Unfortunately, near misses are all too often swept under the carpet.
This can be for a number of reasons, including the fear of adverse ramifications in reporting these incidents and the general lack of understanding regarding Chain of Responsibility (CoR) obligations.
What are near misses?
A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in an injury, illness or damage, but that had the potential to do so.
As the term suggests, near misses are incidents that nearly resulted in an injury or dangerous occurrence, but which do not amount to a CoR breach. The importance of identifying and reporting near misses stems from the HVNL.
Examples of near misses include not following the appropriate speed limit or incorrectly issuing a non-compliant container weight declaration (CWD).
Parties across the supply chain are naturally incentivised to write off near misses as ‘no harm, no foul’ situations, because these incidents have not discernibly affected their business or profit margins.
There can also be a concern that by informing relevant parties within the business of near misses, workers may face consequences, including being cautioned or even losing their job.
However, this way of thinking masks the obvious truth that a near miss is often a predictor for a similar – or more serious – incident occurring at a later stage.
Why it is important to report near misses
Research suggests that for every road-related fatality, there are approximately 50 hospitalisations, 500 road incidents and 5,000 near misses on our roads. These statistics do not even take into account potential mistakes made by other parties in the supply chain relating to loading, packing, etc.
Courts may consider a business’s response to prior CoR incidents (including near misses) when considering whether a business has taken ‘all reasonably practicable steps’ to avoid CoR breaches.
Therefore, it is crucial that parties are incentivised to report any near misses to their managers in order to comply with their CoR obligations.
Examples of near misses under the CoR
- A transport operator attends your premises and is inducted into site procedures, including load restraint. He signs an acknowledgment of his understanding of the requirements. He is then left to restrain his load himself. As he is leaving, an employee coming back from lunch notices that the load is not restrained properly. The driver is called back and the load restraint fixed.
- An operator who arranges for a freight container to be transported has prepared a CWD before the journey has commenced. However, it is not compliant as it lists an incorrect weight. The journey is subsequently completed and no adverse incidents arise from the non-compliant CWD.
In these examples, although the job was executed safely, the risk of an incident occurring was high. If incidents similar to these are identified and reported by the relevant workers, it will allow parties to develop a risk management system that involves:
- identifying hazards to ensure they are prevented in the future;
- assessing risks, and whether the task should be completed;
- controlling risks to ensure the safety of all relevant parties; and
- reviewing control measures to identify areas of improvement.
‘Reasonably practicable steps’ primary safety duty
Identifying and reporting near misses also assists in showing that a party has taken reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of its transport activities and meet its new primary duty.
Identifying and reporting near misses will show the regulator that:
- CoR is managed under the appropriate risk management framework;
- policies, procedures, systems and processes are in place under the appropriate risk management framework; and
- compliance is monitored with policy, procedures, task descriptions and corrective action plans.
5 tips for identifying and reporting near misses
When addressing near misses:
- Keep open lines of communication with workers to emphasise the importance of providing information about near misses.
- Provide a clear definition of a near miss and make it readily available to all employees and relevant parties in the supply chain.
- Highlight that reporting a near miss will not result in disciplinary measures.
- Ensure that staff can provide information regarding near misses through various channels, e.g. photos, phone calls and debriefs.
- Always provide feedback on the information obtained through this identification and reporting process.
Can you demonstrate that you’ve taken ‘all reasonably practicable steps’ to prevent CoR breaches?
Learn more about your CoR obligations and how to avoid breaches is in the CoR Adviser.
Written by the transport lawyers at Holding Redlich, it contains the vital information you need to ensure your business is CoR compliant.