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Recently I was involved in a rather serious two-car automobile accident. His car was a write-off, and my car was very close to being a write-off. There was also collateral damage – a street light and a residential brick wall were damaged.

The good news is that there were no injuries. At all. The paramedics released the driver of the other car and me without sending either of us to hospital. No neck braces, no bandages, nothing. Based on my limited understanding of the definitions of injuries, I think this would be considered to be a “near miss”. This is because there was no injury and no time was lost from work. I was fit for work, and he was also fit for work. I cannot comment on the other driver, but, unfortunately for me, insurance duties prevented me from doing productive work. So when I say no time was lost from work, I mean I could have spent the day doing actual work … if I had someone else to do the insurance work that was required. Forgive me, I am starting to babble … car accidents can do that.

However, it did get me thinking about the concept of near misses and process safety. Why does the concept of a near miss only apply to occupational health and safety? And what actually constitutes a near miss? Let’s consider some examples.

Recently I was participating in HAZOP. We found a scenario where the pressure relief valve was undersized. We made a recommendation to rectify the situation. Should this be classified as “near miss”? Or are we satisfied with the current “classification” of people doing their job adequately.

Here is another example. I was checking a calculation about sizing a relief device. One relief scenario was not calculated correctly, and it became the governing scenario. In fact, it caused a change in the relief valve size, the size of the inlet piping, and the size of the flare piping lateral. Again, was this a “near miss”, or was this merely the process of checking a calculation.

I am impressed at the way many organisations managed near misses (or in the terminology of some of the organisations, “near hits”) for managing Occupational Health and Safety. They have used these near miss statistics to systematically reduce occupational risk. But occupational incidents are less severe and more frequent than process safety incidents. Would it be possible for the inclusion of near miss into a process safety statistics to be used constructively to further enhance process safety?

I think organisations that do a good job of managing occupational health and safety could use this concept in some way to improve process safety. For example, these organisations have a culture where a documented near miss is not cause from punishment but a reason to investigate (and manage) the root cause of the problem. The same should be able to be applied to process safety.

It is obviously beyond the scope of this newsletter to develop criteria for improving process safety based on the statistical anomalies of calculations, HAZOP findings, risk assessment and other methods of evaluating process safety. Instead it is the intention of this newsletter to try to highlight potential shortcomings. If you have any suggestions or examples of how your organisation is measuring near misses of past process safety incidents we would love to hear from you.