Before we begin, a word from your moderator:
For the past week, you members of SafetyXChange have been making my life a misery. And I thank you for it.
You see, when we asked you to send in your views on the Accident vs. Incident debate, we expected a nice response. But 50 or so was way beyond our expectations. The responses came fast and furious, from all over North America and from all over the world - from as far as Kenya and Oman.
I admit. When I saw the notes flooding in, I panicked. I called Catherine in desperation seeking advice. How are we going to handle all these responses? Surely, the sheer volume of opinions represents way more than anybody would ever want to read on this debate. And so it does.
Nevertheless, these views are well stated and valuable. So, we've decided to publish each and every one of them, unabridged and largely unedited. We have, however, organized them into category:
- Those who sided with Greg MacDonald and thought the event should be called an incident;
- Those who thought Wayne Pardy was right about sticking with accident; and
- Those who thought neither side had it exactly right and/or that the very debate was flawed to begin with.
We invite you to read them at your leisure for your edification and amusement. And thanks again to everybody who participated in this debate.
THE "INCIDENT" SIDE
Don't Use the "A" Word
I always use the word "incident". It doesn't matter how you define it, accident usually creates the perception "someone got hurt." Incidents lead us to look at everything. So the reason I always use "incident" is "incident" implies the need to investigate all negative occurrences, not only people (injury/illness) but also property, process, environment, reputation, all losses.
In discussing prevention, it is important to clarify the terms "accident" and "incident." According to Webster's Dictionary the word accident implies that the event was a chance occurrence, a mishap. It creates the impression that it just happened, and that it was unexpected and unpreventable. This can create a means to escape responsibility, avoid rectifying the situation, dodge scrutinizing current methods, and yield to pressure to change.
In incident prevention, we must start with the principle that all injuries are preventable and, hence, they are incidents because they are subordinate to something else, such as rule violation or inadequate training. Therefore, my first recommendation is to eliminate the use of the word "accident," both written and verbally, to reinforce the principle of preventability.
John Wettstein, CRSP
WETTSTEIN SAFETY STRATEGIES INC.
Don't Use the "A" Word in Swahili, Either
I'm a Safety, Health & Environment Manager for Unilever Tea Kenya , a tea growing and manufacturing business employing over 18,000 employees in Kericho, a town situated in the Great Rift Valley. I would like to add a thought or two to this debate. Like Greg, I would also describe myself as a "shop room professional" having worked in this area since 1998. In my country, the word "accident" has a very interesting connotation. In the Swahili language the word accident is "ajali" and the word prevention is "kinga." There is a famous Swahili saying "ajali haina kinga" which loosely translated means "accidents are the consequence of fate and cannot be prevented." Surely, in this context, the word accident will send out the wrong signals especially where safety awareness often conflicts with cultural beliefs.
You may also reference my article "The Long Road to Safety Consciousness" published in the African Newsletter of Occupational Health & Safety (Pg. 9, May 2006) on the following link: http://www.ttl.fi/NR/rdonlyres/CF7BBB4A-2980-4C03-924E-8943F8F8F6A5/0/African_Newsletter106.pdf
Safety, Health & Environment Manager
Unilever Tea Kenya Limited
What We Say Affects What We Do
I agree that the word "accident" implies something that we cannot control. If we truly believe that we can't control our safety, then there isn't much of a reason for safety people.
We use the term incident and explain why we choose to use that word. Our whole philosophy is based on "All incidents are preventable." It is a mind set that we need to get everyone into so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of an incident free work place.
Bedford Park IL
"Accident" Is Wrong
From the book Safety: 24/7, 2006, by Gregory M. Anderson & Robert L. Lorber, Ph.D.
Quote: Incident v. Accident: "an accident implies the result is outside a person's control. In 97 percent of the cases, what happens 'the incident' is easily within someone's control. What's the difference between a near miss and a near hit? So why do we call it a near miss? Typically we use words like accident and near miss to lessen accountability or minimize the potential consequences."
Something to think about also:
Near miss v. Near hit, Accident v. Crash, Accident v. Incident, and Safety Manager v. Safety Risk Manager
"We can't solve [safety] problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Albert Einstein
"When events that cause harm or have the potential to cause harm, a choice exists: To Learn or To Blame."
Gary Snyder, MS-OSH, CIT/CET-OSH, CHS-3,CM, EMT-B
Site Safety Manager
Tyndall AFB, Florida
A Pragmatic View
I use the term "incident." The reason is simple; most people fell if you call it an accident they are going to get in trouble. I call it an incident till I can determine what the cause is, and then we call it that. People are more likely to give a better cause statement if they are not afraid. I always say I am performing an incident investigation to determine what the cause is and how to correct it. I do believe that there are accidents that happen but they are few and far between; we normally have a cause and several warnings (near misses) before and accident.
John M McLarty
Kerr Concrete Pipe
a division of Oldcastle precast, inc.
Greg Is Right
I agree with Greg. Time and again I have heard the phrase "but it was an accident" used with the underlying meaning that it was unpreventable. 90+% of our injury and non-injury incidents are caused by unsafe actions. Unsafe actions can be corrected therefore the incident is preventable. Greg is also correct about the evolution of our language, usage of some words changes and new words are added (McJobs is now in the dictionary). If we (safety professionals) are successful in making the change from accident to incident, we remove the excuse/implication that the injury or near-miss was unpreventable. The only other logical way I see this could be achieved is to adopt the phrase "preventable accident." Although I believe over time that phrase would be shortened to "accident", putting us right back where we are today.
