As strange as it may seem, employers in workers’ compensation can learn a valuable lesson from the airline industry. At 11:56 p.m. on the evening of July 7, 2017, the largest aviation disaster in the history of the world was narrowly averted by less than 1 second. It occurred at San Francisco International Airport when four fully fueled jet aircraft lined up on taxiway C, preparing for departure. However, the right of way belonged to incoming Air Canada flight AC759, a large A-320 Airbus from Toronto. Although cleared to land on parallel Runway 28R, the Air Canada pilot somehow mistook taxiway C as the main runway. The Airbus was on final approach and on a path to set down directly on top of all four waiting aircraft. At the very last moment the Air Canada pilot pulled up, averting the world’s worst aviation disaster by a mere 29 feet.
At this point, you may be asking, “How can an employer in workers’ compensation learn a valuable lesson from this near air disaster?” The answer is quite simple. Do what the airline industry does, namely, conduct a thorough investigation whenever a near miss occurs. In the Air Canada incident, the subsequent investigation lasted more than 18 months, resulting in changes and recommendations for improvement of future airline safety. Employers would be wise to follow the airline industry’s lead by conducting their own “near miss” investigation whenever an incident occurs that could have resulted in industrial injury. Just because an employer got lucky with nobody getting hurt does not mean the incident should not be investigated. It should be fully investigated, with appropriate safety changes implemented. Otherwise, an employer may not be so lucky next time around.
A Near Miss Incident Report form should be made available to all employees. To encourage participation the reporting party can remain anonymous. Blank report forms should be readily available and kept in a place frequented by all workers, such as a lunchroom. Completed reports can be placed in a locked mailbox and retrieved daily. All reports should be investigated, acted upon (if necessary), and discussed at the next safety meeting. A near miss investigation is a key component proving the old witticism: “Safety is Not an Accident.”