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Create Your Own Alternate Reality

The 1998 movie "Sliding Doors" looks at 2 parallel realities. In one reality the Helen (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) just misses her train (the doors slide closed...get it? Sliding Doors) and in the next reality she just barely catches her train. The movie looks at the differences and similarities Helen's reality resulting from the sliding doors. It's a "what if?" type of thought experiment.

We can conduct our own alternate reality thought experiments by investigating near misses. A near miss (or near hit) is a gift wrapped tool you can use to analyze your safety program, your procedures, your resources, and really just about anything else you can think of.

What If?

A near miss presents a risk-free opportunity to ask "what if?" questions, and these questions can look into the future...

If this was an actual lost-time incident how would it affect production?

and the questions can go into the past...

Would the potential for an incident be lowered if we changed things at the very beginning of this process?

Of course, it's always imperative to get to the root cause, regardless of whether you're investigating a near miss or a serious incident, but with a near miss you have the luxury of being able to examine the situation under slightly less stressful conditions.

Believe it or not, there are academic journals on occupational health and safety. If you look, you'll find all sorts of articles and research on lagging and leading safety indicators. There is research that links an increase in near miss investigations (leading) to fewer lost-time and property damage incidents (lagging). Most safety statistics come from lagging indicators which means that you don't really have a statistic until something bad happens. Tracking statistics like medical aids is still a great tool for strengthening your safety program, but unfortunately it requires someone getting hurt. A leading indicator is something you can look at before an incident. Leading indicators can include behaviour observations, inspections, audits, and yes...near miss investigations! Like we said, near miss investigations are a great way of strengthening your safety program.

Find the root cause, for any incident, otherwise you're wasting your time and this includes near misses. With a near miss, you not only get to find the root cause, but you can also ask what if questions at every step and look at what could have happened. The goal is not just to prevent the near miss from happening, but rather to improve your processes so near misses never happen, and more importantly, that more serious incidents don't happen.

What are we really saying here?

Treat your near misses like gold. Train your employees to report them all. Take the time to investigate them and use those findings to truly strengthen your safety program. I know it's hard when you are a small business, because you have a million fires to put out, but investigating a near miss sure beats waiting until you've got an injured worker, a WCB claim, and an OHS officer knocking on your door to do it.

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