29th Nov, 2019 Read time 2 minutes

Key terminology in accident investigation

Whilst the name suggests that accident investigation is concerned purely with accidents, there are actually a range of different occurrences that will require investigation within your organisation. Here is our definition of these different occurrences and the other key terminology in accident investigation.

Adverse Events

Accident: In HSE terms an accident refers to an event that causes an injury or ill-health

Incident: An incident does not concern ill health or injury. They are normally concerning a near miss or undesired circumstance. A near miss is an event or circumstance that has the potential to cause harm whilst an undesired circumstance is a set of circumstances that can cause injury or ill health.

Dangerous Occurrence: This is defined in RIDDOR as a one or a number of specific, reportable adverse events.

Hazard: a hazard has the potential to cause harm to property, products, environment, and can lead to production losses and increased liabilities.

Immediate cause: This is the most obvious reason why an event has occurred. Multiple immediate causes may be detected in an adverse event.


Consequences of Incident

In addition to the various different types of incidents that may occur within a workplace, there is also variety in the results of the incident.

Fatality: This is a death that has occurred within the workplace

Major injury/ill-health: This can include fractures, amputations, burns and injury to the eye. Another occurrence can be an injury that results in loss of conscious requiring hospital treatment for more than 24 hours.

Serious injury: A serious injury is defined as an event that stops a person from being able to carry out work for more than 3 consecutive days.

Minor injury: These are all other injuries which stop a person from working for less than three days

Damage only: this is concerning damage to equipment, property, or the environment in the workplace.


Likelihood of events reoccurring 

In the context of accident investigation, there are a number of different phrases that determine the degree to which an event will reoccur.

Rare: highly unlikely and unexpected to happen again

Unlikely: Not expected to happen in the foreseeable future

Possible: it may occur from time to time

Likely: it will reoccur, but not as an everyday event

Certain: it will happen again within a short period of time



As shown in the world of accident investigation, there are a number of different definitions that must be learned. Whilst some are fairly self-explanatory, some do have more nuanced meanings in a health and safety context. Making sure you know all of them will give you a good grounding to perform good accident investigation in the future.

Brands who we work with

Sign up to our newsletter
Keep up to date with all HSE news and thought leadership interviews