Last updated: January 23, 2021

What Does Accident Mean?

An accident is an unintentionally-caused event. In most cases, the term is used specifically in reference to unintentionally-caused negative events.

Accidents which take place in the workplace are referred to as occupational accidents. Workplace accidents include events that damage property, inhibit a particular workplace function, or cause harm to a person located in the workplace.

Occupational accidents are also referred to as work-related accidents, and the personal harm they cause may be referred to as an “occupational injury,” “occupational death,” or other label which specifies that the cause of the harm was occupational in nature.

There is no universal criteria for what is and is-not considered to be an occupational accident.

Safeopedia Explains Accident

Work-related accidents may impose significant costs to the economy. These costs include direct costs due to property damage and lost worker hours, as well as indirect costs, such as due to a decrease in productivity from an accident-related decline in worker morale. Businesses may also be forced to pay compensation costs, fines, and increased insurance premiums if they are held to be liable or responsible for the accident.

Accidents and Near Misses

In the context of occupational health and safety, accidents that do not cause harm to any person but which have the potential to do so are referred to as a “near miss." A situation which could lead to injurious or fatal accidents is referred to as an “undesired circumstance,” “unsafe condition,” or “unsafe act.”

For the purposes of safety statistics, accidents which cause harm and near-misses are sometimes grouped together as a single category. This is because the outcome of an accident (whether it results in harm) is often a matter of luck. A worksite that only ever has many near misses from falling object accidents may be just as high-risk as a worksite in which a falling object eventually kills someone. It is more useful to consider the nature of the accident itself; employers can reduce the rate of harmful workplace accidents by ensuring that all accidents are reported, even if they do not result in harm.

Investigating Accidents

When an accident occurs, it is important for employers (and in severe circumstances, occupational health professionals) to investigate the circumstances that led to the accident. During this investigation, it is critical that investigators focus on understanding the cause of the accident, not who is to blame for it. The key goal is always to prevent future accidents from occurring.

Accident investigation may also be referred to as “incident investigation.” According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), some OHS experts prefer to use the term “incident” because the term “accident” implies that the event was caused by fate or chance; however, accident investigations usually reveal that the event was predictable and could have been avoided had proper safety precautions been taken.

Accidents can be caused by human (behavioral) factors, such as:

  • Unsafe conduct
  • Inattention
  • Negligence
  • Improper training
  • Inexperience
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or illness

As well as by environmental and workplace design factors, such as:

  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Unsafe workplace design
  • Substandard safety controls
  • Inclement weather

Modern Occupational Health and Safety practitioners focus heavily on a risk-based approach to accident prevention, as do insurance providers. The common “hierarchy of hazard controls” is a model which illustrates the effectiveness of different types of accident prevention methodologies. For example, the elimination of the hazard is the most effective form of controlling risk, while the use of personal protective equipment is the least effective.

According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AICHE), accident prevention efforts used to focus primarily on advancing the quality of technology and equipment in order to reduce safety measures; however, investigations into various significant accidents demonstrated that much of the problem was related to poor safety management practices (para 1.2). This recognition has led to the development of integrated approaches to safety management that embed safety behaviours into the regular working process.

When an accident occurs, it is important to investigate the events that lead up to the accident in order to fully understand its cause. This form of investigation is referred to as a root-cause analysis, and is a critical part of accident prevention—uncovering an accident’s root causes enables an employer to address those causes so that they cannot occur again.

Occupational safety is an important element of workplace productivity, and therefore an important aspect of cost-management. According to the U.S. National Safety Council, the yearly cost of injuries and deaths to the U.S. economy is $170.8 billion annually. The American Society of Safety Engineers estimates that for every dollar a company must pay directly due to an accident, they will incur between one to twenty additional dollars in indirect costs.


Share This Term

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • X

Related Reading

Trending Articles

Go back to top