1583 E. Mountain Road
Think About How Your Words Affect Others
There has been much argument over the use of the word "accident" in recent years. As far as I see it and going by the true definition(s) of the word here is what I interpret. First let's look at the definition of accident:
"an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap" (source: www.dictionary.com)
Now let's look at some different definitions of incident as a NOUN:
- an individual occurrence or event.
- something that occurs casually in connection with something else.
- an occurrence of seemingly minor importance, esp. involving nations or factions between which relations are strained and sensitive, that can lead to serious consequences, as an outbreak of hostilities or a war: border incident; international incident.
- A usually minor event or condition that is subordinate to another.
- An occurrence or event that interrupts normal procedure or precipitates a crisis: an international incident.
Now let's look at "incident" as an adjective:
- likely or apt to happen
- naturally appertaining: hardships incident to the life of an explorer
- conjoined or attaching, esp. as subordinate to a principal thing
- Tending to arise or occur as a result or accompaniment: "There is a professional melancholy... incident to the occupation of a tailor" (Charles Lamb).
- having a subordinate or dependent relation to something specified incident to arrest
If we want to use proper grammar then an incident would be the event that either caused or occurred as a result of the accident. Since the accident is defined as the undesirable event that usually results in injury, the term accident would be the proper terminology. For example, a person loses an eye while using a pneumatic hammer because he/she was not wearing safety glasses. The incident could be defined as either the hammer malfunctioning or the person removing the glasses. The nail discharged from the hammer could have easily shot off in the opposite direction and would be considered the "minor event". However it did not in this fictional case and the undesired event that resulted in injury was the nail puncturing the eye of the person.
Furthermore, I feel that the intent of using the word "incident" over "accident" is for the psychological effect it may have on people. If we try to train people that there are no accidents, but only incidents, some feel that they will be successful.
Now for the bottom line from my perspective. I am sure that we can all agree that the safety of the worker is the most important thing at hand here. With that said, maybe we should spend less time arguing about which word is the right one to use and train our people. I urge everyone who reads this, to read or re-read Wayne Pardy's article on The Real Cause of Accidents. There is a quote in that article that states the following:
"Workmen and their supervisors at every level may act unwisely, but they do so within a system for the performance of work whose responsibility it is to set clear and supervised standards of what is expected."
As Safety Professionals, Managers, Supervisors, Foremen, Leaders or whatever your position might be, it is your responsibility to train your people to act and work safely. If you do not inspire your workers to do this, then you set your own demise. I cannot put it any simpler than that. When the days comes that no person in a supervisory capacity tolerates unsafe work conditions or habits, then the whole world will be a safer place.
Neil A. Monkman
Senior Bridge & Toll Plaza Inspector
Jacobs Civil Inc.
Sanibel Causeway & Toll Facilities Reconstruction Project
Ft Myers, FL
Although I was impressed with the arguments of both Wayne and Greg, I must side with Greg's position in this debate. I am fortunate to be the site resource for Risk & Safety at a food manufacturing facility in the Midwest, where an incredible group of over 300 team members have reduced the total injury rate (TIR) to zero. This is the result of many years of values-based safety culture development, AND a strident, continuous effort to eliminate unsafe conditions and processes. The operation runs 24/7, and is extremely focused on the timely reporting, follow-up, and mitigation of any safety "incident". We have made every effort to eliminate the term "accident" from our terminology, based on the exact reason given by Greg MacDonald - it supports a mindset that a particular outcome was unavoidable, which removes personal responsibility and accountability.
Our team members understand that in order to avoid injury incidents, or even near-miss incidents, they must be proactively involved in planning to work safely. There was a time here when "accidents" happened, but that time is long past. We still have minor first-aid incidents and near-misses, but we are working to achieve our injury-free workplace goal, and along the way we push personal responsibility for safe behaviors and the use of best practices and procedures as well. We believe that no one "plans" to be hurt, but we firmly believe that everyone must "plan" not to be hurt. Leaving one's health and safety to "chance" is simply not acceptable, and the term "accident", particularly the definition involving "unfortunate", sounds far too much like luck! Our culture allows for immediate improvement-based feedback when an unsafe behavior is exhibited, peer to peer. Allowing someone, a teammate especially, to perform a task unsafely is rolling the dice on luck - it may or may not result in an incident. But believing that an injury was an accident takes away all responsibility for preventing it in the first place.
Risk & Safety Coordinator
My problem with the most common acceptable definition of the word "accident" is that it gives the idea that the person did not intend to do the act that got them hurt. The definition "an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance" has been thrown out of my understanding of the word years ago. I understand that many of the times we experience the proverbial "accident," the person fully intended and planned to do the offensive act. The employee fully understood the danger and planned to place their hand into a moving machine to clear that jam. They had done it before and didn't get hurt so one more time can't possible hurt.
The definition I use for accident is "the unplanned result of an event that resulted in injury or ill health of people, or damage or loss to property, plant, materials or the environment or a loss of business opportunity." You see, it's the result of their action that was not planned. In most cases the event was planned and deliberate.
