What are the Theories of Accident Prevention?


What are the Theories of Accident Prevention?

Following the increasing outcry against the increasing incidence of accidents in Nigeria, culminating in unnecessary loss of life, everybody must be actively involved in all walks of life in the crusade for Accident Prevention. Behavioral change theories are used to explain why behaviors change.

Theories help us to learn or understand and predict health behavior and the mechanism for producing a behavior change. Based on the above reasons accident prevention deserves a unit in this course. Therefore, let us explore accident prevention using theories.

By the end of the article, you should be able to discuss the concept of theory, itemize the different theories of accident prevention and mention the different types of accident prevention.

Please enjoy your reading.


Concept of Theory

A theory presents a systematic way of understanding events, behavior and/or situations. A theory is a set of interrelated concepts, definitions and propositions that explains or predicts events or situations by specifying relations among variables.

Theories are used to describe the interrelationships between variables or concepts. Human behavior is difficult to change especially when it relates to health behavior.  Our health is determined to a large extent by what we do or do not.

Theories can guide the search to:

1.  Understand why people do or do not practice health-promoting behavior

2.  Help identify what information is needed to design an effective intervention strategy

3.  Provide insight into how to design a programme so that it is successful.

Theories help to explain behavior, as well as suggest how to develop more effective ways to influence and change behavior.


Theories of Accident Prevention

Theories are like road maps to guide researchers in the study of accident causation and prevention. 

Some of these common theories among others include the following:

1.  Heinrich’s Domino Theory

2.  Human Theory

3.  Accident/ Incident Theory

4.  System theory

5.  Firenzie’s System Theory

6.  Combination Theory


1. Heinrich’s Domino Theory: Heinrich's Domino theory, also known as Sequential Event-Based Models was developed by H.W. Heinrich in 1931. He was a pioneer in safety philosophy. Many of his principles and basic philosophy of accident causation and prevention are confirmed by time and application.

His philosophy was based on 10 axioms (Self-evident- truths) as follows:

i. Injuries result from a completed series of factors, one of which is the accident itself.

ii. An accident can occur only as the result of an unsafe act by a person and/or a physical or mechanical hazard.

iii. Most accidents are the result of unsafe behavior by people.

iv. An unsafe act by a person or an unsafe condition does not always immediately result in an accident/injury.

v. The reasons why people commit unsafe acts can serve as a helpful guide in selecting corrective actions.

vi. The severity of an accident is largely fortuitous and the accident that caused it is largely preventable. vii. The best accident techniques are analogous to the best quality and productivity techniques.

viii. Management should assume responsibility for safety since it is in the best position to get results.

ix. The supervisor is the key person in the prevention of industrial accidents.

x. In addition to the direct cost of an accident (i.e. compensation, liability claims, medical costs, and hospitals expenses) there are also hidden or indirect costs.

According to this theory, there are five factors in accident causation:

i. Social Environment (those conditions which make us take or accept risks).

ii. Fault of the person/rider (excessive speed, impatience and errors).

iii. Unsafe acts or conditions (poor road design, poor planning, unsafe equipment, hazardous environment).

iv. Accident.

v. Injury.

Major unsafe acts and conditions include:

1. Under influence of alcohol and other drugs.

2. Improper position for task.

3. Incorrect use of tools and equipment, hand tools, power tools.

4. Incorrect use of machinery

5. Failure to wear protective equipment.

6. Using defective equipment and tools.

7. Removing safety guards.

8. Making safety devices inoperable.

9. Non-servicing of motorcycle.

10. Hazardous weather conditions.

11. Bad road design.

12. Inadequate illumination.


Two Central Points of this theory:

a. Injuries are caused by the action of preceding factors.

b. Removal of the central factor (unsafe act/unsafe condition) negates the action of the preceding factor and, in so doing, prevents accidents and injuries.

These five factors are arranged in a domino fashion such that the fall of the first domino results in the fall of the entire row i.e. an undesirable or expected event (root cause) initiates a sequence of subsequent events leading to an accident.

This implies that the accident is the result of a single cause and if that cause can be identified and removed the accident will not be repeated, the reality of this model is that accidents always have more than one contributing factor and the occurrence of an injury invariably results from a completed sequence of factors, and the last one of these being the accident itself which are caused by unsafe acts.


2. Human Factor Theory: Attributes accidents to a chain of events that were ultimately the result of human error.

Three broad factors leading to human error are:

i. Overload.

ii. Inappropriate responses.

iii. Inappropriate activities.

Worker's Capacity

· Natural Ability, Training, State of Mind, Fatigue, Stress, Physical Condition.

· Environmental Factors

· Noise, Climatic, Lighting, Distractions, etc.

· Internal Factors

· Personal Problems, Emotional Stress, Worry

· Situational Factors Level of Risk, Unclear Instructions, Novelty, etc

Inappropriate Responses

i. Ignores a Suspected Hazard

ii. Disregards Established Safety Procedures

iii. Circumvents Safety Devices Includes Incompatibility with Person's, Workstation, Size, Required Force, Reach, Feel, etc

Inappropriate Activities

i. Performing tasks without requisite training.

ii. Misjudging the degree of risk.


3. Accident/Incident Theory: Petersen's Extension to the human factors theory adds these new elements

i. Ergonomic Traps.

ii. Decision to Err.

iii. System Failures.


i. Pressures

ii. Deadlines, budget factors, peer pressure

iii. Fatigue

iv. Motivation

v. Drugs

vi. Alcohol

vii. Worry

Ergonomic Trap

 i. Incompatible workstation

ii. Incompatible expectations

Decision to Err.

 i. Misjudgment of Risks

ii. Unconscious Desire to Err

iii. Logical Decision Based on Situation / Circumstances

iv. Superman Syndrome (It won't happen to me) Bulletproof, Invincible, Immortal, Lucky system failures v. Potential for a causal relationship between managerial decisions/behaviors regarding safety

vi. Policies

vii. Responsibilities

viii. Training

ix. Inspections

x. Corrective actions

xi. Standards


4. Systems Theory of Causation: A system is a group of interacting and interrelated components that form a unified whole. The Host (People), the Agent (Machinery) and the Environment.

The likelihood of an accident occurring is determined by how these components interact. Changes in the patterns of interaction can increase or decrease the probability of an accident occurring.


5. Firenzie's Systems Theory: Stressors


Information gathering

Risks assessment


Decision making

Task performance

Stressors can cloud judgment during information gathering, risk weighing, and decision making processes.

Firenzie's Recommendations You must consider these five factors - before beginning the process of information gathering, risk weighing, decision making.

i. Job requirements.

ii. Worker's abilities and limitations.

iii. Gain from successful task completion.

iv. Loss if task attempted but results in failure.

v. Loss if the task is not attempted.


6. Combination Theory of Causation: It is very important to note that theories and models are not necessarily reality. A single theory may not suit all circumstances.

Some theories address particular problems better than other theories. A combination of theories and models may be the optimal approach toward problem solutions.

In this case accident prevention.


Conclusion on the Theories of Accident Prevention

An effective accident prevention programme is an important need. However, before a suitable solution can be prescribed, the cause of the problem must be identified. 

It can be broadly stated that all accidents are the result of environmental hazards and/or unsafe behavior. But the task of changing behavior is not an easy one. Theories help to understand the nature of targeted behavior.

In this post, you have learned the following what is the theory of accident prevention and Different theories of accident prevention.

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