Basic Definitions Used In Accident Investigation

Basic Definitions Used In Accident Investigation

Accident investigation is a complex process that relies on understanding the many principles, techniques, and laws applicable to the case. A successful accident investigation must be able to determine why an accident happened and who was responsible for it. To understand this distinction clearly, it is important to have an overview of some key definitions used in accident investigations.

In this blog post, we will discuss the basic concepts related to accident investigation and provide details about their role in evaluating accidents. With a greater understanding of these definitions and how they can affect your investigation, you will be better equipped with helpful knowledge when conducting future investigations.

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, 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.

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 event 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 cannot come in for their next shift or a longer period.


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

Physical Exposure

An exposure that 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, chemical fumes, etc.

Direct cause

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

Surface cause

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

Root cause

The underlying reason the surface cause exists.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Equipment is 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 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 aims to identify and correct the causes of an accident. Through thoroughly analyzing all relevant factors, investigators can determine the root cause and develop corrective actions to avoid future accidents. It is also important to note that the role of an investigator is not limited to solely gathering evidence; they must also provide guidance on reducing the risks associated with future accidents. By understanding these definitions, you will be better equipped to conduct a successful accident investigation process.

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