Training and Education

What is a near miss?

Emily Lundh @Emily
Safety & Compliance
5 min read
March 22, 2024

A near miss refers to an unexpected event where there was potential for harm yet no injuries actually occurred. Understanding how a near miss happened and recording preventative measures can help avoid similar situations from happening in the future.

Read on to learn more about near misses, how to identify them and how to avoid them

Why are near misses important?

Near misses are important because they offer a learning experience without the same fall-out that an incident or accident creates. Near misses help us understand and identify holes in our safety programs and procedures.

Why is reporting a near miss on the construction site important?

Reporting near misses is important because it can prevent similar dangerous events from happening in the future. It also allows you to examine if there are any consistent trends or patterns happening with when or how things go wrong. Learning from our mistakes is important; it’s how we create an effective safety culture.

If there is a pattern of similar near misses, this can tell you that something on the construction site needs attention and allows you to take proactive measures to fix it. Being proactive rather than reactive is always the right decision on a construction site because it can prevent incidents from happening and keep your workers safe.

Being vigilant with near misses on the construction site also allows you to determine the underlying causes of a threat. What appears to be the source of potential harm on the surface might actually be something deeper that needs correcting. Getting granular with your near miss reporting and reviewing underlying causes early on can help your construction company save time and money in the long run.

Five examples of near misses in construction

A near miss on the construction site can be anything from risky worker behavior to mechanical failure. Either way, near misses pose a threat to the health and safety of the construction site and should be addressed.

Here are four construction near miss categories and examples:

Example 1: Slips and trips

A worker almost trips over loose electrical cords but catches themselves before falling.

A worker wearing inappropriate footwear for the site conditions almost slips but adjusts their step to maintain balance.

Example 2: Narrow escapes

A tool falls from a height but manages not to hit anyone.

A worker almost steps into an open excavation pit but notices it just in time to stop and back away safely.

Example 3: Improper hazard communication

A forklift operator nearly collides with a pedestrian due to limited visibility around a corner.

A trade partner is about to use a piece of equipment without realizing that it has been tagged out of service for repairs. Another worker notices the situation and notifies the trade partner about the equipment status.

Example 4: Equipment operation

A forklift operator is lifting material when they experience difficulty controlling the steering due to a malfunctioning hydraulic system. Realizing the risk of a sudden loss of control, the operator parks the forklift.

A piece of equipment unexpectedly starts up while being serviced, but the technician reacts quickly to shut it down before any harm occurs.

Example 5: Risky behavior

A worker attempts to climb an incomplete scaffold without using the right safety harness. As they ascend, a loose plank gives way, but they manage to grab onto the scaffold frame and prevent a fall.

A worker decides to walk along an unprotected edge to save time instead of using the designated walkways.

Notice a trend with these near misses? They can all be avoided. That’s why reporting near misses is so important, because it can prevent workplace incidents from happening in the future. When a near miss happens, you should evaluate the near miss, investigate what caused the near miss and put preventative measures in place from it happening again and potentially causing harm.

Differences between near misses, hazards and safety events

A hazard has the potential to cause accidents, while a near miss is a potential incident that narrowly avoids causing harm or damage. As you can see, there are hazards present in near misses. In fact, discussing the hazard in a near miss is one of the most important takeaways.

The difference between a safety event and a near miss is defined by the presence of an incident. An incident occurs in a safety event, while a near miss lacks an incident and is just a close call.

If a heavy load being lifted by a crane swings unexpectedly close to a group of workers but stops just short of hitting them, that would be an example of a near miss. If the crane actually hit the workers, that would be a safety event.

Do near misses need to be reported to OSHA?

Near misses are not required to be submitted to OSHA. However, OSHA does strongly encourage near miss reporting to be a standard practice so that your construction company can prevent future incidents from happening. OSHA does require companies to report certain types of incidents like fatalities and severe injuries.

How should a near miss be treated and recorded?

Construction companies should consider implementing a near miss procedure to prevent incidents from happening in the future. This can start with a near miss form and include investigative questions into the shortcoming. OSHA provides this list of recommended questions to discuss and help your crews uncover the root cause of a near miss:

  • If a procedure or safety rule was not followed, why was the procedure or rule not followed?
  • Did production pressures play a role, and, if so, why were production pressures permitted to jeopardize safety?
  • Was the procedure out-of-date or safety training inadequate? If so, why had the problem not been previously identified, or, if it had been identified, why had it not been addressed?

What to include in a near miss form

Construction companies should include this basic information in a near miss form:

  • Date and time of the near miss
  • The location where it occurred
  • Description of the near miss
  • Details of witnesses
  • Near miss category
  • Root cause
  • Supporting documents
  • Preventative measures to be implemented
  • How this could have been avoided
  • Next steps and specific action items

How can near misses be avoided?

A near miss can be avoided by fostering a safe work environment where workers are aware of the risks associated with their jobs and follow work safe practices like participating in daily tool box talks. This starts at the top: safety managers need to instill safe work procedures and ensure all their workers and trade partners are following them. Daily forms can help with this, along with strong communication methods and embracing construction safety technology.

So next time a near miss happens on your construction site, take this as a learning opportunity to identify if there are patterns happening that caused the near miss and address them head on by completing a near miss report. This will lead to a safer job site with less potential for incidents and harm.

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