Difference between Accident and Incident

Difference between Accident and Incident | The Basics

When it comes to incidents or accidents in the workplace, it’s important to get to grips with the terminology used.

A very common question is ‘What is the difference between accident and incident?‘ The way related terms are used can vary across different companies, sectors and countries.

Let’s take a look at how different terms are used in the UK…

Difference between Accident and Incident

Definitions for Adverse Events

When dealing with workplace Health and Safety, managing accidents, incidents and near misses effectively is a key element for improving performance and protecting your business.

Accident: an event that results in injury or ill health;

Incident: an incident may be classed as either a

– near miss: an event that, while not causing harm, has the potential to cause
injury or ill health. (In this guidance, the term near miss will be taken to
include dangerous occurrences);


– unsafe condition: a set of conditions or circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health, e.g. untrained nurses handling heavy patients.
Dangerous occurrence: one of a number of specific, reportable adverse events,
as defined in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences
Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).

Workplace Accident Investigation Guide

Accident and Incident Consequences

  • fatal: work-related death;
  • major injury/ill health: (as defined in RIDDOR, Schedule 1), including fractures
    (other than fingers or toes), amputations, loss of sight, a burn or penetrating
    injury to the eye, any injury or acute illness resulting in unconsciousness, requiring
    resuscitation or requiring admittance to hospital for more than 24 hours;
  • serious injury/ill health: where the person affected is unfit to carry out his or her
    normal work for more than three consecutive days;
  • minor injury: all other injuries, where the injured person is unfit for his or her normal
    work for less than three days;
  • damage only: damage to property, equipment, the environment or production
    losses. (This guidance only deals with events that have the potential to cause harm
    to people.)

Accident and Incident Causes

When we talk about the ‘immediate cause‘, we are referring to the agent or direct source of the injury or ill health (e.g. tool, vehicle, substance). 

root cause analysis accident investigation

Beyond that, we can delve deeper into the reasons for an incident or accident occurring and aim to find:

Underlying cause: the less obvious ‘system’ or ’organisational’ reason for an
adverse event happening, eg pre-start-up machinery checks are not carried out
by supervisors; the hazard has not been adequately considered via a suitable risk assessment etc.

Root cause: an initiating event or failing from which all other causes or failings

Root causes are generally management, planning or organisational failings.

For either of the above, there may be more than one answer. That’s what our accident investigation guide aims to uncover!

Accident and Incident Reporting Bundle

Download our fillable Accident Report Form template bundle to keep an accurate record of accidents/incidents & investigations in your workplace. Safeti’s Accident Report Template bundle includes editable forms for your records, alongside a 30-page expert Accident Investigation Guide.

Accident Report Templates
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To learn more about Accident and Incident Investigation, check out our complete Guide here.

Difference between Accident and Incident | Got a Question for Us?


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