South Africa

Why reporting near hits is as important as actual incidents

Louis Roma.(1)
Group SHEQ Manager
4 mins

Safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) policies and procedures are one thing. Ensuring they are followed is another. SHEQ compliance requires an effective SHEQ Management System, and these systems are only as good as the incident reporting, investigation and management processes that underpin them.

How then do organisations build robust reporting, investigation and management processes, and why are they important? The answer? We all need to report – and react to – near misses, or, as I like to call them, ‘near hits’

Incident reporting

Incident reporting is designed to offer realistic incident statistics and to prioritise the level of intervention required within an organisation across all four SHEQ pillars. The intent is also to ensure that each incident and non-conformance receives prompt and accurate intervention, with the aim of eliminating and/or mitigating the incident or non-conformance causal factors to prevent any reoccurrences. This isn’t a punitive process but rather a preventative one.

Reporting is a mandatory legal requirement, but when used correctly it can be so much more than that. For example, reporting is an integral part of the Adcorp Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Policy. Our leadership team has strategically identified three key issues that we are working to improve. These are Health & Safety, Compliance and People. Without the necessary reporting compliance, identifying where there are areas for improvement and then tracking our progress is impossible.

Yes, reporting can be used to coerce team members into compliance, which, given legal requirements, is important. However, incident reporting, investigation and management should be a reflection on how an organisation’s employees care and look out for each other. When used correctly and in a positive way, reporting can educate, show how we can learn from our mistakes and work together, and reflect how a safer working environment benefits everyone – together. This is the goal and it can be extremely motivating.

One of the biggest gaps that we’ve often seen in mandatory reporting, however, is that small issues and near misses will be left out – and without these details, the entire incident reporting, investigation and management system becomes flawed. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that reporting small issues and ‘near hits’ is the cornerstone of a successful health and safety policy. 

The problem with small issues

Without a strict process in place, minor injuries and incidents can be overlooked. They may also go unreported, or, if they are reported, they are not taken into account and investigated in the same way as bigger incidents.

The problem with minor injuries is that they can worsen over time. What starts off ‘small’ quickly becomes big. If this happens and there was no report and investigation of the incident, it may also be difficult to argue whether an injury happened at work or after-hours and away from the workplace.

At every one of our Adcorp subsidiaries, our safety culture is to report an incident immediately.  This allows corrective and preventative action to be taken promptly, possibly preventing others from becoming injured. Lastly, if an incident is reported immediately, it will ensure that accurate details are captured as the event will still be fresh in the minds of everyone involved.

Why near misses should be reported

This is an area where we have put a lot of time, effort and education at Adcorp. Why report something that didn’t happen? That’s a fair question – which is why it is such a dangerous one. We’ve all had near misses: a swerving car, an animal jumping out in front of us, a slip that could have been far worse. But it wasn’t, and very quickly the incident is forgotten.

This is exactly why reporting near misses should be part of the process. Near misses are essentially ‘free’ learnings. They give us leading indicators that are critical in determining potential hazards and risks before an injury or damage occurs.

I personally prefer to call them ‘near hits’ instead of near misses, because I believe that this framing highlights that an incident/hit almost happened and reminds us that if we don’t learn the lesson, next time it might.

Had any conditions and timings been slightly different, near hits could have easily been serious injuries. The good news is that near hits present the perfect opportunity for an organisation to learn for free, without having to deal with an injury or damage.

So, why are near hits, which are free opportunities to learn, not reported as much as they should be? Could it be that organisations are not mature enough to acknowledge the ‘free gift’ that these incidents present to us? Are top management not inclined to accept the opportunities that near hits present, which are to learn and ultimately put programmes in place to prevent an actual injury or damage? Do employees fear reprimand from their line managers who feel that no incidents should be occurring on their sites? Are employees not able to differentiate between a near hit, and an unsafe act/behaviour or condition, which leads to inaccurate reporting? Are leaders giving mixed signals by encouraging near hit reporting and then reprimanding employees when ‘too many’ are reported? 

All or some of the above may be true and require a concerted effort from leadership to shop floor employees to understand the value of creating a culture that embraces the accurate reporting of near hits. Remember, this one change in a process can be the difference between an employee going back home to their families after shift – or not. Not reporting near hits may easily deprive organisations of an opportunity to learn…’for free’. I cannot stress the importance of near hit reporting enough.

Pulling it all together

Health and safety is not an exact science. The challenge has always been to try and predict outcomes based on the behaviour of an unpredictable species, humans. So, it goes without saying that the most powerful tools that organisations have at their disposal to predict the unpredictable is incident history. 

Incidents tell the story of an organisation, a story that, without incident history, could remain untold. The sad part is that most of these stories are written in the blood of people, because we failed to tell them, squandering the opportunity to leverage free learnings… all because we failed to report near hits.

Find out more about Adcorp today! 

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Group SHEQ Manager

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