Safety professionals are continually looking for indicators that can forecast future safety performance, and "near-misses" can serve as one of those leading indicators. Of primary importance is the reporting of "near-misses", followed by investigation into the causes and into the effectiveness of devices and systems that had prevented a "near-miss" from escalating to a serious incident. Presented here are several types of "near-misses" that may be overlooked in the chemical industry, but that can provide insight into improvements that can be made in the design, operation, and maintenance of chemical facilities, with the objective of preventing injuries, minimizing property losses, and avoiding damage to the environment.
"Near-Misses" as Leading Indicators for Process Safety
As safety professionals, we are continually looking for indicators that can guide us in evaluating safety performance and in allocating limited resources in directions that can have the greatest benefit.
The so-called "lagging" indicators are derived from past performance, typically in terms of injury frequency, property losses per year, and the frequency of "insults" to the environment or to the surrounding population. Lagging indicators are easy to compile, because the data may be required by Federal or local regulations, or may be readily available in some other form, such as news reports.
Somewhat in contrast, "leading indicators" are more difficult to derive, and the data for their derivation may not be readily available. The simplest leading indicators are trends in the lagging indicators. An example would be a downward trend in injury frequency that may forecast a continuing decrease in the number and frequency of injuries. Contrarily, an upward trend in injury frequency should be a cause for alarm, and indicating a need for greater effort in compliance with safety rules and procedures, better management of employee actions, and, possibly, increase in staffing. Display of trends in lagging indicators can assist corporate and site managers in determining the effectiveness of safety policies and programs, and also in determining the effectiveness of managers and supervisors in ensuring compliance with those policies and programs.