Gold Kist Inc
North Carolina Division
Siler City, NC
I support, and only utilize, the word, "Incident." I firmly believe that any event must be investigated to prevent any recurrence. An incident could be damage to property, misuse of equipment or tools, etc., that do not incur injury. But they could the next time. Damage to property, like a broken pane being struck by a ladder could result in a severe laceration the next time should someone place their hand through the broken pane. Misuse of a forklift may not cause an accident, but the incident could result in the forklift tipping crushing a worker. A crane traveling with its boom up may not cause death until it hits a powerline with its tagline contacting workers' equipment or the worker coming into contact with the energized crane.
Every incident is just as important as an accident. More so in my opinion because incidents can be preventative measures. Evaluate every nonconforming occurrence, an incident - do not wait for it to become an accident.
Unlike Greg, I don't cringe when safety professionals use the term "accident" when speaking to presumably other safety professionals, because I believe there is a general consensus among the peer group that accidents can be prevented. However, I do agree with Greg that for the general population the word "accident" does give them a preconditioned sense that nothing could have been done to prevent something from happening, and therefore I try not to use the word accident in my workplace. We need to teach people that accidents can be prevented, and then call a spade a spade.
Health, Safety, Food Safety and Sanitation Coordinator
Elmira Pet Products Ltd.
I prefer the use of the word "incident" but not because I think the word "accident" implies that nothing could have been done to prevent the "incident" from occurring. I was taught and completely believe that most accidents ARE preventable. I think the word "incident" implies specificity and directness, of a consequence of an action that the word "accident" lacks. We could use the word "occurrence" but then the emphasis might change from "cause related to specific hazardous conditions" that words like "accident" and "incident" seem to retain. Otherwise, I see both words as interchangeable in most conditions as they relate to Safety and Environmental Health.
Austin Water Utility
I tend to agree with both Mr. Pardy and Mr. MacDonald. I have always used the term "incident" to define a near-miss. An accident is not a near-miss, but a hit! To be precisely accurate, we would have to refer to the definition given by stand-up comedian George Carlin "An accident is a near-miss. Look Marge, they nearly missed, but they didn't." I think in the grand theme of things, as Mr. MacDonald pointed out. The definitions have evolved to be interchangeable. Big deal. I don't think being grammatically correct should be the main focus of safety. Correcting the hazard should be the main focus of safety. I think we all agree that the purpose of safety is to prevent accidents from happening. Let's not lose site of that important point!
Reginald L. Lewis
Senior Safety Specialist
Environmental Safety and Health Department
Bay Area Rapid Transit
I love this topic and I am glad to see the points and opinions re the proper terminology of accident vs. incident.
I am not a safety professional but I have worked in the safety industry for two years now, and when I first started as a sales rep for a safety company we were told (strongly) that the proper terminology in the safety world is "incident," the reason being that an accident is something that can be prevented. This makes sense to me. I also prefer using "incident" because it sounds non-judgmental; but "accident" - even if it's the correct word - sounds like a bad thing.
I agree with Greg, the word "accident" denotes a no responsibility event, as when a baby soils their diaper. An event like this cannot be helped and no one takes action to prevent it from happening again until the child is old enough to gain control. You will surely feed the baby again!
When workers use the word "accident" it allows the thought process to accept the idea that injuries cannot be helped or prevented and they have no personal responsibility to prevent them. Thus a thought process is established that accepts that we cannot control or prevent unwanted events. Of course, we know this is far from the truth. I agree, there are a number of definitions for "accident", but picture a worker throwing their hands up saying: "It was an "accident." I couldn't help it."
Workers need to understand that unwanted events can and must be prevented. Ask yourself, if you knew that one year from today a worker would be permanently disabled by a collapsing overloaded warehouse shelf, what steps would you take to prevent it? If you knew that next month a fork truck would overturn injuring an employee, would you assess your fleet and drivers in the same way? When the situation is turned around and you ask yourself what must be in place to prevent an injury, you realize that steps can be taken to eliminate and or control today's occupational risks. The term "accident" leads one to believe there is nothing that we can do ahead of time because an injury is a chance happening. Something no one could predict or do anything about.
Employees should be educated to understand that there is no such thing as an "accident". Our brain allows us to logically evaluate conditions, circumstances and behaviors and take responsibility for adjusting our environment to prevent unwanted events. Our management procedures, supervision, and each individual worker should accept the challenge and think before they act.
Some might say, I can't prevent every unwanted event. Of course not. But let's assume a worker is rear-ended while driving a company vehicle. The employee may not have been able to prevent this. This is true, but no one assumes that you can prevent someone else from running into you. That was part of THEIR safety responsibility. Safety doesn't function in a vacuum, it takes effort on everyone's part to prevent injury and damage. Everyone from the manufacturer to the purchaser to the end user. And not just at work. Safety is 24/7. Take the thought process home with you. Put it to work in your daily life. You could prevent a child's drowning in the pool, a fall down the stairs, or a burn from the oven. Before you do any task, ask; what are the risks; how can I prevent an unwanted event or injury? Then there will be no "accidents."
I firmly believe in the term incident instead of accident. Accident has the connotation of as unforeseen or resulting from someone being careless or unaware of cause and effect. The term accident also gives the employees an excuse that accidents happen and there is nothing we can do to prevent them.
