The world of workplace health and safety is filled with terminology, acronyms and definitions. Amongst the terms that are used within the workplace to describe health and safety, incidents and accidents are extremely common and often interchanged. In most cases they indicate the level of damage that results from a workplace occurrence. What’s more, they make up the basis for the two workplace health and safety philosophies upon which safety measures and controls are built. But what do they really mean? And what is the difference between the two?
Defining Accidents and Incidents
On the surface, they can seem to be describing the same thing, but they are, in fact, quite different. To understand the differences, first, you need to review the definition of accidents and incidents, but also the concept of a ‘near miss’:
- Accidents – an unexpected event which results in serious injury or illness of an employee and may also result in property damage.
- Near miss – a narrowly avoided accident.
- Incidents – an instance of something happening, an unexpected event or occurrence that doesn’t result in serious injury or illness but may result in property damage.
So, an incident can involve a near miss, where someone narrowly avoided injury or illness. But, if a serious injury takes place, we are talking about an accident. What they have in common is that both events are unplanned and can cause damage to places or things. It is only accidents, however, that cause serious injury or illness to people. So, all accidents are incidents, but not all incidents are accidents. Therefore, incidents are more common than accidents, in fact, accidents make up only 2% of incidents. But, does that mean that they shouldn’t be given priority within our safety protocols?
Should We Accept that Accidents Happen?
We’ve all heard of the saying ‘accidents happen’. But, is it good enough to fall back on that when it comes to workplace health and safety? Should you and your employees have to accept that accidents will inevitably take place and to prepare for that eventuality?
Our safety programs should be there to find hazards, put controls in place and prevent accidents from occurring. By assuming that accidents will happen regardless of our actions, we are saying that there is no cause and we are undermining our safety efforts. In reality, the root cause of an accident often comes from a predictable event, one that could have been prevented if the right actions had been taken.
Are All Accidents Preventable?
On the flipside to accepting that accidents happen is the concept that all accidents are preventable. While the idea isn’t entirely accurate, it changes the mindset of the safety measures we put in place. By taking a zero-accident approach to workplace health and safety, we become much more proactive. We can aim to identify and anticipate hazards before any harm occurs and put policies and procedures in place based on past incidents and near misses.
It would be nice to think that all accidents are preventable. However, in reality, there will always be some level of error, be it human, technological or even just bad luck. We can’t foresee every eventuality, every second of every day. But, what we can do is be proactive about trying to prevent accidents. Moreover, by taking incidents and near misses seriously and investigating the cause we can try to do everything in our power to stop a repeat incident or worse still an accident taking place in the future.
Reducing Workplace Incidents and Accidents
Ultimately, every incident that occurs provides the potential for a future near miss or accident. To reduce the number of incidents and accidents that take place, we need to implement a health and safety program that:
- Identifies hazards – by reviewing employees, tasks, tools and the environment, it is possible to identify hazards and risks within a workplace.
- Implements controls – by implementing controls, it is possible to minimise the occurrence of incidents and accidents.
- Investigates incidents – the importance of incident reporting shouldn’t be underestimated. When an incident is correctly reported and investigated, it ensures the root cause is found and that additional measures can be put in place to avoid a recurrence.
Whether you believe that accidents happen or that all accidents should be preventable, as a business owner, you have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of your employees. And that means, doing everything you can to reduce the likelihood of accidents occurring. Ultimately, you can never take workplace health and safety too seriously.
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