There is no category of incident more maligned than the so-called ‘near miss’. One can make such an assertion precisely because near misses are so under-reported or even unreported in many different companies across all industry sectors. It is well-known that near misses are usually nothing less than an incident that did not occur due to simple luck. As the definition of a near miss states: it is an unplanned event in which there was no resulting injury or damage, but which had the potential for such injury or damage. It’s a case of coulda, woulda, shoulda. Yet near misses continue to be hopelessly under-reported. Why is that?
For one thing, it’s all about human nature. We tend to want to skip along after something occurs that could have been serious yet, thankfully, was not. There may be the thanking of proverbial lucky stars, a nervous giggle or the exhale of pent-up breath, but the tendency is to move on. It’s how we are wired. We don’t like to confront potential problems if they are viewed as having been ‘unproblematic’ in the end. The psychology of near misses has been fascinatingly studied by psychologists, primarily with regard to gambling and gaming. These studies show that the effect of a near miss in gambling, for example, is to ensure future play, i.e. ‘this time I missed the jackpot but I’ll get it next time’.
But an indirect analogy can be made in EHS incident management as well. A worker at a refinery nearly falls into a large manhole because it is undemarcated and he was distracted. He walks away relieved at not having been seriously injured, and assuring himself that he’ll not make such a mistake again. Close call! Never mind that the manhole should never have been undemarcated and that the worker should never be distracted in a hazardous work environment. In essence, it’s a gamble.