Close up of a farmworkers hands holding a knife while harvesting bok choy
Photo credit: Hector Amezcua, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UC Davis

Near Misses: Will They Predict or Prevent the Next Bad Accident?

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Statistics tell us that agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. Workplace hazards include everything from machines and tools, to ladders, chemicals, terrain and weather, and physically demanding and repetitive tasks. Underlying the high number of workplace injuries are many near-miss incidents. The more often these incidents happen without preventative corrective actions, the more likely a serious accident will occur. 

What Near Misses Can Teach Us About Safety

Most of us can remember a moment when we almost had an accident and felt like, “Whoa! That was a close one!” Maybe you had to suddenly brake to avoid rear-ending the car in front of you or you almost fell off a ladder. Perhaps afterward you considered what caused that near-miss situation and you decided to lock your smart phone while driving or you bought a new, sturdier ladder. 

These near misses and corrective actions are examples of evaluating risk factors and addressing them before they become an accident. Too many times we wait until an accident happens before we take corrective action. This is especially true in the workplace, where employees might experience near misses, but the employer never hears about them or adds addressing them to a growing to-do list. Without the opportunity to evaluate the risk factors and implement corrective actions, those near misses continue until one day they become that accident that could have been prevented.

Barriers Preventing Workers From Reporting Near Misses

Few people want to draw attention to the fact that they almost had an accident. Perhaps they almost got run over by a machine, or they tripped and almost fell, or they almost got entangled in a drive shaft of a machine. Whatever the situation, it can be embarrassing to admit, or they might fear that they or someone else will get into trouble if they report it. Sometimes, it’s a lack of training or motivation to report those near misses.

Most workers never consider the possibility that there can be positive results from reporting a near-miss incident. Likewise, many employers don’t fully grasp the value of workers reporting near-misses and evaluating the situation for possible corrective actions to prevent an accident.

Safety Culture and What’s in It for Me

Without a strong company culture in which workers understand the priority of safety, efforts to encourage workers to report near-misses are likely to fail. A company’s safety culture is not created by a safety slogan or occasional safety meeting. A strong safety culture is one in which:

  • Workers clearly understand that if a task cannot be done safely, it isn’t done.
  • Safety and production are addressed as equally important values. 
  • All workers participate at some level and take personal responsibility for safe work practices. 

In such a culture, workers understand the value and importance of near-miss reporting as a benefit for themselves and their co-workers. They do not fear negative repercussions or embarrassment for their efforts to improve safety.

Establishing near-miss reporting and investigation procedures, providing training, and possibly additional incentives or recognition can help employees better understand what’s in it for them.

Motivating workers to go outside their comfort zones to report near-miss incidents takes thoughtful, new approaches. If preventing injuries is the goal, near-miss reporting is part of the strategy.