What Is Meant by the Terms ‘Incident’, ‘Accident’ and ‘Near Miss’

There can sometimes be confusion about different terms incidents, accidents, near misses:

  • ‘Accidents’ are incidents that cause harm (Figure 1, below);
  • ‘Near misses’ are incidents that could have caused harm, but didn’t on this occasion (Figure 2, below);
  • ‘Incidents’ then, is a collective term encompassing both of the above;
  • ‘Undesired circumstances’ are what can usually be identified before and incident occurs (Figure 3, below).




The investigation and analysis of work-related accidents and incidents forms an essential part of the management of health and safety. Learning lessons from experience is critical to preventing future accidents and incidents.

Carrying out an accident investigation provides a deeper understanding of the risks associated with work activities. Learning what went wrong enables improvements to risk control measures, and management arrangements for supervision and monitoring etc.

However, an organisation should look to prevent incidents happening in the first place. To do this, they need to be proactive. This involves actively monitoring work activities and locations for undesired circumstances and, when discovered, taking the steps necessary to correct the issue before anyone gets hurt.