Accident Preparedness: Treating Near Misses Similarly to Actually Accidents

This episode on accident preparedness is about creating a process to report incidents in the workplace, both accidents and near misses, and changing the discussion to be more positive and proactive. These are the topics that Colin Rooke and Paul Martin dive into in today’s episode of Risky Business.

accident preparedness

Listen to the full episode here, or read the full transcript below

Paul Martin: Welcome to Risky Business, commercial insurance with Butler Byers. This is Paul Martin, a business commentator on CKOM. Joining me is Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers Insurance.

Paul Martin: Colin, we’re going to talk about something, really, a little bit different today. We’re not really going to talk about insurance. We’re going to talk about prevention, and prevention in a different kind of a way. You use the term near miss, and so we’re going to get into that, but I have been hearing that terminology used by organizations such as Safe Sask and that Mission: Zero program where they’re looking to avoid all accidents and mishaps. They say they’re not really accidents, I mean it’s just poor planning, and that we can avoid everything. I think that’s really where you want to drive this conversation today towards is the notion or near miss. In your world, what is a near miss, and why should we care about it?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, so a near miss, to us, is really any unplanned event in the workplace that did not result in injury or illness or property damage. We do spend a lot of time talking about proactive risk management, and this would be that at its best. If we truly want to get ahead of any serious or even minor incidents, if we’re talking about what almost happened, as an organization, then, essentially, you can eliminate most of the probability of serious incidents.

Colin Rooke: I think, often, you’ll talk about or a company will have a major accident. Someone’s hurt or equipment is damaged or, again, even something like illness. Most will then say, “Okay. We’re going to take a step back and say, ‘What happened?’ and we’re going to take steps to ensure it doesn’t reoccur,” but by the time that accident happens, there’s already damages. There’s already injury. There’s already downtime. There’s already a cost. If we can say, “Okay. Well, we’re going to treat near misses very, very similar to an actual incident, we can really learn a ton about our organization and really have a strong story about accident preparedness.”

We’re going to treat near misses very, very similar to an actual incident, we can really learn a ton about our organization and really have a strong story about accident preparedness.

Paul Martin: Isn’t that interesting? When you use terms like near miss, I think about the airline business. You hear about safety boards and that sort of stuff talking about aircraft that come within a couple of miles of each other. They call that a near miss, but they track it, and there’s a reason for that, I guess. That’s the point you’re trying to make here.

Colin Rooke: Yeah. They’re tracking that, and they say, “Okay, what almost happened, and how do we make sure that never happens?” Just to put some numbers to it, for every 300 near-misses, you’ll get one incident. It’s the one that gets talked about, and it’s the 300 that doesn’t, but every time there’s an accident, if you speak with those involved when you’re doing an incident report, for example, to get to the bottom of what happened, you’ll always get those people that said, “Well, that was a accident waiting to happen,” or, “I could have told you that was going to happen.” That just shows, again, how often, again, the almost accidents don’t get documented, but if they were, if you had a culture of reporting near misses, you can really get a leg up on safety.

Paul Martin: You just used a couple of terms that I want to explore a little bit. One was culture. That’s the corporate culture, the organizational culture. The other one was incident report, so let’s start with incident reports. How common is it, in your experience, that organizations actually have a policy where they will prepare an incident report?

Colin Rooke: I would say it’s quite common, as organizations get larger, to … they’ll have a safety committee. They might have a safety manager or loss control. I think it’s certainly more commonplace to have incident reporting, again, so if … when something does occur. What we don’t run into, I’d say, as often as we should is, again, how prepped are you, or tell me what the process of tracking the almost accidents, the near misses, and are you investigating those in the same fashion as an actual incident? I think we talk about the, I guess, the industry. I mean that’s where the room for improvement is is changing the way the companies think to promoting talking about what almost occurred.

Paul Martin: I’m guessing, in this, you’re suggesting people need to make that a written report not just have a sort of a staff meeting around the boardroom table and say, “Whoops, we shouldn’t have done that”?

Colin Rooke: Yeah, exactly. As part of our step-by-step system, we’re certainly going to identify what a near miss is, but then, of course, we will arm you as well with, “Well, here’s the tool you can use to document all this and share it.”

