One of the most frustrating parts of being a safety professional is that “near misses” or “near hits” or “close calls”, as some refer to them, are often neglected even when these events are often the best to investigate as no one was directly injured.
The significance of the near miss may be illustrated by a court case and penalty from South Australia on 28 July 2011. The media release states that Kyren P/L was fined over $A40,000 after a dogbox fell over 30 metres without anyone being injured. (The full court decision is available online)
“In August 2008 at a building site in Coglin St. Adelaide, an attempt to lift a fully-laden work box (known in the industry as a ‘dog box’) to the seventh floor ended catastrophically when the tower crane failed sending the dog box into a 30-metre freefall. It landed in the laneway separating the site from an adjoining business. A plastic bin beneath was crushed. Some hoarding was damaged, and there was minor structural damage to the guttering of a neighbouring building which housed a law firm.
The prosecution arose after the investigation determined that two employees of the law firm were at risk of harm because their duties required accessing rubbish bins in the laneway. However the defendant had failed to declare the laneway an exclusion zone during the lift. The court was told that while the risk of injury was low, the injuries nevertheless could have been severe.
….. Industrial Magistrate, Michael Ardlie said that a necessary precaution was not taken:
“…an exclusion zone over the laneway would have meant that any materials falling for whatever reason would not have exposed any person to risk.”
SafeWorkSA notes that a major concern in this case was that the crane went “outside the footprint of the building” under construction
“The cause of the equipment failure was found to be a design fault in which a gearbox component of the crane was subject to fatigue stress. This was not part of the case against the company.”
However, this near miss could easily have had catastrophic consequences should the fall have occurred while people were accessing the rubbish bins in the laneway, or sneaking out for a cigarette, or sitting on an upturned milk crate contemplating their career prospects. The reality 0f gravity is difficult to argue against when looking for mitigating factors and the attention given to the need for an exclusion zone is well justified.
A 2008 media release about the incident emphasised that falls from height in the construction industry are an established hazard with well-established controls.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been advised that the type of crane involved in this incident was a Liebherr crane, manufactured by the same company who had a mobile crane collapse on a Brisbane construction site. The CFMEU maintains a website that lists many of the crane-related incidents in Australian construction sites.
Near misses are rarely investigated to determine safety management shortcomings due to the fact that no one was injured or harmed in the incident. But that absence of harm is exactly why near misses are important opportunities to learn – there are plenty of witnesses for a start. The absence of victims also allows for an analysis without the understandable emotional trauma. The frustration mentioned at the start of this article is a regret that these opportunities are ignored. Investigating an incident that did not generate lost time is given a low priority or limited investigation resources by many companies, including some corporations espousing high commitments to workplace safety. Sometimes near misses are purposely recategorised to “report only” incidents as “they are not worth bothering about”.
Near misses should never be missed opportunities to improve safety.