Posted on: September 29, 2022

What is OSHA's Definition of a Near Miss?

near miss definition osha

We've all had a moment where we came uncomfortably close to disaster, escaping injury or death by the skin of our teeth.

For people with an office job, this typically occurs on the road. But this moment could happen on the job for people in the construction industry or other high-risk fields.

OSHA calls these moments a "near miss."

What is a Near Miss?

A near miss is something that you instinctively recognize at the moment. It usually comes with a surge of adrenaline and relief. We also know it as a "close call," a "narrow escape," or a "near accident."

In fact, "near accident" is probably the best general definition of "near miss."

But OSHA likes to be more precise and concrete in its definitions. After all, the organization has a precise definition of the word "incident" and a pathological avoidance of the word "accident."

Since a "near miss" is a type of incident, it's worth a refresher on the OSHA definition of that word first.

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What is an Incident?

In occupational safety parlance, an incident is a workplace safety or health event with unwanted consequences.

The consequences don't have to be serious for an event to qualify as an incident – it could be an injury that only requires simple first aid (and is, therefore, not reportable or recordable by OSHA's standards).

On the other hand, incidents can involve severe injury or death. When they are, many organizations will call the incident an accident. OSHA avoids that word because it's emotionally loaded and has various unwanted connotations.

As a result, for OSHA, an "incident" is a workplace event that results in:

  • Death
  • In-patient hospitalization
  • Amputation
  • Loss of an eye
  • Injuries and illnesses severe enough to cause:
    • Days away from work, restricted work, or transfer to another job (even temporarily)
    • Medical treatment beyond first aid
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Some other diagnoses of significant injury or illness by a licensed health care professional

What is OSHA's "Near Miss" Definition?

If a "near accident" is the best general-purpose definition, then the best way to understand it in OSHA terms is a "near incident," using their definition of the word.

In their own words, OSHA's near-miss definition is a potential hazard or incident in which no property was damaged, and no personal injury was sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred.

Why Does OSHA Care About the Meaning of a Near Miss?

No occupational safety and health professional wants to rely on luck.

The difference between a near miss and an accident is chance. A near miss points to an accident that's waiting to happen. Researchers have run the numbers. In an analysis of 1.7 million incident reports from over 300 companies, Frank Bird found that for every single serious injury, there are 600 near misses.

Ratios have varied by research study, but everything confirms that workplaces have many more opportunities to catch a problem through a near miss. By recognizing and analyzing such an incident, employers can take steps to prevent the situation from getting that close to disaster in the future.

Are OSHA Near Miss Investigations Required?

OSHA requires some safety and health incidents to be reported immediately (in the case of death, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye) and others to be recorded (in the case of less serious health and safety outcomes that fall under their definition of an incident).

For OSHA, these recordkeeping requirements are crucial for identifying employers with a high number of bad outcomes and tracking nationwide or industry-wide workplace safety patterns.

For employers, these requirements also serve another purpose after an incident. When employers fill out the required OSHA Form 301[MB1] , they need to provide detailed information about the qualifying safety or health event: the nature of the injury, how it happened, and what the employee was doing beforehand. This forces the employer to detail the sequence of events so they can identify hazards and take precautions in the future.

But employers don't need to wait until someone is hurt to identify a hazard. If a near miss happens, following a similar investigative process can help employers correct the hazards before injuries or illnesses occur. Near-miss recordkeeping can also help employers prioritize job hazard analyses.

OSHA doesn't require recordkeeping for a near miss, but they strongly encourage it because of the safety implications. Creating a clear and specific definition of "near miss" is OSHA's first step toward this goal.

Bottom Line

A near miss can be scary, but it's a blessing in disguise – it gives you the chance to prevent something worse. You can make the most of a close call by recording and learning the details. Check out OSHA's example near-miss incident report and register for our course on hazard recognition and assessment to learn more.