If we accept the basic incident model that says hazards cause or contribute to incidents, and the outcomes of incidents are variously death/injury/illness/damage/cost, then all outcomes must be after-the-event indicators of something having gone wrong. In that context they are lagging indicators.

When an incident occurs but there is no measurable outcome, these tend to be labelled ‘near misses’. This is a curious term, as if something ‘nearly missed’, then that must mean it hit. Surely we should be talking about near hits! If two planes nearly collided – that is, they nearly hit – why do we call this a near miss, when in fact they did miss and it was a near hit.

Perhaps other terms can be used, such as ‘Could Have Beens’, ‘High Potential Incidents’, ‘Close Coronial Inquests’, ‘Almost Prosecutions’, ‘Free Lessons’, etc.

The real question is whether it is worthwhile recording details of these (lagging) near hits/misses, when ‘nothing happened’. Of course, more often than not, once an incident is allowed to occur (ie energy transfer takes place), the outcome is basically out of our control and LUCK plays a major role in determining the nature and severity of the outcome.

So I maintain the more attention we pay to noting the occurrence of these ‘could have beens’, the better we are able to prevent recurrences – that could lead to far more serious consequences.

The accompanying chart depicts real data collected over many years from one of our global clients. The red line shows injuries – the blue line shows recorded near hits/misses.

Obviously, we all want the injury/illness/damage rates to decrease. So many times, clients say to me – how do I reduce the accident rate? Give me something practical and useful – not just the theory!

In other words, they want the red line to go down. How to do that?

By making the blue line go up!

Pay more attention to the warning signs that “things aren’t quite right”. The near hits, close shaves, etc. What we call them doesn’t really matter. What is important is that we don’t ignore the opportunities just because we were “lucky”.