Near Miss Reporting Hesitancy and Psychological Safety

October 30 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

I taught a pre-conference seminar at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo this past Sunday. During the workshop, Building Your Bridge — From Compliance to Excellence, the breakout group discussions led toward increasing psychological safety around reporting near misses, a challenge for many organizations.

Disclaimer: I've never been a fan of the term near miss as near hit, accident precursor, injury-free events, and close call seems more comprehensible and straightforward. But near miss is the most popular so, we will keep with this term for the week's message.

If you want to increase quality near miss reporting, rather than jumping to incentives, which can prompt a fiction-writing contest, look for evidence of the most common demotivators to reporting, and work to negate their impact:

Large blue question mark surrounded by question words.'
  1. No clear definition. In many companies, it is not truly clear what is and what isn't a near miss.
  2. Don't have time to report. The decision to report isn't an easy decision to make, or it isn't perceived as valuable to do so to the employee or the person to whom they report.
  3. No one will do anything with the report. Information might be withheld, or there is no follow-up to those reporting. If there is no evidence that reporting yields a positive outcome, this is the perception created.
  4. Something bad might happen to me for reporting. If there is fear or evidence of discipline or retribution connected to someone for reporting a near miss; this is a strong motivator not to report.

How psychologically safe is the environment your workers are within? How mature is your reporting culture? If you would like to know with certainty, contact me. We'll find out together.

P.S., I'm curious… OSHA defines a near miss "as an incident in which no property was damaged and no personal injury was sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred." Would a near miss that occurred, but because of the lack of psychological safety no one reported it, be called a Near Miss Report Near Miss?

"The crashes people remember, but drivers remember the near misses." — Mario Andretti

"The choice of terminology belongs to the users. If the term 'accident' causes you heartburn, use another term. Just be aware that what you may be gaining in terms of definition, you might be losing in terms of an important implication that could improve performance as well as safety culture." — Terry L. Mathis

"Here's a phrase that apparently the airlines simply made up: near miss. They say that if two planes almost collide, it's a near miss. Bulls$^it, my friend. It's a near hit! A collision is a near miss. [WHAM! CRUNCH!] 'Look, they nearly missed!' 'Yes, but not quite.'" — George Carlin

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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