Accidental Causation Models

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Accident Causation Models

Work affects the employers/employees health and safety in many ways. Many organisations are subject to a different set of socio-political context and are often systems that contain various hazards that should be minimised to ensure the safety of their occupants. Accident causation is a major point of interest in many organisations, occupations or professions. Occupational accidents refer to an unplanned or unexpected occurrence that includes incidences of violence that arise in connection with or out of work, which often results in the workers sustaining death, disease or injury. A model or theory of accident causation refers to the tools that scientists use to explain the nature and occurrence of accidents in the workplace. Several theories have been developed to explore the causation of accidents in the workplace. Some of the theories of accident causation include the epidemiological theory, Heinrichs Domino theory, the accident/incident theory, the behaviour theory, and the systems theory (Cleveland State University, 2016). This essay compares and contrasts only three theories of accident causation, namely, the epidemiological model, the systems theory, and the Heinrichs domino theory. The essay has three sections: the first section explains the components of each accident causation model, the second part explores the similarities and differences of the theories, and the third part discusses the areas of controversy/disagreement among the three theories. Then, a conclusion section will support the argument.


Description of the Theories of Accident Causation

The Epidemiological Model

In1987, Reason offered the epidemiological model of accident causation theory, which was adopted from the epidemiological metaphor that presented the notion of residing pathogens. Reason emphasized the importance of underlying factors in the scheme of accident causation by claiming that all man-made systems contained potentially vicious agencies that operate in the same way pathogens do in the human body (Goetsch, 2002). In other words, the epidemiological theory of accident causation explores the relations between the environmental factors and occurrence of accidents just like the epidemiologists investigate the relationship between pathogens and diseases.

The theory has two key elements, namely, predisposition attributes and situational attributes. Susceptibility factors are the circumstances that predispose an employee or worker to a risk of injury or particular actions (Safety Institute of Australia, 2013). On the other hand, situational characteristics are factors such as poor attitude, peer pressure, risk-taking or a lack of knowledge. Altogether, predisposition and situational combine to prevent or cause accidents (Safety Institute of Australia, 2013). For example, while replacing a tire on a companys car, an employee may injure his or her leg because his or her boss was harassing him or her or because he did not know how to multi-task.


Fig. 1. A diagrammatic representation of the Epidemiological model of accident causation (DMI, 2016).

A Systems Model

A systems model explores accident causation from a systemic perspective. The theory suggests that accidents arise from the interaction of machines, people, and the environment (Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012). The theory assumes that the causality of accidents or injury operates in a more complex environment. In normal conditions, the chance for an accident happening is minimal. Instead of perceiving that the environment is full of people prone to errors and hazards, the systems model assumes that there exists a harmonious state between the workplace and individuals.

Instability or stability in the relations within the system cause or undermine the causation of accidents. According to this model, employees safety is an issue that arises whenever the various components of the system interact with other elements in the context of a larger environment (Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012. The conditions that influence the occurrence of accidents include a set of constraints that relate to the behavioural components that enforce the stability of the system. Accidents may also occur when the interactions violate the restrictions or destabilise the existence of appropriate constraints of the relations or interactions within the system. Figure 1.2 summarizes the systems model of accident causation.


Fig. 2. Systems Model of accident causation (DMI, 2016).

The systems model assumes that accidents occur because of the failure of the entire system. For instance, road accidents take place because of the failure of the whole traffic system. That is, traffic accidents occur because of the failed interaction between the road infrastructure, the driver, and the vehicle. However, a proper working system (the communication between various components) ensures that accidents do not happen.

Heinrichs Dominos Theory

The Heinrichs domino theory suggests that any accident is just one factor in the string of events that may result in an injury. Several reasons can be perceived to be a series of dominoes that stand on edge (Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012). For example, when an employee falls on the staircase, the linkages required for the chain of reactions are complete. It means that each of the forces of factors that contributed to the fall depends on the preceding factor.


Fig. 3. Pictorial representation of Heinrichs domino theory of accident causation (DMI, 2016).


