Are We Missing the Point of a “Near Miss”?

 In Feature Articles

A typical safety meeting goes something like this… “last week we had 5 near miss incidents, we have to do something about this, something has to change!” states the safety manager. With earnest passion, they know that their organization needs to make some serious changes to their policies, procedures and attitudes as they relate to safety or they are well on their way to an accident.

However, in many cases, what follows next on the agenda is all about the projects, profits, company’s annual bonuses, the Christmas party and other unrelated items. To a lot of us, a near miss isn’t perceived as a top priority…After all, no one was injured or killed, right?

But, as these near misses keep increasing in frequency, so do the mathematical odds that they are well on their way to having a much more serious and dire outcome…

Let’s take a hard look at the words “Near Miss” …

The term near miss actually originates from the aviation world. When two planes find each other within 1000 feet or 300 meters vertically of each other, or 15 nautical miles while following behind one another…They are considered dangerously close to each other, but missed.

Ultimately, the term Near Miss carried over into the safety world, and has become adopted as a word to reflect situations when something negative concerning safety has almost happened. While the term makes perfect sense, over time, we have essentially softened the true meaning of this term. What should be interpreted as a serious indicator, may become misinterpreted as a weak or unimportant statement by many.

Maybe it’s the words themselves that create an interpretation not to be taken too seriously…Perhaps a better worded term might help people to understand what these really are, which are really near hits, the term near hit is certainly a more accurate statement of an incident.

Compare these two statements:

  1. “I was driving this weekend, when a deer jumped into the road. I swerved, and nearly missed him but unfortunately, I smashed the front end of the car…”  Near Miss.
  2. “I was driving this weekend, when a deer jumped into the road. I nearly hit him. Both the deer and I were very fortunate…” Near Hit.

In statement 1 the deer was hit and in statement 2 the deer was missed.

How does this analogy transfer into the construction world?  How many Near Hits do we have to actually have before there is a more serious incident? Something falls from a nearby building, Near Hit… A chunk of dirt falls into the trench and lands beside the pipe layer…Near hit.  A truck driver backing up towards a concrete crew without a signal person. Near Hit…

Near hits happen frequently in the construction world, yet they are often not taken seriously, reported or documented. Some companies do document them, while others don’t… Yours should! Not recording these near hits are missed opportunities to improve your safety program, identify root causes, or prevent recurrence. These are the areas where safe work practices and training can be improved upon over time resulting in a robust safety program. Don’t wait until an actual accident takes place, when you can prevent it in the first place. You can harness the power of near hit reports to circumvent more serious accidents from happening. Take time to analyze the near hit reports, they are your leading indicators of what could become more serious events in the future.

Now, let’s skip back to my earlier example… What if that same safety manager stated, “we had 5 near hits last week. These could have resulted in serious accidents and we need to do something about this immediately”. Would it receive a different response? Would people start thinking a little more seriously about how close someone came to being hit, hurt, or even killed? …It needs to become a company’s top priority to prevent any accidents from happening, and it starts with reporting and utilizing near hit reports.

Let’s change the terminology, at least in our workplaces, and start calling them what they really are, which are Near Hits.

Have your workers report the near hits. Document them and learn from them. After all, the key to health and safety is actually “knowing “and understanding what it is you are trying to prevent. Don’t look at near hit reports as a hindrance to your companies’ efficiency, they will ultimately give you those leading indicators to truly improve your health and safety program for your workers and your company.

Kevin Brown is the Founder & CEO of Cobalt Safety Consulting Inc.
He was formerly an Ontario Ministry of Labour Inspector, Investigator and Inspectorate Peer trainer. Kevin brings a unique and critical inside view of what true safety is all about and the active role that due diligence plays.

To contact Kevin for any safety related matters or questions, he can be reached at



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