I will continue to do incident investigations and give monthly incident reports!
Manager, Safety & Training
THE ACCIDENT SIDE
It Is What It Is
Frankly I do not see anything wrong in Wayne Pardy's use of the word "accident" that would make Greg go agog. In his comment, Greg has used "workplace incident" in place of "accident" with no further explanation.
As rightly stated by Pardy, Accidents and Incidents are related entities and also an incident may not necessarily result in an accident (loss of life or property/ material damage, affect environment). However does this imply that an unsafe condition/ unsafe act is an "Incident?" NO.
Considering the examples used to understand the difference between Accident - bucket falling and injuring someone and incident - bucket falling and nobody injured (near-miss/ close shave, etc) -still sounds odd if this is based on whether or not an injury has been caused. I would not consider a no-injury case as a Near-miss. Now consider the below example:
The ladder you are climbing is rusted (immaterial whether you noticed it or not).
Unsafe condition: You notice that the ladder you are climbing is rusted, and still climb.
Unsafe act: The ladder you are climbing is rusted and breaks away causing no injury.
An incident: The ladder you are climbing is rusted and breaks away causing an injury.
An Accident: You notice/did not notice that the ladder you are climbing is rusted, but get off it before it breaks away - is a Near-miss scenario/close shave
"The apparently common view that the great majority of accidents are the direct result of nothing more than unsafe acts or unsafe conditions is, in the Commission's opinion, too restricted a view of the human problem of accidental injuries. Workmen and their supervisors at every level may act unwisely, but they do so within a system for the performance of work whose responsibility it is to set clear and supervised standards of what is expected."
"The Ham Commission Report casts legitimate doubt on the validity of Heinrich's theories and suggests that accident causation must be considered from multiple dimensions."
I do like to defer here with this conclusion; Extra dimensions may be needed to precisely identify the root cause of an untoward / abnormal occurrence but invariably they may boil down to the parameters set out by H.W. Heinrich; Unsafe Acts; Unsafe Conditions.
D.I. Dhivakar, M.E (HSE)
Lead HSE Engineer
Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Ltd
"Accident" Is the Real Word and the Real World
I agree with Wayne Pardy. He's dealing in the real world. An accident is an accident just like a door is a door. The term "accident" is apparently distasteful to Greg but applying a euphemism doesn't change the facts.
If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck. . .
I agree completely with Wayne Pardy. The two words are not interchangeable and need to be used correctly in the proper context. Incident implies something less serious than accident. The fact that people use these words incorrectly is the reason individuals might assume that all accidents are unavoidable as Greg MacDonald suggests. I recommend that as safety professionals, we educate others on the true meanings of these words and their subtle differences. It is true that many accidents are preventable and that zero tolerance is a good thing but realistically, not all accidents or incidents are preventable and the purpose of safety education and a safety culture is to minimize the severity and number of accidents and incidents which may occur. I feel that most preventable safety issues arise from human error and more precisely, a result of poor work practices (housekeeping) or poor communication. These two elements are the key to success.
We will never achieve absolute perfection as humans, this is unrealistic, however, understanding this, striving for perfection is an admirable objective and one which we should pursue in all aspects of life. We should focus on this and like Greg was saying;
If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck?
Let's call a spade a spade.
Atlantic Detroit Diesel-Allison
Facilities Health & Safety Manager
The English Language Is Not a Plaything
I am a 30 plus year veteran in safety with military, industry and public sector experience. I offer an opinion and we all know what opinions are worth...right?
It seems to me that several well spoken, articulate professionals with good intentions and indeed a very good grasp of the English language have expressed their opinions on something that I consider a "non-issue". Industry and regulators have acknowledged both approaches. Should we limit our language and not allow new language to be developed and used? I think...yes! If you listen to people talking around you, they mangle the English language. Should we recognize all that as our new language....NO!! I have heard it said so many times, what you call this, I call that. So what? We shouldn't change the basic language to accommodate a few with new ideas. That doesn't mean to say the new ideas don't have value, what it says is that we must maintain a language of tradition that we can depend on through our lifetimes and beyond.
Dennis T. Knapp
Mecklenburg County Safety Director
Charlotte Finance Department-Risk Management Division
It May Be "Old Terminology" But It Remains True
Though I do feel that Greg MacDonald has a good argument, I agree with Wayne Pardy regarding the difference between Accident & Incident.
In today's day and age...accidents (regardless of workplace or home
life) are preventable (even though at the time of the accident it maybe felt unpreventable). Therefore, I do not agree that calling a "workplace incident" an accident denigrates it. I believe we will never rid the world of all accidents because of human nature (not chance) but we still have the responsibility to each other & ourselves to prevent and protect as much as we can. Accidents happen because of lack in knowledge of hazards and consequences, often due to lack of effective training & awareness. When someone has not received effective training or been made aware of a hazard, they don't see the consequence when they are doing the act...prevention can be done through effective training & awareness. I stress the word "effective" because we are human and we
learn and understand things differently from one another. Just telling what the hazard is could be effective for one person but the next worker may need to see what the consequence is would be? Some learn from listening but others require more visual or hands on (most effective).
I, also treat "near misses" as incidents. So I do feel that the definitions which Wayne has shown are correct not...not old terminology.
