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Workplace Incidents and Near Misses - How to Recognize, Categorize and Document Them

Posted by National Safety Council

157345548The primary goal of workplace safety is to strive for a hazard free environment. However, despite our best efforts, events occur that demonstrate gaps in the system. Properly recognizing these events and determining the correct follow-up actions can be tricky. To help safety managers better respond to these events, it is important to understand the distinction between them:

INCIDENT: An unplanned, undesired event that hinders completion of a task and causes injury, ill-health or other damage.

NEAR MISS: An incident where, given a slight shift in time or distance could have easily caused injury, ill-health or other damage.

Investigating and Documenting Safety Incidents and Near Misses

All events should be fully investigated, with a focus on identification of the actual or potential hazards. While the law requires documentation of all incidents resulting in injury or ill health, it is a good idea to document near misses as they are often predecessors to a potential incident.  

Recommendations for Incident Investigation

Following the event, conduct an investigation as soon as possible to a) gather all the necessary facts; b) determine the cause of the event; and c) develop recommendations to prevent recurrence.   

1. Evaluate and Document the Scene

  • Get there as quickly as possible.
  • Ensure the area is safe to enter.
  • Make sure the injured/ill person is receiving first-aid or medical attention
  • Look for witnesses.
  • Record the scene with photos (ideally with date and time stamp) or sketches.
  • Safeguard any evidence.
  • Establish what happened.

2. Investigate the safety incident

The investigation should answer six questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Determining the answers of all six questions will help explain the event and point to ways to prevent future occurrences.

3. Interview people involved in the safety incident

Interview all people involved and look for all the causes. Do not fall into the trap of blaming the employee or volunteer, even if the person admits to causing the event. Investigate every element including but not limited to procedures, supervisor's directives, training, machinery, and weather. The organization's incident and/or near-miss reporting forms should include guidance on this process.

4. Document the details of the incident

Properly document all incident investigations using the organization's approved investigation form. This form should be easy to understand and complete so that it is simple to remember what questions to ask. Once it is completed, file and retain it in chronological order.  

5. Protect Privacy

Investigation reports should not to be released to anyone without authorization.

6. Review Investigations

Before attending the next safety meeting, review all incident and near-miss investigations that have occurred since the last safety committee meeting.

Source: Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition, National Safety Council

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Topics: Workplace Safety, Prevention

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