How Capturing Near Misses Can Put Facility Safety Managers Ahead of the Game

What is good safety practice today? Recording near misses.

The generally-accepted definition of a near miss is: “An unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had the potential to do so.” In terms of smart business choices, it’s important for company leadership to establish a near miss reporting culture. This kind of safety culture will, in time and in practice, reinforce the opportunity to identify hazards. And, when the hazards are known, action can be taken to mitigate them.

Encouraging employees to participate in recording near miss events doesn’t have to be a challenge. If the practice of making these records comes without blame or negative consequences, then employees are more likely to report. It’s common for employees to be cautious or even afraid to report near misses. Either they may not want to admit a mistake in following safety procedures or they may believe they could be mistakenly accused of some wrongdoing. To have an effective near-miss reporting program, the stigma of blame should be eliminated.

For a near-miss reporting structure to work well, employers need to create a safety culture and a comfortable atmosphere. The goal is to make employees so comfortable with the process that they will report electrical near misses nearly as freely as they might report that a hallway needs to be cleaned or that a hazard sign needs to be replaced.

For a safety manager to keep ahead of the game, it’s important to understand that near misses can lead to the identification of a hazard. Ultimately, identifying a near miss also allows the root cause to be determined. Once this is identified, corrective action or mitigation steps can be taken to prevent any additional incidents from occurring. This results in avoiding potentially serious injuries and disruptions to operations.

Near misses are common and many consider to be underreported within industry. They also occur with relative frequency in handheld voltage testing, which should further urge a safety manager to create a way to capture the near miss incidents. If knowledge is power, then learning from experience is even more powerful. In a case from the 1997 paper, “Personnel Safety and Plant Reliability Considerations in the Selection and Use of Voltage Test Instruments,” an error in reading the digital display of a multimeter was noted. As the case details: An electrician familiar with an analog multimeter was given a new digital multimeter. When he encountered an over range condition on a voltage measurement application, he interpreted an “OL,” or over-range, indication to mean “zero,” or no voltage present. This misunderstanding of the instrument indication could have resulted in a serious, perhaps fatal, accident.

This near miss demonstrates the importance of managing tools used to carry out a particular task. Facility and safety management should work together to develop a system to manage selection, purchase, training, maintenance, and operation of all safety and test instruments used in the workplace.”

In the 2018 paper, Electrical Investigations: Case Studies, Common Electrical Safety Mistakes, and Lessons Learned , an incident is recalled whereby improper tool usage proves a weakness in relying on portable voltage testers. This case study reveals that an electrician was removing a fluorescent ceiling light fixture and was asked if he had de-energized the circuit. The electrician indicated that he had used his non-contact voltage probe instead of a digital multimeter. The electrician was asked if the voltage probe he was using had feedback to the user to indicate that the battery was good. He indicated no but added that he had replaced the batteries that morning. The voltage probe indicated that the light fixture was de-energized, but when the electrician began removing the fixture he experienced a shock. An investigator that was on site at the time asked him to check the voltage again with a digital multimeter, which confirmed that the circuit was still energized.

Again, these examples indicate the importance of selecting the right tool for the job. A dedicated voltage tester, like an AVT, can eliminate these types of process failure modes by providing a simplified output with a dedicated indicator.