Colin Rooke: You made a really good point too about culture. When you’re talking about safety and you’re talking about near misses, it really changes the culture to a shift, again, of putting safety first. You got to be really careful because you are walking a thin line. When you talk to the staff … let’s, for example, say it’s a manufacturing facility, and we’re talking to the people on the floor. In a lot of cases, near misses are looked at as negative, and so people don’t want to talk about what almost happened, especially if something’s almost happening fairly often.

Colin Rooke: You really got to watch the language, and you really have to make sure that this isn’t looked at as negative, that we’re doing this to be proactive. You want to celebrate discussing the near-misses because, of course, we’re trying to avoid downtime. We’re trying to avoid injury but, again, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on just the stigma around talking about what almost happened because people, employees don’t want to look bad or feel that, again, if they almost had an accident, that they might be penalized in some way.

Paul Martin: It’s interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time on the safety file, if I can say that. I’ve been the anchor of a television series on it. I’ve emceed the leadership charter signings across both in Regina and Saskatoon over multiple years. The terminology you’re using just coincides so much with the conversation and the kind of language that surrounds things such as that Mission: Zero program that we’ve heard about. One of the things I’m fascinated by in this conversation is that safety in the workplace has been talked about because it’s just the right thing to do. You’re actually monetizing it a little bit. You’re saying there is a fiscal or a financial or an economic consequence of paying attention to this thing.

Colin Rooke: Yeah. You made a really good point. We like to quantify, “Okay, if you put in the work, this is what it’ll look like for the organization.” If you think about focusing on near misses, this is something that did not happen that could have. As far as prevention, this is a really low-cost prevention tool because nothing happened. You’re not required to report anything. There’s no damages. There’s no injuries. You think about, okay, the cost to an organization when there is an incident versus the no cost of talking about what could happen or what just about happened, I mean it’s significant.

Colin Rooke: Then, further to that, when we’re working with a company that’s working on risk, that’s all part of the story we’re sharing to the insurance market. Again, it’s one thing to say, “They’ve had this occur in the past. Here’s what they’ve learned from it, and here’s what they’ve changed,” which the insurance markets certainly like to hear, but how about, “They’re having continuous conversations about what could have happened that never did, and they’re really focusing on that”? That really enhances the story that we are able to tell when … again because, at the end of the day, we are selling proactive risk management, proactive risk management back to the insurance market, if you want to look at it that way.

Paul Martin: All right. Colin, we’ve got to take a little break. We’re going to come back, and I want to dig into this just a little bit further in terms of providing some guidance to that business owner or business manager on the actual steps they can take to kind of turn this from theory into reality. We’re going to take a little break. We’ll be back after this. You’re listening to Risky Business, commercial insurance with Butler Byers.

Paul Martin: Welcome back to Risky Business, commercial insurance with Butler Byers. Joining me in the studio today is Colin Rooke, commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers. Just before the break, Colin, we were talking about sort of the monetary implications or benefits, I guess, rather than implications, the benefits of being able to track things that didn’t happen, which is … kind of sounds like a contradiction to somebody in the insurance business, I’m sure.

Colin Rooke: Yeah. The traditional would say, “Okay, give me a call when this occurs, and we will help you through it. We will find coverage, if available, and we will help you rebuild.” Maybe we’re connecting our clients with the proper disaster remediation services. In this case, again, we’re focusing on what did not cause a loss, and what are the steps involved in creating a near miss policy in the workplace? The most important, obviously, is identification.

Colin Rooke: When we talk about, again, near miss reporting, it’s not solely unsafe work conditions where there’s a machine that does something wonky or it’s not quite working right, but you just got to know that, when it makes this sound, back up. Well, what about things like unsafe behavior? That’s where, again, where employees are a little … they’re a little hesitant to talk about these things because reporting unsafe behavior, quite frankly, is more or less seen as, I guess, tattling on a coworker, but it’s so important to document what’s going on on the floor if we’re going to prevent accidents from happening.

Colin Rooke: Then, I guess further to that, we get into things like safety barriers. If you have safety measures in place, is there anything that occurs during the day that really challenges that behavior or even bypasses a machine or a guard? I mean it’s really, when we’re talking about identifying, you really have to think, “Okay. Well, what are all the things that we are faced with that could cause an incident,and not just physical alone?” Again, it could be unsafe behaviors.

Paul Martin: The notion of … Excuse me. I’m sure the notion of documenting all of this, particularly for small businesses, is somewhat daunting, and they probably demonstrate some resistance to this, but yet there really is a benefit in doing it because it enables you, doesn’t it, to go to the insurer and say, “Look, here’s the file. Here’s the backup information that says this is a confident organization, and you should treat them fairly or more favorably”?