I really appreciate SafetyXChange printing the debate, it opens our eyes to the opinions of others...and what better way for all of us Health & Safety people to learn.
It's Still Wayne's World but Greg Has a Point
Incidentally, it's no accident that I write to you today about an incident that accidentally occurred at one of my company's incidental worksites....
OK, so I can't expand on that much more. I think that the distinction between these two terms must be preserved as they currently and historically stand, and so I must side with Wayne for the majority of this argument though Greg makes an excellent counterpoint.
An accident, while it may be avoided, is still an unintended and unplanned event. An incident is a happening where at least one of the "participants" has a modicum of conscious control over (notice that I did not say conscientious...) and therefore presents a factor that the incident depends upon to occur. If no individual purposely causes the event to occur, then it either does not happen at all, or it happens by accident.
Semantics, I suppose, can grey things up a bit because "incidental" is something occurring merely by chance or without intention or calculation--which approaches the definition of accidental, but I digress!
A possible bridge between the two, using Greg's argument, would be the creation of a new word like;
incidaccident; Pronounced - In-si-'da-ksi-dent
1 - An unplanned and unintended event that could have been avoided had the person(s) involved paid closer attention to their organization's safety professionals and used common safety sense!! (-:
Thomas B. Culotta - Regional Manager
Risk Control & Regulatory Compliance
Jones Apparel Group, Inc
Hey, NSC! The Proper Word Is "Accident"
"Accidents" are a subset of "incidents." It is a bona fide word and most educated safety persons are aware of the correct definition(s) and use of the term. Just because so many people have a misconception of what an accident is/is not, I do not see the need to abandon its proper use. If, in conversation or training, people demonstrate their misunderstanding of the term, the occasion should be used as an opportunity to EDUCATE the person or persons concerning the correct definition and significance of the term "accident."
To throw up your hands and declare that you are not going to use the term "accident" is the lazy way out and causes missed learning opportunities. The National Safety Council should be ashamed of their stance on this issue! (That ought to get a few responses!)
John W. Maynard, CSP, CSHM, MS
Occupational Safety and Health Technology Program
"Incident" Doesn't Do the Concept Justice
I feel that accidents occur due to the propitious or unpropitious combination of circumstances. We meet an old friend by accident at the airport in Los Angeles and re-establish lost contact. We just both happen to be there. Our phlebotomist struck her hand with a contaminated needle by accident. The involuntary movement of the hand holding the needle turned out to be in the direction of her other hand. We face daily challenges in the safety profession to anticipate circumstances and recommend interventions (controls). When we do the job right, accidents still occur but injuries do not. Our phlebotomist did not suffer a needlestick injury because we recommended an engineering control (safety shielded needle and training to use them). We may not have control over accidents, but we can influence the outcome by being several steps ahead. Then if that old friend at the airport turned out to be an old adversary, we would have seen him coming from afar and ducked into the Starbuck's we were passing and enjoyed a capuccino instead of suffering a confrontation.
I do not like to use the term incident because to me it connotes an event of lesser significance. All of the reports that cross my desk have great significance because they involve people and they offer an opportunity to see what's really happening and plan for future recommendations and interventions.
Les Onaka, MT(ASCP), MBA, CSP
EHS Program Coordinator,
Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii, LLP
Calling It an Incident Is Like Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Both of these gentlemen are articulate and experienced safety professionals and make a strong case for their viewpoints. I don't want to over simplify this excellent debate and exchange of ideology however there's a saying that my granddaddy used that I believe applies here, "you can put a dress and lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig!" In the end I believe Wayne wins this one.
When all is said and done there's a clear and important difference between accidents and incidents, both in the terminology and the corrective actions taken and response levels required. This is due to the laws and regulations that govern those of us in this profession. We need to be able to communicate not only with each other but with those outside our profession in terminology that is clearly defined. The company that I work for manufactures electronic assemblies that go into both military and commercial aircraft and the FAA is a great example of an organization that clearly view accidents and incidents differently. Example: events of September 11th, debate over!
EHS Manager, Suntron NW Operations
Honey, It Was Just an Incident
I thought about this for some time now, ever since the first article. I must go with Wayne on this one. An accident is an unforeseen and unplanned event. We do risk analysis to try to foresee a potential accident and put measures in to stop them. In the case of the window washer dropping his bucket and hitting a person, a risk assessment should have predicted this event and corrected it by fastening the bucket with a rope to his chair. Thus the accident is no longer unforeseen and we prevented it. We still had an incident because the window washer did drop the bucket. Incidents are just something that happens, good or bad. I told my wife that I had an incident at work today; someone came up and kissed me. How can I prevent this, it just happened?
A little humor might help.
Henry Pasnick HS&E Manager, Honeywell.
The Chair Sides with Wayne
Incident is fine, but Accident is more descriptive of a particular type of Incident.
Accident: nobody wanted it to happen, but it happened. Whether through poor execution of a plan, poor planning, or no planning, nobody intends for these type if incidents to happen. If they did, it wouldn't be an accident. For example, the return of an enraged ex-coworker on a shooting spree is not an accident. That is an incident. One car smashing into another, or someone falling (except if intentionally pushed) is an accident. Just because you say "accident" doesn't mean it was impossible to avoid. It simply means nobody directly intentionally caused it.
I'm with Wayne Pardy on this one.
