How can ISO 45001 Help Reduce Accidents in the Workplace?

accident in the office with a cable

Addressing health and safety should not be seen as a regulatory burden. There are a number of benefits too, including reduced costs, decreased risks, lower employee absence, fewer accidents, improved reputation, increased productivity – the list can go on and on.

One of the many benefits of ISO 45001:2015, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems is the potential to reduce workplace illness and injuries, and this is the area I will explore in this article.

Let’s first look at a few statistics published by the HSE for 2022/23:

  • 1.8 million working people suffering from a work-related injuries
  • 60,645 injuries to employees reported by employers under RIDDOR
  • 35.2 million working days lost due to work related illness and workplace injury
  • £20.7 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2021/22)

Surprisingly, a staggering 32% of all reported non-fatal workplace injuries in 2023 were slips, trips or falls on the same level. 

No ladders, stairs or other heights involved.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a system in place that cut out workplace injuries, or damage to equipment before they occurred?  That better still, helped to prevent serious accidents and even fatalities?

One way of achieving this is to have a near miss reporting culture.

What is a near miss?

Regardless of the industry or business, it is likely that you have encountered a near miss situation – an employee trips over an extension cord in a passage, they manage to regain their balance and do not sustain an injury.  This event is a ‘near miss’ and often goes unreported – at the end of the day no one was injured. 

Or employees need to access the top shelf in the stationery cupboard, but instead of using the ladder, they stand on the lower shelves of the cabinet to reach the top.  No one has been injured or fallen off the shelf, but this is classified as an unsafe act and could easily result in an injury.

And what will happen next time?

By reporting these types of near misses, and acting on them, we can create a safer workplace for everyone.

fingers putting the final tile into a grid of four white tiles making up a picture of an outstretched hand holding a yellow heart saying saftety first

Why near misses aren’t reported

It may seem obvious that bringing attention to a near miss could save someone from sustaining an injury in the future. Yet near misses are almost never talked about, let alone reported.  Perhaps employees are simply not aware that they should be reporting such an incident. It probably doesn’t even occur to them that it’s worth mentioning.

There are other factors why near misses are not reported, including:

  • The incident seems funny or embarrassing, rather than dangerous
  • Being afraid of a reprimand, or getting a colleague into trouble
  • The process of reporting is time consuming
  • Nothing ever happens after you report a near miss, so why bother?

It is important to create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting near misses. They need to know such an incident will be treated as a learning experience, highlighting a previously unrealised hazard, and without negative consequences for them and their colleagues.

How do near miss reporting systems prevent future accident?

Actions are often taken after an incident or an accident has occurred – they are reactive.

Encouraging your employees to report near misses lets you put corrective actions in place before anyone does get hurt. This much better pro-active approach reduces the chances of injury by dealing with a potential hazard early and is encouraged in ISO 45001.

As with all business processes, there is a good deal of research available.

Herbert W Heinrich was an occupational safety researcher who spent many years studying the incidents and causes of workplace accidents in the 1930s.

His ‘Heinrich Model’ is valid to this day, and states that for every 300 near misses, there are 29 minor injuries and one fatality. He believed that most workplace accidents could be foreseen, and therefore prevented.

This began with understanding the significance of a near miss, and what it might tell us.  

There are several benefits of having a near miss reporting culture in your workplace:

  • It enables you to pro-actively resolve hazards before someone is injured
  • It engages with the workforce with problem solving across all levels
  • It increases safety ownership
  • It highlights valuable information that might otherwise not have been discussed
  • It develops a positive attitude around safety
  • And reduces the chances of accidents occurring in the workplace

an employee incident report form and white pen

How to Develop a Culture of Near Miss Reporting

Below are my 5 steps on how to develop this very important culture:

Lead from the front

If management commits to safety, employees will follow.

A top-down safety culture encourages employee buy-in. On the flip side of the coin, they won’t engage if they don’t see their leaders meticulously following policies and procedures. So, make sure you’re walking the walk and not just talking the talk!

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Spread the word by making your safety policies and procedures readily available and/or holding weekly or monthly safety talks.

After all, it’s their safety you’re looking after. And remember, management shouldn’t just listen, but also take what you hear seriously.

Involve everyone

Safety isn’t confined to the health and safety department or the management team. It’s a collective effort that’s necessary for building a compelling safety culture.

The vision needs to be shared with everyone, and employees need channels for communicating the risks associated with their roles. After all, they know best what they’re up against.  This might include involvement in workshops, risk assessments or in-process developments. 

Encourage reporting

Accidents, near misses, unsafe acts and conditions can be reduced when they’re reported. Plus, it’s much easier to build and maintain a positive safety culture when employees feel comfortable about reporting safety issues. Even more so when they see a positive and proactive process in place.

So, make sure any issues raised by employees are investigated, and corrective and preventative measures are taken to reduce future risks. And then…

Celebrate success

Keep everyone motivated by recognising efforts. Show them your statistics of near misses, accidents and incidents, and how their efforts are creating a safer working environment. By promoting a collaborative effort, you can nurture a culture in which health and safety concerns, ideas and solutions are freely shared and problems are solved together.

Remember to say thank you!

At the end of the day, having an accurate and robust near miss reporting system in place helps ensure you workplace is better safe than sorry.

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