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Beyond the Friday Funnies 

Near-Misses (More Accurately, “Near-Hits”)



Posted July 12, 2013

For years here at the Naval Safety Center, we’ve kicked around the apparently unavoidable fixation on Class A mishaps. Smoking holes and fatal wrecks grab the headlines in the local papers and the focus at our staff meetings. These mishaps trigger immediate revisions of our how-goes-it charts, updates to the stats on our web site, and changes in the stream of reports that our stats guys produce.

Class A mishaps are investigated, analyzed and used as the basis for lessons learned (the hard way) and formal recommendations for how to close a future barn door before a future horse vanishes over the far horizon. Near-misses? Not so gripping.

With all due respect to hazard reports and Approach articles (for reference, there are some greats ones about near-misses at, close calls aren’t even in the same ballpark.

For most of us on a daily basis, especially in our non-professional life, they trigger a hearty “Whew, that was close!” and a brief wait for the heart rate and adrenalin to decrease to normal levels. In my case, back in high school, did I and my buddies learn not to head to the beach (4 hours away) at 2 a.m., using the eeny-meeny-miny-moe method of selecting a driver, with everyone else promptly falling asleep, only to be awoken by the car going off the highway onto the gravel shoulder? I remember that the passengers got scared and pissed off. We yelled at the driver who had nodded off. Then we went to back sleep or switched drivers. The important thing was to get to the waves in time for sunrise.

I remember that this gravel alarm clock functioned more than once, and we never wrecked. Did we learn anything? Sometime later in life, when I finally matured, I learned that my risk-management skills back then were about nil.

For near-misses on duty, in situations that are potentially embarrassing and that might have career consequences regarding your superior’s perception of your headwork, sometimes a near-miss triggers (in addition to the aforementioned spike in pulse and adrenalin levels) a quick question: “Did anybody see us?” If the answer is a relieved, “No!”, any potential lessons learned stay very private, indeed.

I’m not sure that there is any real difference between a Class A and a near-miss, other than a few feet and a few seconds. The cause factors and lessons learned don’t differ in meaningful ways. A near-miss is a win-win. You don’t have to fill out a mishap report (or be in a mishap report, or in a coffin for that matter). Plus you’re around to tell others about your experience, helping to keep them from learning the hard way.

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