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Assessing risk in engineering, work and life
Assessing risk in engineering, work and life

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2 Accidents

Where there is risk, there are likely to be accidents.

  • What is your understanding of an ‘accident’?

  • Everyone has their own ideas of what an accident is and the Oxford English Dictionary (2016) defines an accident as:

    • An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
    • An event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.

The Health and Safety Executive in the UK defines an accident as ‘any unplanned 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’ (HSE, 1999, p. 8).

There are many different ways to define an accident, but the key characteristics of any event that could be described as an accident seem to be:

  • the degree of expectedness – the less the event is expected, the more it is regarded as an accident
  • the avoidability – the less likely it is that the event can be avoided, the more it is seen as accidental
  • the lack of deliberateness – the less a person or persons are involved in causing an event to occur, the more it is viewed as an accident.

This gives the impression that an accident is unfortunate, but also more importantly that it could not be foreseen. But is that always true – is every accident unavoidable?

In fact, many ‘accidents’ are preventable or avoidable. Typically before an accident there may have been warning signs. These might be ‘near misses’ where the accident nearly happened, or where something dangerous happened but luckily no one was hurt. It is very rare for an accident to occur without any previous incidents or concerns. You will look at this in more detail in the next section.