Looking for root causes? Near misses may hold the key

Finding out about a hazard that almost turned into an incident is always concerning. But near-misses can have a valuable silver lining.

According to workers’ compensation cost containment specialist Michael Stack, “Depending on what you do afterward, [a near miss] can be a huge opportunity to save money and headaches.” He says the process of getting to the root cause of a near miss or incident can help you avoid potentially costly and preventable claims.

While there are a variety of strategies for root-cause analysis, a few key principles will help ensure success regardless of your method.Root_causes.jpg

  • Don’t assign blame. Stack says this is the most important element of getting to the root of a problem. While it’s tempting to blame and punish, that doesn’t solve the issue and can have negative consequences. Most workplace incidents, he stresses, are the result of a variety of factors that are uncovered during a root-cause analysis.
  • Ask lots of questions. Asking why, says Stack, is the key to analyzing an incident or near miss. If an employee falls off a ladder, the first answer to “why” might be that the rungs broke. But subsequent “whys” might reveal that, though the employee did not exceed the weight limit of the rungs, he was carrying heavy equipment, which put him over the cap. And though the company had a hoist, it was being used elsewhere. 
  • Get all relevant information. Beyond the obvious details of the incident look at issues like the work environment, training, equipment maintenance, and human behavior, like rushing.

Analyzing information should lead to changes in policies and procedures, including training. If the inquiry reveals that the employee did not realize that the weight of the tools could exceed the capacity of the rungs, review your training to identify gaps. Other possible follow-up action could be adding or upgrading equipment, and communicating with employees about the hazards of behaviors like rushing.