I was thinking about this during work today and thinking back to the incident I described in the a wake up call post last week.
Sometimes things go wrong, take an unexpected turn or do not go as you expected: A cyclist swerving round the cones you put up, a limb failing without warning, the angry pedestrian who insists on walking under the tree you are working on, the stub ricocheting off the stem, the telephone cable you oversaw – the list goes on and on.
Usually nothing happens. Sometimes we have close calls.
Then we say things like…
“Wow, that was close, that was a near miss!”
Which got me wondering… and my conclusion was that either I am missing the point – or the term near miss is a gross misnomer.
Let’s think about this: A near miss implies that you almost missed, but did not. Surely then, that would imply that you have hit the target, wouldn’t it? And surely, that is not what we mean when we say things like above – slightly shakily, mind, because we have just swung a one ton lump of wood 10cm past the carport with the tree owner’s 380k fully pimped-up Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster parked in it because we misjudged the size of the log and the wraps on the lowering bollard? Eek!
So no, in a nutshell, near miss for me does not really work.
I believe it would be more appropriate to refer to such incidents as an almost accident. After all, that is what it is in German, ein Beinahe-Unfall, or in French, where they talk about un presque-accident.
It is important that we understand that these incidents we refer to as near misses are in reality accidents that did not incur damage to a person or an object. Looking at it that way, it also changes ones perception. I am sure we are all in agreement that it is a good idea to prevent accidents from happening. However, if we create psychological loopholes or back doors for ourselves when discussing these incidents, by even avoiding the use of the icky a-word and rather calling it a near miss – because I believe this is what we are doing – , then the behavior leading to these kinds of situations becomes more acceptable, or at least the indication of danger is less strong – and also the incentive to modify it.
Like Al Shigo used to say, let’s call things by their correct names. Let’s call near misses what they are in actual fact, which is accidents in which no one got hurt or anything damaged – and let’s do something about it to prevent this from happening in the future.