On a summer morning in 2006, in Brooklyn, N.Y., OSHA compliance officer Bob Stewart requested that six construction employees be removed from a deep excavation because of a hazardous 10-ton concrete abutment hanging above it. Fifteen minutes later, the overhang collapsed and fell, landing in the exact spot that the employees had been working. This was an unusually dramatic example of a workplace close call, made rarer still because an OSHA inspector happened to be on hand just moments before. But close calls, or “near misses,” are a part of everyday life.
You probably remind workers of the dangers that can lead to accidents and injuries and provide training on how to avoid them. When a mishap occurs, there’s an immediate response, followed by an investigation to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Failure to take these incidents seriously is begging for trouble. Use every close call as an opportunity for instructive and preventive action. Begin by making it clear that workers are expected to report near misses — not to place blame, but to figure out how to prevent an accident next time. Because the training opportunity will likely be greatest right after the incident, deliver a toolbox or tailgate talk as soon as possible on what happened, what could have happened, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Conduct a training session on close calls in general. The trainer or safety committee member should start by mentioning examples in your operations, followed by asking workers to add close calls from their own recollection. The session should then focus on causes and, finally, on corrective action. By recognizing the “almost-accidents” as warnings and encouraging safety awareness on everyone’s part, you’ll not only reduce the number of near misses but — far more important — the number of real accidents.