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.

Achieving New Goals: Maximize Uptime With an Enhanced Electrical Safety Program

Downtime is a killer to the bottom line. Whether planned or unplanned, downtime idles the workforce, slows production numbers, and can create downstream effects that may cause major disruptions to the supply chain.

How does the electrical safety program in your facility maximize uptime?

First, it’s important to bear in mind that although scheduled maintenance will create some amount of downtime, when maintenance is planned downtime can be minimized. Planned maintenance allows adequate time for pre-work safety assessments to be completed without the stressful time pressures that are commonly associated with unplanned downtime.

Taking time to plan for maintenance work creates opportunities to identify hazards, perform risk assessments, incorporate any mitigation techniques, review procedures and areas where training may need to be refreshed, and think about emergency response before work is underway. Thoroughly planning the work from start to end, as well as to complete any prerequisite job briefings and communicating planned actions to affected individuals, helps ensure the work goes safely and smoothly. Uptime is effectively maximized because safety inevitably achieves a decrease in incidents and thus scheduled work and production work can continue unabated.

Manufacturing facility floorplan

How does the electrical safety program in your facility maximize uptime?

In industrial facilities, it’s also important to remember that maintaining electrical equipment is fundamental to optimizing equipment performance that will prevent unplanned downtime. Reliability and safety are closely linked. In terms of electrical safety, reliable equipment requires less maintenance. Because reliable equipment is not being accessed as frequently, there are fewer occasions for workers to be exposed to hazards.

Panduit’s new VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT) can be used as a method of testing and verifying the absence of voltage once equipment has been de-energized. This product utilizes technology that reduces procedure testing time and reduces complexity in a way that improves productivity and maximizes uptime. In addition, because it is installed and mounted permanently on the outside of electrical equipment, it reduces the risk of exposure to electrical hazards for improved worker safety.

The Top 5 Reasons for Modernizing Your Electrical Safety Program

Updated safety standards provide opportunities to modernize your electrical safety program.

In your plant, there’s a good chance your facility’s electrical equipment is constantly being changed or updated (moves and adds) and maybe even improved. Thus, your electrical safety program should also address these changes.

In keeping up with new technology and evolving safety concerns, safety standards are periodically revised. Updated standards should be viewed as a benefit to facility and safety managers, bringing opportunities to modernized your electrical safety program and to stay up to date on existing trends in electrical safety.

Below, we outline the top five reasons for modernizing your electrical safety program:

1. Changes in standards.
If there’s ever a constant, it is change. The NFPA Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E), is updated every three years. While NFPA 70E isn’t adopted into federal law or OSHA regulation, but OSHA has a history of citing it as a best practice when electrical incidents occur.

OSHA’s general duty clause requires employers (your facility) to provide employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.” Because OSHA regulations are not frequently updated, they will often reference consensus standards (like NFPA 70E) as a best practice when issuing citations to the general duty clause.

Therefore, even though NFPA 70E is a voluntary standard, and compliance is not required by law, it effectively describes electrical hazards and best practices to mitigate them. Thus, failure to comply with this or similar guidelines can result in OSHA citations.

2. Training will always be important.
For any worker who may exposed to electrical hazards, training is key. Employees performing electrical work need to understand the requirements of the electrical safety program, including the ability to recognize electrical hazards, know safe work practices and the procedures for protection against these hazards.

Non-electrical workers should also be trained to identify electrical hazards and recognize when electrical work is being performed so they do not put themselves or the electrical workers at risk. Training should be ongoing—do not underestimate the importance of retraining. Workers leave, new workers are added, and sometimes people simply forget what they have learned or they may become complacent as tasks become routine.

Additionally, retraining is important if you consider the Normalization of Deviance phenomenon, which is described as “when people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety.”

3. Facility updates and new equipment.
Electrical equipment in a facility is often moved, added, or reconfigured to keep up with changing production demands. Often, these changes may include updates to safety technology. Thus, the electrical safety program should be updated to address those changes.

So, when new equipment is added, a circuit is moved, protective devices get replaced or settings are changed and, generally, when any electrical wiring or cables) are modified in any way, it’s time to update your arc flash hazard analysis and revisit the safety program.

Retrofits and additions to existing equipment or reconfiguration of lines, are also a great time to evaluate if new electrical safety technology can be incorporated and will signal it’s time to update the electrical safety program.

4. Near misses.
According to the National Safety Council, almost 75% of all accidents are preceded by a near miss. It’s important to document and record near misses, minor accidents and close calls, especially those that have the potential for injury.

The overall safety culture in the facility gets stronger when reporting near misses are encouraged and not punished. If it’s not reported, the opportunity to mitigate hazards by taking corrective actions, including updates to the electrical safety program, are missed.

5. Employee and facility worker expansion.
A modern electrical safety program is all about teamwork. When a facility’s employee base has grown and/or when shifts are added, it’s a good opportunity to take the time to update the electrical safety program to demonstrate to employees – new and old – that the safety culture is strong.

Converse to expansion, if a plant experiences a reduction in staff, or significant employee turnover, this can lead to employees being asked to do other tasks for which they may not be adequately trained.

Therefore, changes that also affect the workforce should be a reminder to revisit the electrical safety program to assure that all workers are not only properly trained, but understand their roles in advancing the safety culture.