Some folk at work did something stupid the other day at a mine site. Wondering unaccompanied around the site, they espied a pool of orange water. On the lookout for signs of acid drainage, they rushed to the pool to get a sample. They failed to notice that the pool was at the bottom of a large, deep excavation subtended by steep slopes of uncompacted sand and above which was another pool of clear water.
We called them back before an earthquake could trigger failure, before they could disturb the slope, or before an onrush of sand and water could engulf them in a soupy grave.
Then the issue arose: was this and incident or near miss?
The BC Worker’s Compensation Act defines an incident as:
“incident” includes an accident or other occurrence which resulted in or had the potential for causing an injury or occupational disease;
The term “accident” is used to refer to incidents which resulted in bolidy harm or loss/damage of property (subject to reporting to WCB). There is no strict definition of a “near miss”.
In the US (OSHA), the following definitions are used:
ACCIDENT – The National Safety Council defines an accident as an undesired event that results in personal injury or property damage.
INCIDENT – An incident is an unplanned, undesired event that adversely affects completion of a task.
NEAR MISS – Near misses describe incidents where no property was damaged and no personal injury sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage and/or injury easily could have occurred.
We concluded that the OSHA terms are more precise, and this had been a near miss. But don’t do what they did:
- Walk around a mine site without a mine employee who is conversant with conditions.
- Enter an excavation of any size, shape, or form—unless a geotechnical engineer has opined on its safety.
- Seek pools of acid drainage at the expense of due caution and awareness of surroundings.
In a magnificent book that you can purchase from the SME or through the InfoMine e-Store called Mine Health and Safety Management edited by Michael Karmis is a superb chapter on the principles and implementation details of incident management in the health and safety field of mining. In a mere ten pages, Douglas Martin and H.L. Boling write of Mine Incident Reporting and Analysis.
They justify an incident analysis and management program in these words:
Established procedures for evaluating causes of incidents should be in place at all companies and organizations. Incident analysis should be followed the implementation of controls to prevent future similar occurrences. Comprehensive procedures should also include the analysis of near incidents. Potential causes can be controlled before an incident occurs. All incidents that result in fatalities or serious injuries to more than one person should have the analysis conducted under the direction of corporate safety and with legal advice.
To them an incident is an occurrence or event that interrupts normal procedure or precipitates a crisis. They note the following types of incidents that warrant analysis: near incident; property damage; illness; first aid injuries; medical treatment injuries; lost-time injuries; and fatalities.
They summarize the incident analysis process under these headings:
- Purpose: improve workplace safety; determine root-cause; uncover defects in safety management systems; and demonstrate commitment to continuous performance improvement.
- Team: establish a team that may include the front-line supervisor, the hourly employee, management, and the safety department.
- Information: collect pertinent information fro interviews and observations.
- Root-cause analysis: validate root causes via fact finding (not fault finding)
- Determine corrective/preventative actions; use all available resources and close the loop.
- Management responsibilities: direct participation; oversight; final approval; evaluation of analysis performance; and case studies.
- Evaluate incident reports for thoroughness, timeliness, specificity, remedy identification, and assignment of responsibility.
- Implement corrective and preventative actions: eliminate root-causes; eliminate underlying causes; eliminate the hazard; construct a barrier; institute new procedures; and train employees.