The Almost Shark Bites

December 04 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Over the weekend, I upgraded to the newest iPhone so I could pass along my current phone to one of my kids as an upgrade as well. I always accept when the service rep offers to place the screen guard on the device. After all, they are pros at this. When they handed me back my old phone's screen protector, I was shocked. Despite the care I took for my phone, I was glad I had one on there, and as I could quickly see it served its purpose.

Broken Glass

In safety, it is often said, "You won't always know the injuries you'll prevent." I could see the prevented injuries to the phone. While the screen protector experienced multiple direct hits, the phone experienced near misses.

In this piece I wrote about what leads people not to report near-misses, the first being a lack of clear definition. In many companies, it is not truly clear what is and what isn't a near miss. OSHA defines it as "a potential hazard or 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." Hazard or incident. Which one is it? Clear as mud. I like the term close-call or near-hit as a more visual way to imagine the event you are discussing. I digress.

While working with a client in Perth, Australia, I was once introduced to how they view the differences between a hazard and a risk. "Hazards are the sharks you see swimming in the ocean while you are still standing on the shore. They become risks when you decide to get into the water."

With that example, according to OSHA, a near miss would be sharks in the ocean viewed from afar. A near miss could also be if you are in the ocean off the side of a friend's boat and spot a shark swimming towards you with jaws ready to bite, but you are miraculously pulled out of the water by your friends into the boat with seconds to spare. With the shark example, it is clear what prevented the injury, and this incident created a story that will likely become viral within the friends' circles. "Let me tell you about last weekend's close call!"

People remember stories and pictures over facts and figures. If you want to normalize near-miss reporting, share stories and, when appropriate, pictures to make it clear what we are asking people to report and most importantly, why.

Mistakes are normal in any complex environment, and things won't go to plan multiple times during your own day. When we create an environment where people feel it is safe to discuss mistakes or the almost shark bites, learning mostly from injuries is replaced with learning from normal work, and normal work should include safe performance while discussing the hazards and risks we are sure to face along the way.

This week, take some time to share some of your "almost bitten by the shark" stories. Eating a little humble pie goes a long way in showing others you are just as human as they are.

"Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward." — Fredrik Backman

"Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things." — IIsaac Newton

"No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same." — Viktor E. Frankl

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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