Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Research: The sociology of near misses

Photo: Tomas Castelazo
A near miss is an event that almost happened, such as a worker narrowly avoiding an injury. Documenting near misses (especially the mundane, every-day kind of near miss) is tricky because they don’t tend to incidentally give rise to administrative records (e.g., hospital admissions, workers’ compensation claims) that are used to track actual incidents.

Garry Gray (who has written some really good articles in the past), has just published “The Sociology of Near Misses: A Methodological Framework for Studying Events That ‘Almost happened’.” This article uses two near-miss data sets to examine how different methodologies capture different types of near-miss data. (The article is available in its entirely for free at the link above).

The value of studying near misses is that they suggest an underlying hazard. But, because the near misses are so common, we often just ignore them and thus the underlying hazard goes unremediated. Near misses can also be more subjective in terms of identifying them and workers may withhold information about them for fear of discipline.

Comparing the kinds of near misses recorded during an ethnographic study and a survey of the same factory in Ontario, reveals some interesting differences in the kinds of near misses that were captured. Surveys (which rely upon memory recall) tends to identify dramatic incidents (e.g., nearly being struck by flying objects or moving vehicles) while the ethnography surfaced routine forms of near misses (e.g., nearly having a trip, slip, or fall) as well as dramatic incidents.

There was also an interesting gender-effect noted in the ethnography: near misses involving young females were more likely to result in remedial action on the hazards than were near misses affecting other workers. New workers were also more likely to experience near misses, which is consistent with injury data.

Overall, this article suggests that near-miss research has an important role to play in identifying the hazards in a workplace and the dynamics that lead to injury. It also provides some useful information about how different methodologies can shape the results of such research.

-- Bob Barnetson

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