Incidents occur every day in many workplaces that could result in a serious injury or damage, but a near-miss programme could help prevent future incidents. In order to do this in the superyacht world, the industry must overcome crew fears of being blamed. While the reporting of incidents is much more widespread, just as important is that captains and management companies make the process of reporting a near miss as easy as possible.

Highlighting the importance of a near-miss programme on board, the National Safety Council (NSC) has produced a document explaining the benefits. “A ‘near miss’ is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage – but had the potential to do so,” the document reads. “Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented an injury, fatality or damage; in other words, a miss that was nonetheless very near.”

A faulty process or management system invariably is the root cause for the increased risk that leads to the near miss and should be the focus of improvement. Other familiar terms for these events are a ‘close call,’ a ‘narrow escape,’ or in the case of moving objects, ‘near collision’.

But how do near miss reporting systems prevent future incidents? “Many safety activities are reactive and not proactive, and some organisations wait for losses to occur before taking steps to prevent a recurrence,” the NSC document continues. “Near-miss incidents often precede loss producing events but may be overlooked as there was no harm. An organisation may not have a reporting culture where employees are encouraged to report these close calls. Thus, many opportunities to prevent the incidents are lost.”

History has shown repeatedly that most loss producing events, or incidents, both serious and catastrophic, were preceded by warnings or near miss incidents. Recognising and reporting near miss incidents can significantly enhance a vessel’s safety culture.

The NSC has outlined some of the best practices in establishing a near-miss reporting system whereby it is advised that leadership must establish a reporting culture reinforcing that every opportunity to identify and control hazards, reduce risk and prevent harmful incidents must be acted on.

Furthermore, the reporting system needs to be non-punitive and, if desired by the person reporting, anonymous. Near misses must be investigated to identify the root cause and any weaknesses that resulted in the circumstances that led to the near miss, and the results should be used to improve systems and processes on board.

All of this represents an opportunity for crew training, feedback on performance and a commitment to continuous improvement. As a result, near miss reporting is vitally important to preventing serious incidents that are less frequent but far more harmful than other incidents. It will also create an open culture whereby everyone shares and contributes in a responsible manner to their own safety and that of their fellow crew.

Read the NSA’s instructions on how employers can encourage crew to participate in near miss reporting here.