Over half a century ago. Mick Jagger uttered the famous mantra ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ in the eponymous song. It seems to me the lyric encapsulates a key drive of human behaviour, where ever the end goal is on the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. If the purpose of life is simply more life, then perhaps the goal of life should be individual satisfaction. For most of the key tenets of our lives, we know and target the scenarios which lead to consumption gratification.

And mostly that works fine. We buy and consume food and drink, we engage with other people for social and sexual benefit, we sleep when we are tired. All of which is likely to make us feel good if they are achieved. It seems our evolution has created rewards, often in the form of the hormones dopamine and oxytocin, which are released to encourage us to abandon the status quo and engage with the barriers between us and these tenets. Often the more significant the tenet and the higher the barrier, the greater the associated reward: for example, you may risk competition and rejection in pursuit of a mate.

However, in the arena of industrial hazards, this relationship becomes very tenuous. In terms of risk reduction, it benefits the group if near misses are reported and acted upon. Statistically, there are many times more near misses than the accidents they may have become. And as the antecedents of both are often the same - for example, the cause of a dropped load leading to an injury or a ‘lucky escape’ - the learning will reduce the likelihood of the same or similar cause reoccurring. So, it would seem to make sense to encourage the reporting of near misses.

However, this is not always the case. Currently, many operating companies set milestones for lost time incidents. As the milestone is approached, who wants to be the one to report a minor injury which would scupper the celebrations? Also, many companies have incentive schemes which are aligned to productivity, which is superficially negatively correlated with downtime. Furthermore, in companies with a strong safety culture, where near miss reporting is encouraged and the corresponding reduction in incidents means that nothing untoward happens for increasing lengths of time - which is a good thing, but not a satisfying thing.

So what to do? How can we make the promulgation of less incidents be satisfying to the front line worker? One idea I have is take an idea that Hollywood has hijacked and re-imagine it. I don’t think I’m alone is watching action movies where heroes prevent bad things happening. Tom, Arnie et al battling to prevent the explosion, toxic cloud, wild beast from doing their worst. We are experiencing the vicarious echo of the actual experience. Risk and Reward. Why not apply the same principle to rewarding front line workers when they report a near miss which could have led to an injury or fatality.

An example I heard recently from an operating company was a propane leak in the vicinity of the air intake for a compressor. ‘There was no explosion but for luck and the quick reaction and reporting of the shift supervisor’. In this case the supervisor was thanked. How about enhancing this thanks with the reward of a simulation of the incident his (or her) quick and robust intervention prevented. I could be shown at an end of year event and a copy presented to the worker. You have just created a lasting psychological reward which will reap benefits long after any monetary offering has been forgotten.

Who said you can’t get no Process Safety Satisfaction!

near miss