Accidents, Incidents and Near misses – an easy way to tell the difference

Accidents, Incidents and Near misses – what’s the difference? This question might appear “too easy” to answer but I have been asked this question too many times while delivering training so I know this is an area many people will like some clarity on.
Accidents, incidents and near misses are potentially dangerous events/situations but with varying degree of seriousness. Let me start by using some scenarios.

The difference?
Remember that a hazard is any situation or substance with the potential to cause harm. Take for example, a boiling kettle – this poses a burns and scald risk. While pouring some of the boiling water into a cup, there is the possibility of one not looking at what they are doing and the water going the wrong direction.

As an accident:
The very hot water could end up on your feet. If you are at home where you obviously won’t be wearing shoes, then you could end up with a serious burn. Because there is harm to your person, we would describe this as an accident. Same way you could be on a construction site and an object falls from a height of say 25 feets and lands on your head. Even with a helmet being worn, depending on the object, this could result in serious harm. You may be lucky enough to not have the object land on your head but rather it hits the floor and causes some damage. An accident is therfore an event that leads to harm of your person, or damage to property or equipments.

As an incident:
The very hot water ended up on your feet but fortunately, you had just gotten back from work and still had your shoes on so you only felt some of the heat and no harm was done. This you would describe as an incident because this one event had the potential to cause harm. Using the construction site as another example, if the object lands on you or the floor but causes no damage, then you refer to it as an incident. There is however a great potential that it could have caused harm or damage to property.

Another instance – the hot water ended up on the floor instead of your skin or the falling object missed your head and there is no harm to you or damage to property, you call this a near-miss or a narrow escape (in layman terms). I call a near-miss “an incident with a twist”.

Advice: Don’t get too comfortable or start to feel cocky because you feel you have been on the job long enough to know it all and your behinto feel you are immune to mistakes. Mistakes are made even by skilled and experienced people. No one can know it all that is why there is always the opportunity for growth and improvement.

On a final note, when you get tired, be sure to take a break. Fatigue is one the greatest causes of accidents.