By:  Aaron Wissen, CHST

Well, that was close!  You were lucky! 

Statements like these are not something you want to hear around a construction site.  Still, at some point in time, all of us have probably heard something to this effect.  And it’s in these moments that employees/organizations have an opportunity to make a significant impact on their safety culture. 

Some of these organizations will look at these situations with a comedic eye.  They will laugh about how close the incident was to happening, and they will joke about what could have happened.  It will never get reported and unfortunately, will probably reoccur.  I am referring to the infamous non-reported near-miss. 

However, there are others who will look at these situations as learning opportunities.  They will take a moment to reflect on what happened, what could have happened, who would have been involved/affected, what could have been done differently and most importantly…what could be done to prevent it from reoccurring?  No person, let alone an organization, is perfect.  There will be unplanned or legitimate accidents that occur, but preventing reoccurrences has to be the driving force of all safety cultures and programs. 

Most people have heard of Heinrich’s Law or Triangle Theory that states for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.  This is a great starting point for trying to predict potential injuries, but if a company waits until an injury occurs to make a change, based off of Heinrich’s Law, they have missed 271 opportunities to build a better culture within their organization.  That’s 271 situations that someone just said, “well that was close or you were lucky”.   Sadly, not enough organizations are tracking their near misses, yet. 

Let’s expand on Heinrich’s Law a little further.  For every 300 near-misses that occur, there are 3,000 unsafe acts.  By tracking and trending these unsafe acts or conditions, we now have a leading indicator established that can be utilized proactively.  With regular and frequent jobsite inspections, a database can be developed to track trends and provide an opportunity to both predict and prevent future occurrences of these acts.  An organization can then best prioritize where resources and actions should be focused, looking at the highest severity findings and combination the frequency of occurrences. Implementing a new tool or material, eliminating a hazard, providing some form of training, or a combination of all three should be the next step.   

Each organization that is successful  knows that there is no place for luck on a jobsite.  Safety is not an accident.  It can be intentionally and purposefully achieved through proactive and reflective approaches. An organization’s safety culture will only improve if the most valuable resource, the employees, are protected and invested in.