A near miss is really a near hit

CarolinaFireJournal - Bill Tricarico
Bill Tricarico
05/06/2014 -

One of the most important segments of your organization’s risk management plan is the investigation of accidents and incidents, and yet they are only accomplished in a small number of cases.


A study recently analyzed nearly two million accidents nationally reported by about 300 companies. The results indicated something we’ve known for years. For every one serious accident, there were 10 times as many minor accidents; 30 times as many property damage accidents; and 600 times as many “near misses.” This means that for every one serious accident, there were 640 opportunities for similar outcomes. This information strengthens the case of the institution of a well-planned and documented accident investigation program, which could result in eliminating or reducing the chances of over 600 accident opportunities.

An example of how this “near miss” concept would play out in the fire service would be something like this. Your department is operating at the scene of a structure fire. As hose lines are advanced, one of the members suddenly has a problem with their SCBA. The line backs out; the person is replaced, and operations resume. That SCBA will probably be tagged, tested and sent out for service, most likely ending the incident. A formal investigation however could reveal several things.

  • SCBAs should be inspected/tested more frequently
  • There was a gap in the current inspection program
  • The member was not properly trained in the use of the SCBA
  • The company performing maintenance is not operating properly
  • A policy for stowing SCBAs after incidents is needed or not working as planned

Discovery of any of these items could well prevent a future tragedy, but without a formal investigation program it probably will not be noticed. Similarly, vehicle accidents and firefighter injuries, no matter how minor, should receive the same attention as a major incident. Sometimes the difference between a minor accident and a catastrophic one is only a matter of luck and no fire officer would like to depend on luck for the safety of their people.

Don’t allow a catastrophic accident to occur leaving you to think, “We could have avoided that.” Put an accident review program together now.

Bill Tricarico, is a Senior Risk Management Consultant for Emergency Services Insurance Program with over 25 years experience as a firefighter/EMT with the North Bellmore Fire Dept. holding many positions including chief and also served as Fire Commissioner for the City of Cortland, NY. Chief Tricarico has also spent nearly 40 years as a risk management consultant and is on the faculty of several fire service and EMS organizations.
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