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Reporting close call incidents

Oct. 13, 2016 - One of the biggest challenges for companies is related to the reporting of safety incidents. And not just incidents that require first aid treatment or result in damage to equipment or property. The real challenging ones are getting the information about the “near miss” or “close call” incidents. Those are the incidents when someone almost has an incident that results in an injury or damage. But human nature being what it is, we are not motivated to report these incidents.


October 13, 2016
By Gerard Messier

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We may have too much pride and don’t want to admit that we made a mistake; we might not want to appear foolish; or more commonly we don’t have the time and there is no easy way to report these types of incidents.

However, the information from near misses is golden and here’s why. Near miss information can improve your business processes and result in better performance and fewer injuries. That’s why many companies are encouraging the reporting of close calls. This information shows where there are deficiencies or problems in the way we do our work. While they are “accidents waiting to happen” the difference is that now you know about them and can take action to prevent them from happening. This means you can prevent injuries, lost time, equipment damage, lost production and all the related hard dollar costs to your company.

Making sure you are able to gather this great information from your employees or contractors is key. If you don’t know what nearly went wrong, how can you make sure it never goes wrong? First let’s start with a story about how not to go about gathering close call information:

Company A strongly promotes the practice of having their employees and contractors report all incidents. Everyone is trained on how to report all types of incidents from medical treatments to close calls. They understand the benefits from finding the causes of incidents and taking action to make sure they don’t happen again. Everything is going great; the company has more incident information than they have ever had before.

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However, one day a senior manager sees the high number of reports from particular contractors and employees and determines that there must be something wrong with those operations. After all they seem to be having more incidents than the rest. The contractors and employees are brought in for a serious meeting to figure out how to improve their performance and the consequences if they don’t.

Very quickly, the number of incidents reported starts to decline and the senior manager is happy with the safety improvement and reduction of incidents. Right?

Wrong.

This is not fiction. Companies everywhere choke off incident reporting by taking actions that are seen as negative by the people doing the reporting. To be clear, if you want to achieve continuous improvements in safety performance and increase incident reporting, especially those valuable close call reports, there needs to be positive reinforcement every time a report comes in. If there are any real or perceived negative consequences from the people doing the reporting, soon you won’t get any information at all.

How to promote a culture of incident reporting:

  • Focus on why and how it happened. Not on who did it and what they did wrong.
  • Don’t discipline or discriminate against the reporting employee. There should be rewards for reporting, not penalties.
  • Do lead by example. Do your own reporting.
  • Emphasize that the company really does want to know about these incidents. Communicate and show how this type of reporting benefits all workers and the company.
  • Make reporting easy: a short written note, a quick conversation or an email to a supervisor is all that is required.
  • Communicate with workers about close calls and follow-up actions. Show how you are using their reported information to improve workplace safety.

It can take months, even years, to build trust with employees and contractors so they will report theses valuable close calls. However, it only takes one negative experience to tear down this foundation of trust. So, start building a positive incident reporting process and watch the information come flowing in.


Gerard Messier is an RPF, CRSP and manager of program development for the BC Forest Safety Council.


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