The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

The Near Miss Culture

June 22, 2012

By Brian Hardink, ECC Future Leader

The construction industry has made remarkable strides in personnel safety. For skyscraper construction during the early and mid-20th century, it wasn’t a question of if there would be a fatality, but how many? According to public record, there were five fatalities during the construction of the Empire State building, although many speculate that this number is understated.

Thankfully, as the safety culture of the construction industry has grown stronger, the number of fatalities and injuries has significantly declined. Moving down the safety pyramid, the industry now finds itself more focused on unsafe behaviors and conditions that could lead to an incident, rather than the incidents themselves. But has industry jumped down over a crucial level of the safety pyramid?

Between an injury and an unsafe behavior exists a slice of the safety pyramid known as Near Misses. A Near Miss is commonly referred to as an event, caused by an unsafe behavior or condition, which nearly led to an incident.

Unfortunately, reporting Near Misses is not easy. Much of Near Miss reporting relies on the workforce to self-disclose their own close calls, or even report a Near Miss of a peer worker. This tests the boundaries and maturity of a safety culture; for some industries and geographic regions, it is a complete paradigm shift.

There typically are a number of barriers that prevent a team from having a healthy Near Miss reporting program. Some example barriers include:

  • There is a cultural stigma of self-reporting or peer disclosure
  • Company leadership does not actively support or encourage Near Miss reporting
  • Management reacts punitively
  • Craft workers do not understand what constitutes a Near Miss
  • There is no easy mechanism to report a Near Miss
  • Craft workers lack the incentive to report a Near Miss

As industry injury rates continue to decline, it becomes increasingly important to collect, analyze, and share Near Miss incidents, as they represent the next level down in the safety pyramid. And when a project has a healthy Near Miss reporting culture, they will know if their injury free project is that good, or just lucky.