Christopher M. Senger
Safety Committee Chair
Lead Mechanical Designer
Norsat International Inc.
It's "Accident"; Now Let's Worry About the Important Things
Merriam Webster online defines "accident" as follows:
1: an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance b: lack of intention or necessity: CHANCE (met by accident rather than by design)
2 a: an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance b: an unexpected and medically important bodily event especially when injurious
3: a nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance; (the accident of nationality).
4 a: the possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation; also: the degree of likelihood of such an outcome b: plural; the more likely indications
5: the chance of loss or the perils to the subject matter of an insurance contract; also: the degree of probability of such loss
Now what I don't understand is why does there need to be a discussion and debate on the terminology over the word "ACCIDENT". Do we not have more important challenges we are facing than to debate over the word accident. Let's get real and put our minds to more constructive use than to pick apart someone's use of the word accident.
Bill Rainey, CNA
Risk Control Specialist
U.S. Insurance Operations
Farmington Hills Branch
Our use of the terms maybe simplistic but they work; an accident means that an injury or illness has occurred, an incident is used to indicate a safety concern without injury to anybody.
Well, what a debate. I happen to think that both Wayne and Greg have valid points, BUT the bottom line is that the English language evolves through speech. There are probably hundreds of words in the Oxford English disctionary which are used in contexts a little "off" from their technical definitions. My feelings are simple...an accident is an unforseen event which causes harm in any possible way to people or the environment. Incident is a much broader word and to me any accident can be correctly referred to as an incident...a Happening no less.
For my part I would never refer to an accident as an incident because I think it demeans the seriousness of the event. So let's keep things simple and use the words all our fellow workers are used to. Forget the dictionary.
A Mfg. Co south of Edmonton
Who Cares About the Terminology?
What is the all important drive to be politically correct all the time? Do we cringe at the thought of not calling a stupid, careless mistake what it is, Just that? Why do we have to be so sensitive about what someone did to themselves in a moment of unthinkable action?
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't walk up to the widow and talk about how stupid her husband was to get into a wood chipper just to clear it with his foot, while it was running. Come on, don't you think we, that work every day, will not talk about the action that guy took to "do his job"? You want to clarify what to call something that got someone hurt or killed from a lapse of thought an "accident" or an "incident"?
What do you call the "accident/incident" in KY recently where the Pilot had the wrong map of the runway system? A horrible chain of events? Someone at the airport and in charge of making sure the proper maps are in the pilot's hands got stuck on stupid and as a result, people died. Do you think that when the renovation started, the thought escaped the planners that information must be given out towards that fact, that things were not the same anymore? I guess that when stupid things happen, the Courts will determine what to call the act.
That way, we are absolved of coming up with the politically correct terminology. No matter how this "debate" turns out, the Lawyers will have the last word. One man's Dictionary is another man's Thesaurus. As with all things, it is a matter of perspective. I'm sure that the terminology being tossed around by the families of the plane crash victims includes "negligent homicide." I wonder what the lone survivor would call it. He was the pilot.
Just my 2 cents and I'm sure I've got change coming.
Don't We Have Anything Better to Do?
Can I please contribute the following to this debate:
It is rather amusing to see respected safety practitioners ardently debate incident terminology. Did we exhaust all other topics that are so widely misunderstood and directly leading to incidents of all kind and shape. It starts getting fairly annoying that topics like this one and others (e.g. Process Safety vs. Personal Safety etc) can not be answered once and for all. We will then maybe go back to work raising our workforce awareness and building a positive safety culture rather than arguing endlessly about trivial issues already settled by distinguished linguists:
- an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents.
- any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause
- chance; fortune; luck: I was there by accident.
- a fortuitous circumstance, quality, or characteristic: an accident of birth
Is there still anyone out there who believes that incidents are unplanned events?
Operations & HSSE Manager
Don't Tell Me What It Is, Tell Me How to Prevent It
I am truly humbled by the combined credentials and experience of both Wayne and Greg. However, people are still being killed and seriously hurt, regardless of any "etymological nuances". What ever we call them, they have to be prevented. As a "safety done in the trenches" type of person, please take the time and energy devoted to this discussion and provide me with ways to prevent pain and suffering.
Senior Safety Rep.
A NY Gas/Electric Utility
Get Over It!
WOW. The first thing I thought when I read the comments about the "debate" between the terminology of incident and accident was "Get over it". As safety professionals we have heard these debates before and if we have any experience we should know that most people outside of the profession are going to use these terms to describe their incident / accident. We should be focusing on causes, proper investigations and prevention not what we call it. If it drives us that crazy to hear the word accident you better bail out of the profession because you will hear that word for decades to come.
Use the words you want I know what you mean.
Six or One-Half Dozen
My experience is that many people see accidents and incidents as chance events unforeseen and unplanned. Both words (accident and incident) leave the safety professional with the same responsibility. In most, if not all, unexpected happenings causing loss or injury and unforeseen and unplanned events or circumstances are preventable.
Keith D. Jones
Director, Environment, Health and Safety
James Avery Craftsman, Inc.
What Matters Is Not the Words but How We Communicate Them
The recent spirited debate over Accident vs. Incident has been educational, enlightening, amusing and entertaining. It also serves to illustrate the many differences among members of the same profession. But for me, it also illustrates how easily we get caught up in, or focus on, semantics and definitions and totally forget the key, which is effective communications! To me, neither term is effective on its own as demonstrated by this discussion.
