‘It’s really no accident’

A client rang the office today to tell us that he had, had an accident.

What do you mean you had an accident? Don’t you mean you had an incident?

What even is an Accident?

The dictionary tells us that it is a NOUN meaning ‘an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.’ -an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.

In the world of health and safety we are used to the following definitions:

An accident is ‘an unplanned, unforeseen event that may result in injury or ill- heath of people, or damage or loss to property, equipment, plant, materials or the environment

The Road Traffic Act defines a Road Traffic Accident as :

Owing to the presence of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place, an accident occurs by which—

  1. personal injury is caused to a person other than the driver of that [F1 mechanically propelled vehicle], or
  2. damage is caused to a vehicle other than that vehicle or a trailer drawn by that, or to an animal other than an animal in or on that vehicle or a trailer drawn by that vehicle, or to any other property constructed on, fixed to, growing in or otherwise forming part of the land on which the road [or place] in question is situated or land adjacent to such land.

In this section “animal” means horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog.

So if you run over a cat or an alligator it’s not an accident.

To be honest I take issue with the very concept of having an accident. Even the Police don’t call accidents, accidents anymore. They call them Road Traffic Collisions now. Even they know that someone or something is culpable.

To my way of thinking everything happens as a consequence of something else having happened and nothing happens with no cause. There is no such thing as being ‘unforeseen’, or ‘unexpected’, or ‘happening by chance’. Everything is caused by something else. It’s a chain of events which lead to the catastrophic event. Not something that comes out of nowhere. Just because we are blind or ignorant to, or choose to ignore the sign-posts does not in any way make it unplanned, unforeseen or unexpected.

Animals can have accidents. Animals don’t have the cognitive nous to see cause and effect. They live in the moment. We do. Even those of us with low IQ and low cognitive ability has the necessary tools to see what’s coming. It’s just that most of the time we can’t be bothered with it or we choose to ignore it.

There is this reasoning in science that If we knew the position and velocity of every particle in the universe then we could run a computer simulation, say twenty four hours ahead of reality and we could predict the bad stuff and change the course of events- so long as we had a big enough computer and we had all the required data. We would also need a way of contacting everybody in the world to warn them, ‘hey don’t cross High Street at the junction with North Road at 3pm tomorrow, there will be a vehicle speeding round the corner on the wrong side of the road and it will hit you. Walk past the junction and use the footbridge further down’. To the government of Tahiti, you need to evacuate the Capitol in the next 12 hours as there will be an earthquake in that area which will destroy most of the buildings’. ‘Residents in Arkansas will need to seek shelter as the low pressure just north of you will develop into a tornado which will wreck your town’. You get the picture. Trouble is we would have to reset the simulation every time we made an intervention of every moment the simulation didn’t quite play out otherwise it would be wildly inaccurate within seconds. Complexity is the issue here not feasibility.  But the underlying point is that everything is caused by something. We can actually predict the future now if we stop and properly read the sign- posts. That tyre which is bald will puncture, that motorbike with the loose bolt will crash, that truck with the faulty steering will veer across the road, that bare electric cable next to the kettle will get wet and electrocute the user. Every incident is ultimately preventable. We just need to open our eyes. We need to take the time to embed these checks and balances more into our work and daily routines. We need to stop saying I had an accident.

Martin Blythe,


OJ Health and Safety Solutions Ltd