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NSC 2011: The Top 9 Reasons Workers Don’t Report Near Misses

When Philip La Duke tried to report the near misses he experienced soon after starting a new job, he was met with blank looks, confusing (and incorrect) instructions, and even was asked, "What's a near miss?" and "Why on earth would anyone report that?" In an Oct. 31 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo session, La Duke shared the top reasons workers do not report near misses. Some of them may surprise you.

La Duke, associate and principle of Rockford Greene International, stressed that near misses provide important information about hazards and are essential elements for calculating risks. Unfortunately, it can be all but impossible to get an accurate count of near misses. And when employees are reluctant to report them, that just makes it more difficult

Here are the top nine reasons La Duke says workers often don't report near misses:

1. Fear – Believe it or not, fear actually may be the least common reason workers avoid reporting near misses. It's true that some workplaces cultivate an environment where employees are punished for being injured, so these workers are unlikely to report near misses if they fear they will lose their jobs. Overall, however, this usually isn't the most common reason workers neglect to report their near misses.

2. Embarrassment – La Duke once worked with a safety director who called a particular employee "accident prone" and a "frequent flyer" based on her past injury record. If workers see their supervisors or coworkers humiliate those who make mistakes or experience incidents, they may be too embarrassed to come forward and admit they experienced a near miss. "We need to make our [workplace] culture one that accepts the fallibility of all people," La Duke said.

3. Difficulty – La Duke pointed out that if an organization makes near misses difficult to report, with confusing paperwork or a convoluted process, workers won't do it. Instead, supervisors should simply listen to the worker’s account of the near miss and then complete any necessary paperwork on the worker's behalf. Difficulty is what prevented La Duke from reporting his own near misses – he ended up asking half a dozen people how to file a report, never got a straight answer and finally gave up.

4. Bureaucracy – Some organizations may ask workers who experienced near misses to attend committees or meetings to share their stories. While this approach can work in some companies, it also may be problematic. If workers suspect their near miss is going to trigger a bureaucratic machine of paperwork and meetings, they might rather avoid the whole thing. "People have natural predisposition toward expediency," La Duke said. "Don’t bog [them] down with bureaucratic rules and garbage."

5. Peer pressure – "This is the big one," La Duke said. Take the "frequent flyer" woman from an earlier example: If her injury or near miss cost the workplace its perfect safety record, which means all employees lost out on a cash bonus or prize, how will she feel? Peer pressure from other coworkers can drive near misses underground.

6. Loss of reputation – Similarly, workers don’t want the reputation of being considered accident-prone or a crybaby. "Macho" industries – construction, logging, oil/gas, maritime, etc. – may encourage a culture where workers brag about their scars and never want to be seen as weak or unable to "take it." This can drive near miss reporting down, as well.

7. It’s easier not to – If workers suspect that no one at the organization actually cares about near-miss reporting, or think it will be too difficult or worry about being embarrassed, they may conclude that it’s simply easier not to report it. They might even think the near miss was not a big deal. “I guarantee the things that kill people at one point were ‘not that big a deal,’” La Duke said.

8. Lack of interest from the organization – When workers know the organization does not consider near misses important or take them seriously, they won’t, either. And if a company does not actually use the near-miss information in a meaningful way, workers will be less inclined to report the near miss.

9. Perceived as pointless – If a near miss was not particularly serious and likely would not have resulted in a significant injury, some organizations may consider the process pointless. Companies cannot have it both ways – claiming that near-miss reporting is important but then complaining when “small” incidents are reported. “We have a lot of work to do in near-miss reporting because we have to somehow overcome these very real issues,” said La Duke.

To encourage workers to report their near misses, La Duke suggests that companies frame near misses in a slightly different way: Position near-miss reporting as employee participation in making the workplace safe. If workers view the process as way to offer ideas and suggestions for safety, their attitudes may change.

Incentive programs, meanwhile, should reward not hours worked without injury but instead offer workers incentives for discussing how to create a safer workplace. Because if workers feel free to report hazards and near misses, the result, La Duke said, will be “a better, safer, more efficient and more productive workplace.”

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