I am a realist and as a trainer and safety consultant for more than 26 years, I have had ample time to make mistakes and learn from them. Words and terms used among safety professionals should convey specific information as clearly as possible based on a persons perception of he word rather than the text book definition. It is of little or no consequence what the book definition of a word is. What is important is the idea or image the word conveys; what the actual understanding and interpretation is to the person receiving and processing the language.
With this understanding of communication I would like to submit my two cents on this debate. Personally I use both terms to clearly identify what type of situation exists as communications in any situation using either of these two terms is important! I have never heard incident OR accident used in a casual conversation regarding safety! Both terms are normally used to convey a problem! Here are my feelings on the proper use of these powerful words:
Accident - Used to convey a situation in which there has been an injury involving a human. Reserving Accident to denote injuries helps save time! If I hear "Johnny has been involved in an accident" the word Accident triggers an immediate response plan involving first aid members, first aid equipment and immediate activation of the accident response team. This term supersedes the normal delay involved in evaluating the situation to determine what actually happened.
Incident - Used to convey damage to property. No threat to human life exists. Although the same elements of response mentioned above may still be required, there is not a threat to human life. Evaluation is normally my first response to an incident. I know immediately that although it may be serious and costly, anything involved in an incident is replaceable or manageable and does not involve Loss-of-Life.
As professionals, every word we use conveys a meaning to the person receiving the information. Whether they receive the correct meaning is up to us. In addition to the words already discussed, additional words also need to convey specific information. If their is an incident involving a chemical spill, the work SPILL should be used rather than trying to parse the meaning of Accident OR Incident. We do not have incidents involving fire, we have FIRE!
I would encourage everyone (myself included) to always consider not just the meaning of a word but their perception! A Rose by any other name may indeed still be a Rose, but you are going to spend a great deal of energy explaining to me why you refer to it as a visual and olfactory stimulation device! In an emergency the proper use and understanding of language can mean the difference between life or death. Choose your words carefully!
Bob Breslin, Director
OSHA Compliance & Education
Vanguard Environmental, Inc.
Look Past the Words and at the Behavior
I offer that if the "word" you choose to use to describe safety related holds so much value that it actually influences the actions of your employees (e.g. an excuse to accept the unavoidable) then you have other problems. If the prevailing understanding, the company philosophy, the training, the written policy, and everyday "living it" supports the idea that all accidents are avoidable and your employees understand the value and process of digging for a root cause, then who cares what word you use to describe it. Energy used to debate word choice could be much better spent educating your workforce in the cause and effect relationship between unsafe behavior and unsafe acts, how to identify that relationship and appropriate corrective action.
O S H, inc.
They're Both Partly Right
The arguments presented by Wayne and Greg both make sense. I agree with Greg that using the term 'accident' encourages a certain element of complacency. On the other hand, the term 'incident' seems to downplay the seriousness of the occurrence. Our organization is attempting to shift from using either term and instead we will refer to cases as INJURIES. The term injury drives home the fact that someone gets hurt when we are not working safely. Let's face it, when a worker gets injured, it is because someone was careless, the equipment was not being used properly, or the personal protective equipment was not being worn correctly. And that is no accident.
Human Resources & Safety Officer
Vitrum Industries Ltd.
They're Both Right, Period
I support Wayne and I support Greg. You might say, they both can not be right! Actually, yes the can. Terminology is not so much about words as it is about semantics (meaning). Wayne goes straight to Webster, Greg to word choice in semantic evolution, both are correct. Semantic evolution is a very slow process, with words going in and out of favor until those that rely on the meaning the most, determine which word is best. Then the process begins again. But during that time period we rely on the dictionary to help us keep things straight.
The meaning of words is not fixed or limited to the dictionary it is in people. Greg's point of the word accident leading people to believe that such events are unavoidable, is close but not correct. The fact that people feel accidents are unavoidable brings this meaning to the word, not the other way around.
As for me, I really don't care what you call it as long as we agree on the meaning and work together to avoid repeat events.
Jim Scarr, Safety Officer
Department of Natural Resources and Parks
I'm Still Not Sure But I Don't Think It's Worth "Cringing" Over
This is an interesting debate between Wayne & Greg. I have questioned myself many times in trying to decide which is the best word to use, incident or accident. After reading both articles, however neither point of view has swayed me to stick to one terminology. But my eyebrows did raise after reading Greg's statement about how people will be lead to believe that accidents are unavoidable, unforeseen, or unpreventable. Anyone from the outside looking in can most certainly see "an accident waiting to happen" but those who are in the inner circle usually don't see what those on the outside of the circle see.
Example, A person driving in their car is focused on tuning in a good station on the radio, eyes focused on the radio knob. The person looks back at the road just in time to see their self plow into the rear end of the car in front of them stopped in the road to make a left turn. Was this preventable? By all means. Would the driver of the vehicle who was playing with the radio think that the accident was preventable? By all means. I'm sure this person would be running this scenario over and over again, If I had just kept my eyes on the road.
In industry, BBS processes have helped replace the old age thinking that accidents are unpreventable. Defensive driving courses have helped do the same for highway safety. If Greg still knows people who are thinking this way, I would suggest he introduce them to the latest safety publications and training programs to promote safety awareness instead of cringing when someone uses the word accident.
