Difference Between Accidents, Incidents, and Near Misses

In the complex sphere of safety management, understanding the terminology is crucial. We often encounter accidents, incidents, and near misses, especially in industries with pronounced risks like construction, manufacturing, and transportation. Yet, these terms are frequently used interchangeably, often leading to confusion and blurring their true significance. It’s crucial to realize that these words have distinct meanings, each embodying a different level of risk and consequence.

This blog post aims to clearly delineate the differences between accidents, incidents, and near misses. We will explore their unique characteristics and implications by distinguishing these events based on their result, cause, response, and immediacy. This understanding is a matter of semantics and a foundation for effective risk management and prevention strategies.

We will delve into real-world examples to better illustrate these differences and shed light on the necessity of reporting near misses, despite their seemingly harmless outcome. By the end of this discussion, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of these key terms, enabling you to identify, report, and, most importantly, learn from each event to create a safer environment.

Incident Vs Accident

What is an Accident?

Accidents are events that cause injury or damage. They often occur suddenly and without warning. Examples of accidents include car crashes, falls, and workplace incidents. Accidents can be caused by carelessness, negligence, or a lack of knowledge. When an accident occurs, it is essential to take responsibility for the consequences and take steps to prevent similar accidents from occurring.

Examples of accidents include:

  • A car crash due to a driver not paying attention
  • A fall from a ladder due to a lack of safety equipment
  • A workplace incident due to improper use of equipment

What is an Incident?

Incidents are events that can potentially cause injury or damage but do not necessarily result in any harm. This could include a car skidding on a wet road or a worker slipping on a wet floor. Incidents can be caused by unsafe conditions or careless behavior. While they may not cause harm, they can still be warning signs that something more serious could happen if the situation is not addressed.

Examples of incidents include:

  • Slipping on a wet floor
  • Dropping an object from a height
  • A car skidding on a wet road
  • A worker entering a hazardous area without proper safety gearWhat is a Near Miss?

What is a Near Miss?

A near miss is an incident that nearly caused injury or damage but didn’t due to timely intervention or luck. This could include someone tripping over a box and nearly falling but catching themselves before they hit the ground. Near misses are often overlooked because no harm was done, but we must report them to learn from the situation and take steps to prevent an accident from occurring in the future.

Examples of near misses include:

  • Tripping over a box and catching yourself before you fall
  • A car nearly hits another vehicle but braking in time
  • A worker almost enters a hazardous area without the proper safety gear.

It is essential to recognize the difference between accidents, incidents, and near misses to take the necessary steps to prevent accidents.

Accident Incident Near Miss

Difference Between Accidents, Incidents, And Near Misses

There are some key differences between accidents, incidents, and near misses. Let’s have a look at the definition of each term.

AspectsAccidentIncidentNear Miss
ResultInjury or damagePotential harm or damageNearly causes harm or damage
CauseCarelessness, negligence, lack of knowledgeUnsafe conditions or careless behaviorVariety of reasons, often overlooked
ResponseAddress the situation to prevent escalationThe report, identify risksThe report, identifies risks
TimingOften sudden and without warningMay present warning signsDue to timely intervention or luck
OutcomeSerious, requires immediate attentionMay escalate if not addressedNo harm done, but valuable for learning and prevention

Resulting Impact:

  • Accidents are distinguished by their outcome, which includes actual damage or injury. For instance, a car collision that results in physical harm or property damage is classified as an accident.
  • On the other hand, incidents are characterized by their potential to cause harm or damage. Though an incident may not result in immediate harm or damage, the potential for serious repercussions is inherent. For example, a vehicle skidding on an icy road may not cause immediate harm but could lead to a severe accident under slightly different circumstances.
  • Near misses are situations that almost result in harm or damage, narrowly avoided due to timely intervention or sheer luck. A pedestrian tripping over a pavement edge but regaining balance without falling is a good example of a near miss.
Accident Vs Incident Vs Near Miss

Cause and Circumstances:

  • Accidents are typically the result of human factors such as carelessness, lack of knowledge, or negligence. For instance, a worker disregards safety protocols and causes an accident by mishandling machinery.
  • Incidents can be attributed to unsafe conditions or careless behavior that, under different circumstances, could lead to harm or damage. A classic example would be a construction worker carelessly leaving tools on a high platform. While this could lead to an accident if someone walks underneath, it may not necessarily result in harm.
  • Near misses are often less noticeable because there was no immediate harm or damage, though the potential was present. Near misses could be due to various reasons, from minor misjudgments to process flaws or luck.
AspectsAccidentIncidentNear Miss
SeverityUsually severe, tangible impactsCould range from minor to major impactsNo immediate impacts, but potential severity is high
Reaction timeReaction occurs post-eventReaction could potentially prevent escalationReaction or luck prevents any impact
Learning potentialLearning is from retrospective analysisLearning is from analyzing potential escalationLearning is from what could have happened
Reporting tendencyHigh tendency to report due to tangible impactsMay not always be reported if impacts are minorOften under-reported as there are no immediate impacts
PreventionFocuses on preventing recurrenceFocuses on preventing escalationFocuses on recognizing and managing potential hazards

Response and Mitigation:

Accidents warrant immediate attention, reporting, and response. The repercussions of accidents are apparent, and efforts should be made to prevent similar future occurrences. While not causing immediate harm, incidents need to be addressed to prevent escalation into serious accidents. Despite not causing harm, near misses should also be reported and analyzed. They serve as indicators of potential hazards and provide an opportunity to rectify issues before a serious accident occurs.

Accident Vs Incident

Perception and Timing:

Accidents usually happen unexpectedly and without any forewarning. On the other hand, incidents might present some warning signs that, if noticed and addressed, could prevent an escalation into an accident. Near misses, in contrast, are often a result of timely intervention, luck, or other immediate circumstances that prevent a transition into an accident.

Understanding these differences is critical for effective risk assessment, management, and prevention. Recognizing and reporting near misses, alongside incidents and accidents, contributes significantly to learning and preventing future harm. They offer valuable insights into potential weaknesses and hazards, thereby facilitating proactive measures and promoting a safe environment.


Understanding the distinctive characteristics of accidents, incidents, and near misses can play a pivotal role in managing safety in our daily lives and professional environments. Each term carries its weight and importance, providing different perspectives on the spectrum of safety events that can occur. Accidents, with their immediate and tangible impact, remind us of the consequences of negligence, carelessness, or lack of knowledge. Incidents are a stark warning of what could happen if certain conditions or behaviors persist. Near misses, often underreported and overlooked, are invaluable teachers, offering us foresight into potential dangers without the harsh consequences.

By distinguishing these events and responding appropriately, we equip ourselves with the tools to prevent future accidents, incidents, or near misses. The importance of reporting near misses cannot be overstated – they are the red flags that allow us to rectify potential hazards before they escalate into real harm or damage.

In essence, appreciating the differences between accidents, incidents, and near misses is not just a lesson in semantics but a key strategy for building a safety culture. Let’s utilize this knowledge to nurture safer environments where near misses are perceived as opportunities for improvement, incidents as cautionary tales, and accidents as the last resort we all strive to prevent.

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Raja Umer

Umer is a safety professional with four years of experience across construction and general industries, with a focus on implementing safety measures to protect workers and customers.