Brian Ricketts, LUBA Loss Control Manager, talks Workplace Near Misses with the New Orleans CityBusiness
Workplace ‘near misses’: A wake-up call for businesses
Imagine you employ a hardworking staff, some of which you’ve gotten to know very well. You’ve celebrated personal milestones with them, met their families and seen their children grow up.
Now imagine one of those employees is unloading your product onto a dock and slips off the back of the trailer. He sustains a back injury and cannot work. He has to undergo multiple treatments and therapies over the course of six months. It’s taken a toll on his mental health and has cost nearly $150,000.
Now imagine that same scenario, but in this case that employee catches himself just before he falls off the back of the trailer. No accident occurs. This is called a “workplace near miss.” It is an event that does not result in injury or death, but with a slight shift in events, easily could have. This serves as an invaluable wake-up call to employers serious about workplace safety.
The steps you take following a near miss can protect your business’s bottom line and, most importantly, your people. In many cases, employees encounter a near miss when shortcuts are being taken. This situation happens in every industry, at all levels of production, and is something every employer can identify with. A common example is when an employee uses an object, like a chair, instead of taking the time to get a stepping stool to reach something. The employee is aware of the risk associated with using an unsteady chair as a stool but does it anyway to save time. The chair wobbles and the employee slips off, but catches himself before falling. He quickly discounts this as a “close call” and moves on without giving it a second thought. However, reporting and recording this near miss can have a significant impact on accident prevention.
Moving forward, a step stool could be placed in all areas where items may be hard to reach, or storage areas could be reorganized so items are not stacked too high. Focusing on what caused the near miss and the potential loss it presented can enable employers to completely avoid accidents that could easily go from minor to major.
It’s important to stay vigilant about workplace safety as complacency welcomes accidents. We’ve seen cases where a series of near misses that were red flags went unrecorded and ultimately an accident occurred.
To illustrate some examples of common near misses, LUBA Workers’ Comp compiled the following list of scenarios. In each of these cases, simple and inexpensive measures can be put in place to eliminate the risk.
- Offices: Barging through a “blind door”
Offices with stairwells often have doors without windows. It’s common to go through the doors quickly and swing them open without knowing if there is an individual on the other side. This sounds minor until someone is struck in the head with a door. A possible remedy would be installing a small window.
- Hospitals: Finding a used syringe in an unlikely place
If a hospital worker uses a syringe on a patient and does not immediately discard it in the designated receptacle, there’s a good chance it will accidently be left in an unlikely place and a coworker behind them, who is not on the lookout for it, will get stuck. A preventative measure to avoid this is the use of syringes with retractable needles. Many health care businesses have transitioned to using only retractable needles and have completely eliminated accidents involving sticks.
- Restaurants: Missing a step while carrying food
A waitress is stepping down from one level to another while holding a platter full of food and misses a step. Serious falls, along with slips and trips, make up the majority of accidents seen in the restaurant industry. An easy way to avoid this would be installing a non-slip ramp over the steps to avoid the need to go from one level to the next. Another fix could be rerouting the pathway that servers take from the kitchen to the dining room.
Near misses like these are opportunities for businesses to drastically improve safety without having to go through the losses and pain that come with an actual accident. To take advantage of these “wake-up calls,” a business should implement a system where near misses are reported and recorded. Some best practices include an anonymous system that removes concern about negative repercussions and stressing that a near miss recording system is just another way to lookout for your coworkers. This encourages collaboration with employees (who know the ins and outs of a workplace best) on safety solutions. Consider it an opportunity to solve a problem that could save a life.
LUBA policyholder Louisiana Sugar Refining has over 300 employees and refines and ships sugar across the country. A critical value they uphold is the assurance that all employees and contractors return home as healthy and safe as when they arrived for their shifts. To uphold this value, they have a best practices safety committee that implements programs, like near miss reporting.
“A small and meaningful step companies can take to be proactive about safety is to start recording near misses,” said Keith Picou, Louisiana Sugar Refining’s safety supervisor. He found that the individuals that encounter a near miss are not used to doing high-level reporting, so he advises to keep it simple.
They ask them for:
– the location it happened
– the parties involved
– a short description of what happened
– a potential solution
From there, they can either send it directly to their supervisor or email it to the general incident notification email that goes to the entire safety team. He adds that the key to it being successful is quickly investigating the incident and making change. “When our team sees us taking their recommendations seriously, their morale is boosted and they are more encouraged to report near misses in the future.”
At the end of the day, setting an employee up for success to complete tasks and get home safely is a top priority for every employer. It’s important to recognize that risky habits can lead to injuries that could last a lifetime. While businesses are not required to report near misses to their insurance provider, integrating near miss reporting into an organization’s process can have lasting positive results.
Brian Ricketts is loss control manager for LUBA Workers’ Comp, a regional workers’ compensation carrier insuring businesses in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
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