I'm probably fighting a losing battle here, but as someone deeply involved in worker education, I don't much like substituting "incident" for "accident." The primary Oxford Dictionary definition of "accident" is:
An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury:
And while one can argue that an event should have been foreseen, obviously it wasn't, and those involved certainly didn't expect or intend it to happen. And while the definition uses the word "incident" it qualifies it as unexpected, unintentional, and with a bad outcome.
Here's the British English definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:
And if you want gold old American English, this is Merriam-Webster:
A sudden event (such as a crash) that is not planned or intended and that causes damage or injury.
Some secondary definitions include the notion that an accident happens "by chance," which is troublesome. But at some level, chance is an element of most accidents. A badly-designed process may work smoothly 100 times, only to catastrophically fail at the 101st. We tend to say that it was bound to happen someday. The fact that it happened that day was by chance, even though a deeper analysis of all the factors would eliminate randomness.
My problem with "incident" is that it sounds, well, "incidental." Nobody says their loved one died in a traffic incident. We don't look back on a tragic event and say it was an "incident waiting to happen." In fact, the Oxford Dictionary defines "accident waiting to happen" as:
A potentially disastrous situation, typically caused by negligent or faulty procedures.
Which is pretty much perfect.
How we use words matters. I've seen a room full of workers roll their eyes when a safety consultant tells them that the fatality last week was an "incident." In my own worker education I tend to use "accident" when somebody got killed or injured. We teach "Incident Investigation" classes, but there we use the word because we are also concerned with investigating near misses and process upsets or deviations. I tend to use "event" with safety and health specialists
Michael J. Wright
Director of Health, Safety and Environment
See us on the web at www.usw.org
New post on The Safety Zone
This New York Times story from May reminded me of some people's distaste for calling laboratory incidents "accidents": It's No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car =E2=80=98Crashes' Instead
Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers.
Just don't call them accidents anymore.
That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error.
"When you use the word =E2=80=98accident,' it's like, =E2=80=98God made it happen,' " Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. ...
Changing semantics is meant to shake people, particularly policy makers, out of the implicit nobody's-fault attitude that the word "accident" conveys, they said.
The semantics of accident came up around the Honolulu Fire Department investigation report about the University of Hawaii explosion. The fire department called the event an "accident" because the explosion wasn't set off intentionally.
But the University of Hawaii lab was working with a hazardous mixture of gases using inappropriate equipment. The information in the fire department report indicates that the explosion was foreseeable and preventable. Is it therefore appropriate to call the explosion an accident? Does anyone know of a lab incident that could truly be called accidental in that that chemicals involved behaved contrary to their known properties?
Previous post | Top of Page | Next post