Colin Rooke: Yeah. Again, if we’re talking about behaviors, for example, and maybe it’s an employment practices issue, we’re saying, “Okay, this was noticed. It was documented. It was repeated, and it was addressed.”

Colin Rooke: Really, just to take a step back about the daunting reporting, if you are an employee that’s asked to document what almost happened, I mean if you really think about it, this is your own safety we’re talking about. If you are working near a machine that maybe isn’t as safe as it could be, and your employer says, “Well, we really want to get ahead of this and get ahead of injury,” I mean, yeah, it might take some time to document, but once you’ve done it the first time, if you’re still working on the machine and you’re looking for sort of a pattern, you’re really just sort of re emphasizing that, “Look, this needs to be addressed. This needs to be addressed.”

Colin Rooke: At the end of the day, it’s your own safety because those asked to fill out the report are going to be those that were part of the near miss, and so if we’re all working together, we are improving safety for those people. Yeah, as daunting as it may be, it really is to the organization and the employee’s benefit.

Paul Martin: Colin, any time you’re talking about workplace safety and injuries in the workplace, or someone gets hurt, or something gets damaged, you’re immediately into the purview or the realm of the workers’ compensation board. I’m assuming that this also factors into not just the insurance premiums or insurance policies that you help your clients get, but it also impacts experience ratings and costs of WCB.

Colin Rooke: Yeah, absolutely. I mean if you’re doing your due diligence and you’re really working towards the safest workplace possible, and again, if there is an incident, and there is an injury, and you can show that accidents do happen, but if you look at the way the … if you look at our culture and if you look at all the near miss reporting we’ve done, and the documentation, and the fact that, when we’ve seen a near miss, they are reported, they are prioritized, and there’s an investigation, and then, from there, action was taken, and we reviewed it, you’re going to look a lot more favorable to workers’ comp as well because, again, it just shows, and we talk about this on the property casualty side, that it is just an accident. It’s just bad luck as opposed to faulty operations.

Paul Martin: Colin, we’re talking about a kind of a wide range of things here. I mean once you start invoking words like workplace safety, you’re talking about, well, it’s the right thing to do, obviously, so there is that level of it, but you’re also saying that there’s financial reward for the employer who does this properly, does this aggressively, takes it seriously. If you avoid claims, you save money. If you avoid claims, you’ll probably get a better rating from workers’ comp and, likely, your whole category will be more favorably treated and, certainly, you won’t be paying a premium. This is more than just the right thing to do. This is actually good business management.

Colin Rooke: Yeah, absolutely, and you’re right. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely. If you say, “Okay. Well, our employees are valuable, and we want to be a responsible organization and have a safety culture,” I mean this is the right thing to do, but as we always say, putting the time in, putting the work in, I mean, can it turn into insurance premium savings? Absolutely. Can it decrease your cost of workers compensation premiums? Absolutely. It could also help avoid any penalty situation, absolutely.

Colin Rooke: Then, further to all of that, there is a hard … there are always going to be hard costs to any organization that has an incident. I mean, for example, especially if it’s something major, there’s going to be downtime. There’s a cost to investigate, rebuild. Putting in the time ahead of time, ahead of these incidents, it’s just going to keep things running smoothly.

Colin Rooke: When we talk with our clients, when we talk about the value an hour or the value of a working day or a week, and we always talk about, okay, well what’s the potential cost to you and your company? If we can say, okay, well, if we put, I don’t know, an hour a week … and that’s, quite frankly, that’s assuming there are near misses every week. If we’re putting some time in, and that’s only an hour, as an example, and yet we’ve identified that one hour of employee time to work on near miss reporting versus it could be in excess of $100,000 if we were down for a day in lost revenues, for an example, I mean it is worth it. The company is going to save money on multiple fronts.

Paul Martin: Colin, as always, the time has just slipped by here. I wanted to dig in a little bit deeper into the actual step-by-step process that you would take somebody through, but I’m going to invite our listeners, any business owners or managers who want to talk to you more about this just to reach out to you at Butler Byers, and you’ll be more than willing to have that conversation with them.

Paul Martin: You’ve been listening to Colin Rooke, the commercial risk reduction specialist with Butler Byers Commercial Insurance. I’m Paul Martin. This is Risky Business. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you next time.