Golden Products Co.
The Missing Perspective
I have been in the safety field for over 18 years. The best performing companies use the word accident little if any to label or identify as a root cause an event. They don't want to prejudge the process until the investigation is finished.
I think the point missing in the discussion with Greg and Wayne is the matter of who is describing the event and the impact it had on them.
If the person who was injured had the opportunity to impact the event by personal choices, then how could you say it was an accident? However let's say that the person who was injured was not part of the process of the event and had no impact to the root cause issues, then you could say it was an accident, but only for that employee's injury and not the event itself.
I have seen the definitions of accident and incident morph to the point where they are not interchangeable. I have seen the wisdom of not prejudging injuries as accidents because it dulls investigators, supervisors and companies efforts at creating effective solutions and not band aids to processes that cause "foreseeable events"
Washington Employers, Inc.
The Bottom Line: Accidents and Incidents Are Both Preventable
I must admit that I am quite familiar with both parties in this but expected a more spirited and less academic approach to this question. I cannot say either one is wrong. However, this is a philosophical debate. Philosophies, like language change and adapt over time. Most book in print use the term accident. It is the most familiar and easily referenced term. That would make its use correct in today's context. However, if we remain stagnant, we should still believe that Heinrich was right and all "accidents" are the fault of the people who had them. This is obviously too simplistic a concept and so we evolve in our thinking - why not language?
All the printed material will heavily favour the populous view and the status quo. As professionals in a young profession we are still defining in many cases what is the correct or workable approach - or terminology. Terminology is not as important as the concepts it implies. As professionals and in many cases managers, assuming a leadership role is important. In companies with world class safety, one factor always separates them from other companies who have poorer performance. That is the belief that all incidents are preventable. Yes - I said incidents. The percentage of managers, supervisors and workers at these companies who actually believe that is significantly higher than at other companies.
Incident/accidents are not only preventable, they are predictable. While you cannot determine the time and place where one will occur, you can predict the probability of occurrence and even over a period of time the probable number of incidents. I use the term accident to ensure clear communication. However, internally I always use the term incident as I view this as more correct. My management team uses both terms interchangeably. What is important is that they understand that these occurrences are all preventable.
Dave Rebbitt, CRSP, CET, CHSC, CD1
Superintendent, Safety & Training
Fort McMurray, Alberta
Hardhats and Hair Splitting
Accident or incident....your splitting hairs.....use what most people are comfortable with when dealing with them about safety (which usually is accident) but as the author of "The Emperor Has No Hard Hat" Alan Quilley puts it......."Call it a Frank. Call it a Winston." and as does he..... who cares?.... as long as everyone in your company understands which ever term it is your using and uses it in a consistent manner. As Mr.Quilley aptly puts it. "It's far more important to be clear and consistent with your nomenclature than it is to be politically correct.
It's How You Manage the Process Not What You Call the Event that Counts
I feel compelled to offer a thought. Both Wayne and Greg make good points; but do we really need to have this discussion? I've been an active participant in the field of safety for nearly 40 years and I remember the time when an "accident" meant something bad just happened - and everyone used it - and when an "incident" meant the next door neighbor was caught peeping in the bedroom window.
My first use of "incident" came when OSHA decided it was a good blanket term to apply to all workplace injuries and illnesses (but not accidents because OSHA is focused on damage to people, not property). Today, the National Safety Council uses "crash" rather than accident to describe events on the highway. But many of us still find that "accident" is a comfortable umbrella term.
I do a huge amount of safety management training for many organizations and I've stopped making a big deal over accident vs. incident because most people don't care. As long as they will pay attention when I discuss accident/incident causation and root causes, they will know what's important and they can use any term they want. If all they focus on is "incident" rate, they've missed the safety management message. If everything is an "accident" about which they can do nothing, they've missed the safety management message. Either way, it's how they manage the safety process, not what they call the event, that counts.
Lawrence H. "Chip" Dawson
They're One and the Same
Well In reading both articles I think we are losing sight of what is important someone or something undesirable has occurred. A near miss or an incident or an accident are one and the same. All of them have undesired events, however I do agree with Greg when the term accident is used undermines that it is preventable. But as safety professionals we all know that almost all accidents are preventable, therefore accident, incident what is the difference if you ask me nothing the result is the same, something unwanted and preventable occurred. So why as professionals would we get all upset about one or the other when truthfully the final result is the same.
Health and safety coordinator
THE FINAL WORD
A Supervisor's View
Actually, I don't have time to debate which word one uses to label whatever went wrong (preventable or not preventable). Why? Because I am a first line supervisor trying to stay one step ahead of "harm's way" and its next victim. I just want to find and read some good safety stuff that I can digest and pass on to the overworked masses that also don't have time to debate the obvious.
A word to the wise before you find yourself looking for another profession. Stick to the real philosophy of Accident Prevention (there, I said it) and save the web time for something that will help us folks in the trenches reduce or minimize mishaps.
If you really want something to spend all that pended up brain energy on try contingency operations and disaster preparedness. That should serve two purposes: 1) give us something we can use and, 2) keep you gainfully employed. Hope I haven't been too hard on you. Now, get back to work!
Clarence Moore, BTC
Caterpillar PPP Group.