I often get asked about the terminology used in the world of health and safety at work – there’s a lot of it, and it can be confusing! We at Griffin Safety Training Limited like to think we can explain things in simple terms that all our delegates can understand. A good example is where there is confusion between ‘Incident’, ‘Accident’ and ‘Near Miss’. Here’s our interpretation.
The term ‘Incident’ is possibly the most commonly misunderstood; in some people’s eyes it’s simply another word for ‘Near Miss’, or it might refer to a chain of events.
Imagine the phone rings. The caller tells you “There’s been an incident”. Your blood runs cold. “What on earth has happened? Has someone been hurt”? “Is it something that could have been more serious but we got away with it, this time?” A dozen possibilities run through your mind, none of them good. At that stage, you just don’t know. All you know for sure is that something unwanted has happened. Therefore, we can say that an ‘Incident’ is a term used to denote any type of unplanned, uncontrolled event, whatever the final outcome. It’s not just another way of saying ‘Near miss’.
Incidents might result in a loss, or they might not. The idea of ‘Loss’ is what decides whether the incident will be referred to as an ‘Accident’, or a ‘Near miss’.
An ‘Accident’ may be defined as an unplanned event that has resulted in some form of loss. When I say ‘Loss’, I mean an injury or property damage. Like standing on the screw in the photo and suffering a foot injury – definitely an accident.
A ‘Near miss’ is an unplanned event that could have resulted in a loss, but on this occasion did not. Perhaps the worker in the photo noticed the screw just in the nick of time and avoided it – a classic case of a ‘Near miss’. Note that the screw itself is a ‘Hazard’ (I know, more terminology). Don’t confuse your hazards with your near misses. Hazards are things; near misses are events.
So, what is the difference between an ‘Accident’ and a ‘Near miss’? Well, put simply, if there’s been a loss, it’s an accident; no loss, it’s a near miss.
Get this wrong and you’ll mislead yourself, with potentially serious financial implications.
Think about a car accident where nobody is injured, yet the car has sustained £3000 worth of damage – would you really call this a ‘Near miss’ and just write it off? Of course not.
Another point worthy of mention is that any near miss could have resulted in a loss. Put another way, under slightly different circumstances this ‘Near miss’ could have been an ‘Accident’. Therefore, near misses should be taken seriously and investigated so as to help to avoid a more serious outcome in the future.
Here’s a little diagram to summarise:
And there we have it – all accidents and near misses are ‘Incidents’ – it just depends on whether there was a loss!
Want to find out more? Why not book on to our new NEBOSH/HSE ‘Introduction to Incident Investigation’ course? This interactive one-day course covers the basics of incident investigation and culminates in an assessment based on three incident investigation interviews. We can run this at your premises for groups of up to 15 delegates, or you might want to try one of our open courses, details of which will appear on our website very soon.
Don’t forget, we have a transparent pricing policy, with no hidden extras. What we quote is what you pay. So contact us today for a competitive quote and let’s help you get your safety journey started!
Coming soon – the confusion between ‘Hazard’ and ‘Risk’, aka ‘Why many risk assessments aren’t up to scratch’.