Basic Definitions Used In Accident Investigation

Basic Definitions Used In Accident Investigation

Accidents are usually complex. An accident may have 10 or more events that can be caused. A detailed analysis of an accident will normally reveal three cause levels: basic, indirect, and direct. At the lowest level, an accident results only when a person or object receives an amount of energy or hazardous material that cannot be absorbed safely. This energy or hazardous material is the DIRECT CAUSE of the accident.

The direct cause is usually the result of one or more unsafe acts or unsafe conditions, or both. Unsafe acts and conditions are the INDIRECT CAUSES or symptoms. In turn, indirect causes are usually traceable to poor management policies and decisions, or to personal or environmental factors.

The Five Sections Of The Accident Report

Some Basic Definitions Used In Accident Investigation


An unexpected incident or exposure that results in an injury or illness to an employee or property damage.


Often referred to as a near miss, this is an event that could have resulted in personal harm or property damage.

Lost-time injury

When an employee gets injured while carrying out a work task for the employer and unable to come in for their next shift or a longer stretch of time.


Things or objects that have the potential to harm or cause illness.

Physical Exposure

An exposure which you must come into contact with to cause an injury or illness.

Environmental Exposure

You must be in the general area to be affected, examples include: loud noises, chemicals fumes, etc.

Direct cause

The result of the condition and/or behavior. The final event which produces an accident.

Surface cause

Hazardous conditions and unsafe employee/management behaviors that caused the accident.

Root cause

The underlying reason the surface cause exists.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. An example of PPE includes gloves or hard hats.

Unsafe conditions

Unsafe equipment/tools which directly cause the accident.

Unsafe actions

Harmful behaviors which contributed to the accident, this can include gaps in safety training for staff.

System weaknesses

Underlying inadequate or missing programs, plans, policies, processes, and procedures that contributed to the accident.

Accident Investigation Quiz

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