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Accidents vs. Incidents in the Workplace: How Do They Differ?

In workplace safety, understanding the incidents vs. accidents distinction is not just a matter of semantics; it’s a critical aspect of creating a safer work environment. 

Although the terms incidents and accidents are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct categories in the realm of occupational health and safety. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the nuances of accidents vs. incidents to shed light on their differences and why these distinctions matter in the quest for workplace safety and prevention.

Let’s jump in.

What is an Accident?

Incidents vs. Accidents | EHS Practice

An accident is an unexpected, unintended event that causes harm without anyone’s knowledge or anticipation. Even when it frequently results in property damage or personal injury, an accident is nevertheless regarded to have occurred. Accidents can range in size from a minor knock on the head from stumbling to a severe chemical burn.

However, accidents may happen due to several reasons such as:

  • A breakdown of machine and equipment
  • Due to insufficient training and techniques 
  • Do not know the proper use of machinery and equipment
  • Inadequate supervision and management 
  • Poor and unfavorable working conditions
  • Fail to follow the safety rules and regulations

What is An Incident?

An incident is a specific, frequently remarkable event that occurs without warning and may call for notice, investigation, or action. Accidents, security breaches, interruptions, or other notable occurrences that have an impact on people, organizations, or systems can all be considered incidents. Incidents can also range greatly in type. However, an incident is a circumstance that might have led to an accident but didn’t. 

For instance, a worker walking behind a forklift and a driver didn’t notice and turned around and reversed the car or an employee barely evaded being hit by a forklift. At the very last moment, the worker moved out of the forklift’s path to escape getting struck by it. Even though these instances tend to be harmless and minor, they may have extremely serious consequences in some instances. 

Understanding Incidents vs Accidents Difference

Every construction or manufacturing business needs to distinguish incidents vs. accidents in a way that makes things easier for them. It is also important to check out the optimal use that depends on the goals. The very first thing is; that you need to develop a clear understanding of each term among employers. Make sure that each worker understands your definition of accident vs. incident, so they can use the right terminology. 

Here you will read the basic difference between incidents & accidents;


  • Accidents refer to unplanned, unexpected events that result in harm or damage to people, property, or the environment. They typically involve injuries, illnesses, or damage to equipment or property.
  • Accidents often have a more serious and immediate impact, causing physical harm or significant damage.
  • They are usually the result of a specific hazardous event or unsafe act and may lead to serious consequences like injuries, fatalities, or substantial financial losses.
  • Accidents are typically seen as preventable through proper safety measures, training, and risk management.


  • Incidents are broader in scope and encompass a wider range of events, including near-misses and situations where harm or damage was avoided or minimal.
  • Incidents can involve unsafe conditions or behaviors that didn’t result in harm but had the potential to do so. These are often referred to as “near-miss incidents.”
  • They can also include situations where safety procedures were followed correctly, preventing harm despite adverse conditions.
  • Incidents are valuable opportunities for learning and improving workplace safety since they provide insights into potential hazards and vulnerabilities

Why Do You Need To Analyze And Record Accidents and Incidents?

Incidents vs. Accidents | EHS Practice

Analyzing and recording accidents and incidents is essential for several reasons, primarily related to safety, prevention, and organizational improvement. Here are some key reasons why it is crucial to do so:

1. To Minimize Severe Damages

Recording and analyzing incidents can help organizations identify potential risks and hazards in their operations. This information allows them to develop risk mitigation strategies and safety protocols to reduce the likelihood of accidents and incidents. 

2. To Identify the Common Trouble Spots

Analyzing incidents provides valuable data for continuous improvement efforts. Organizations can use this data to refine their processes, update safety procedures, and implement best practices, ultimately increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Help Organizations Compare Overtime Data

By comparing incident data over time or with industry benchmarks, organizations can assess their performance and identify areas where they may be lagging behind or excelling in terms of safety and incident management.

4. Help in Making Data-Driven Decision-Making 

Recording incidents provides valuable data that can inform decision-making at various levels of an organization. Data-driven decisions are often more accurate and effective in improving safety and operational processes.

5. Helps in Cost Reduction

Accidents and incidents can result in significant financial losses due to medical expenses, property damage, legal fees, and insurance premiums. By analyzing these events and taking preventive measures, organizations can reduce these costs.

6. Integrate Safety Measures

Analyzing accidents and incidents helps identify the root causes and contributing factors. By understanding why these events occurred, organizations can take proactive measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, thereby enhancing safety for employees, customers, and the public.

Why Does OSHA Use Incident Instead Of Accident?

In OSHA’s guidelines and regulations, the definition of incident is “it used broadly to refer to any unexpected or unplanned event or exposure to a hazardous condition that results in, or has the potential to result in, injury, illness, damage to property, or other negative consequences”.

Another factor that contributes to OSHA’s preference for the word Incident is that when someone gets injured at work, it is a sensitive matter. Nobody wants to take the blame, but OSHA intends to have a constructive conversation to avoid the same thing happening again. A phrase like “incident” is a psychological white space.

According to OSHA, “Accident has such heavy baggage in normal conversation that they avoid it altogether. OSHA doesn’t want people to think of safety and health incidents as “nobody’s fault” or risk implying that an event isn’t serious”.

OSHA supports workplace safety in a number of significant ways. This includes creating and enforcing standards for safety and health at work, offering training to both employees and employers, conducting inspections to verify that safety standards are being followed. It also educates employers and staff members, and looks into and addressing complaints. They also play a key role in fostering an environment of safety in workplaces by offering tools and advice for spotting hazards, preventing them, and handling emergencies.

OSHA emphasizes the importance of incident reporting and recordkeeping to identify workplace hazards, assess their severity, and develop measures for preventing future incidents. Employers are required to maintain records of workplace incidents, and they may be required to report certain serious incidents to OSHA, depending on the nature of the incident and the industry.


Incidents vs accidents differ from one another in a numbero of ways. However, if you want to keep your employees updated with OSHA safety requirements, enrolling in courses like OSHA 10-hour construction and OSHA 30-hour construction will always be your best choice.

Analyzing and recording accidents and incidents is not just a legal requirement in many cases but it is also a fundamental practice for promoting safety, reducing risks, and bringing continuous improvement. By doing so, organizations can protect their employees, assets, and reputation.