lowering the reporting threshold, organizations minimize paperwork and responses are more immediate.
- Follow-up on the incident report. The onus is on the organization to follow-through on reports. If employees know the organization won’t take steps to shore up safety standards after a report has been made, they will be less likely to make one in the first place. Respond swiftly and investigate the incident thoroughly.
Establishing a streamlined reporting system fosters a culture of workplace safety and removes blame. Set your employees up for success. Let them know that near-miss events do exist and if they experience one to report it immediately.
Encourage transparency and communication. Let your teams know that no one person is at fault and that reporting an incident could help save someone else from injury later.
A good way to do that? Foster a culture of open feedback with regular Pulse surveys around topics of health and safety.