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A memorial to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, a fatal accident resulting from police failure

An accident is an unintended, normally unwanted event that was not directly caused by humans.[1] The term accident implies that nobody should be blamed, but the event may have been caused by unrecognized or unaddressed risks. Most researchers who study unintentional injury avoid using the term accident and focus on factors that increase risk of severe injury and that reduce injury incidence and severity.[2] For example, when a tree falls down during a wind storm, its fall may not have been caused by humans, but the tree's type, size, health, location, or improper maintenance may have contributed to the result. Most car wrecks are not true accidents; however English speakers started using that word in the mid-20th century as a result of media manipulation by the US automobile industry.[3]


Unintentional injury deaths per million persons in 2012

Physical and non-physical[edit]

Physical examples of accidents include unintended motor vehicle collisions, falls, being injured by touching something sharp or hot, or bumping into something while walking.

Non-physical examples are unintentionally revealing a secret or otherwise saying something incorrectly, accidental deletion of data, or forgetting an appointment.

Accidents by activity[edit]

  • Accidents during the execution of work or arising out of it are called work accidents. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 337 million accidents happen on the job each year, resulting, together with occupational diseases, in more than 2.3 million deaths annually.[4]
  • In contrast, leisure-related accidents are mainly sports injuries.

Accidents by vehicle[edit]

Vehicle collisions are not usually accidents; they are mostly caused by preventable causes such as drunk driving and intentionally driving too fast.[3] The use of the word accident to describe car wrecks was promoted by the US National Automobile Chamber of Commerce in the middle of the 20th century, as a way to make vehicle-related deaths and injuries seem like an unavoidable matter of fate, rather than a problem that could be addressed.[3] The automobile industry accomplished this by writing customized articles as a free service for newspapers that used the industry's preferred language.[3] Since 1994, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has asked media and the public to not use the word accident to describe vehicle collisions.[3]

Domino effect accidents[edit]

In the process industry, a primary accident may propagate to nearby units, resulting in a chain of accidents, which is called domino effect accident.

Common causes[edit]

Incidence of accidents (of a severity of resulting in seeking medical care), sorted by activity (in Denmark in 2002).

Poisons, vehicle collisions and falls are the most common causes of fatal injuries. According to a 2005 survey of injuries sustained at home, which used data from the National Vital Statistics System of the United States National Center for Health Statistics, falls, poisoning, and fire/burn injuries are the most common causes of death.[5]

The United States also collects statistically valid injury data (sampled from 100 hospitals) through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System administered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.[6] This program was revised in 2000 to include all injuries rather than just injuries involving products.[6] Data on emergency department visits is also collected through the National Health Interview Survey.[7] In The U.S. the Bureau of Labor Statistics has available on their website extensive statistics on workplace accidents.[8]

Accident models[edit]

Accident triangles have been proposed to model the number of minor problems vs. the number of serious incidents. These include Heinrich's triangle[9] and Frank E. Bird's accident ratio triangle (proposed in 1966 and shown above).

Many models to characterize and analyze accidents have been proposed,[10] which can by classified by type. No single model is the sole correct approach.[11] Notable types and models include:[12]

  • Sequential models
    • Domino Theory[9]
    • Loss Causation Model[13]
  • Complex linear models
    • Energy Damage Model[14]
    • Time sequence models
      • Generalized Time Sequence Model[15]
      • Accident Evolution and Barrier Function[16]
    • Epidemiological models
      • Gordon 1949
      • Onward Mappings Model based on Resident Pathogens Metaphor[17]
  • Process model
    • Benner 1975
  • Systemic models
  • Non-linear models
    • System accident[18]
    • Systems-Theoretic Accident Model and Process (STAMP)[19]
    • Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM) [20]
    • Assertions that all existing models are insufficient[21]

Ishikawa diagrams are sometimes used to illustrate root-cause analysis and five whys discussions.

See also[edit]



Other specific topics[edit]


  1. ^ Woodward, Gary C. (2013-09-12). The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs. Lexington Books. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7391-7905-5. Since 'accidents' by definition deprive us of first-order human causes…
  2. ^ Robertson, Leon S. (2015). Injury Epidemiology: Fourth Edition. Lulu Books.
  3. ^ a b c d e Stromberg, Joseph (2015-07-20). "We don't say "plane accident." We shouldn't say "car accident" either". Vox. Retrieved 2021-09-07.
  4. ^ "ILO Safety and Health at Work". International Labour Organization (ILO)
  5. ^ Runyan CW, Casteel C, Perkis D, et al. (January 2005). "Unintentional injuries in the home in the United States Part I: mortality". Am J Prev Med. 28 (1): 73–9. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.09.010. PMID 15626560.
  6. ^ a b CPSC. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). Database query available through: NEISS Injury Data.
  7. ^ NCHS. Emergency Department Visits. CDC.
  8. ^ "Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities".
  9. ^ a b H.W. Heinreich (1931). Industrial Accident Prevention. McGraw-Hill.
  10. ^ A long list of books and papers is given in: Taylor, G.A.; Easter, K.M.; Hegney, R.P. (2004). Enhancing Occupational Safety and Health. Elsevier. pp. 241–245, see also pages 140–141 and pages 147–153, also on Kindle. ISBN 0750661976.
  11. ^ Kjellen, Urban; Albrechtsen, Eirik (2017-03-07). Prevention of Accidents and Unwanted Occurrences: Theory, Methods, and Tools in Safety Management, Second Edition. CRC Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-4987-3666-4.
  12. ^ Yvonne Toft; Geoff Dell; Karen K Klockner; Allison Hutton (April 2012). "Models of Causation: Safety". In HaSPA (Health and Safety Professionals Alliance) (ed.). OHS Body of Knowledge (PDF). Safety Institute of Australia Ltd. ISBN 978-0-9808743-1-0.
  13. ^ Bird and Germain, 1985
  14. ^ Gibson, Haddon, Viner
  15. ^ Viner
  16. ^ Svenson
  17. ^ Reason, James T. (1991). "Too Little and Too Late: A Commentary on Accident and Incident Reporting". In Van Der Schaaf, T.W.; Lucas, D.A.; Hale, A.R. (eds.). Near Miss Reporting as a Safety Tool. Butterworth-Heinemann. pp. 9–26.
  18. ^ Perrow, 1984
  19. ^ Leveson 2004
  20. ^ Hollnagel, 2012
  21. ^ Dekker 2011

External links[edit]