Fig. 4. Heinrichs domino model (DMI, 2016)

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Heinrichs domino model assumes that the dominoes operate in a succession of each other. Whenever one domino falls, the fall triggers the second domino. In fig. 1.3, the ineffectiveness or failure of social and environment and ancestry domino triggers carelessness or fault in the affected person (Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012). The existence of delinquency triggers unsafe actions or conditions. Hazardous conditions then lead to accidents that cause injury. Thus, Heinrichs domino model assumes that accidents take place because of various factors that fail and are succeeded by others and that accidents are the ones that cause injuries.

Similarities and Differences between the Theories


Both theories identify the causes of accidents and defences. The reason for the accident refers to the factors that predispose an individual to accidents. The epidemiological model assumes that accidents happen because the environment has social, physical, mechanical, and energy-related factors that interact to cause the injury. Thus, to control or prevent the happening of accidents, the epidemiological model requires the host or the individual to identify the causes of accidents and mitigate them. For example, a change in behaviour would help prevent accidents that result from behavioural predisposition.

On the other hand, the systems theory of accidents causation states that accidents happen because of the failures in the organisations systems. Under normal circumstances, each organisation has unique systems that guard employees against those accidents (Safety Institute of Australia, 2013). However, lapses in the systems defences create opportunities for accidents to take place.

Heinrichs domino model perceives accidents to be caused by the interaction between different succeeding factors. Heinrich presumed that accidents arose from the failure of the various dominoes in an advantageous manner. For example, a stupid person (stupidity Domino) will be vulnerable to make faulty mistakes such as sitting on the roller (the carelessness domino). Carelessness will usher in dangerous acts such as ignoring safety measures put in place thereby leading to accidents (Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012). Accidents would then result in injuries. Heinrichs model recommends the prevention of accidents by reviewing the dominos that cause those accidents. For example, the organisation should hire intelligent and well-trained persons as a precautionary measure to prevent the occurrence of accidents.


Fig. 5. Overall representation of the causes and defences in the three accidents causation models (DMI, 2016)


Each model uses a different approach to explaining the issue of accident causation. The epidemiological model exploits the concept of industrial hygiene in the explanation of accidents and the resulting injuries. Industrial hygiene encompasses all the environment-related factors that can cause injuries and accidents. The epidemiological model also focuses on the interplay between accidents and their environment (Safety Institute of Australia, 2013). The theory holds that predisposition factors such as perceptions, the peoples susceptibility, and environmental factors interact with situational characteristics such as risk judgment, supervisors priority and peer pressure to cause or undermine the causation of accidents. Thus, the epidemiological theory of accident causation uses the concept of environmental vulnerabilities and individual characteristics to explain the occurrence or non-occurrence of accidents.

The systems approach uses the systematic approach to appreciating accident causation. A system is a collection of interrelated and interacting elements that collectively forms a united whole. The model perceives environments where accidents may occur as systems that comprise of the machine (agency), the person (host), and the environment (Hudson, 2014). It implies that the possibility of an accident occurring depends on the relationships between the agency, the host and the environment as the three forms the system. For example, when a company replaces an experienced employee who is on leave, the chances of accidents occurring would be higher because the replacement may be lacking the needed skills for the job.

Heinrichs dominion theory explores the ten axioms of industrial safety to explain the causation of accidents. The ten axioms are interacting and intervening factors that cause accidents or create vulnerabilities that enhance the occurrence of accidents. The team axioms are summarised below:

1. An injury arises on a whole series of things or factors, one them being the mishap itself.

2. A debacle occurs only when a consequence of mechanical hazard or a person.

3. Most accidents arise from unsafe behavioural practices or display by people.

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4. Dangerous acts by people or hazardous conditions do not always result in accidents immediately.

5. The core reason why individuals commit terrible acts could help decision-makers to correct the anomalies.

6. The seriousness of any safety mishap is mostly fortuitous; the incident that caused that accident is often avoidable.

7. The desirable accident deterrence techniques are those that are analogous to the best productivity and quality technologies.

8. Organisations leadership should take duty for their staffs wellbeing since it is the best way to achieve excellent performance.

9. A supervisor or an overseer is the most important individual in the scheme of accident prevention of accidents.

10. Accidents lead to direct costs (such as liability and compensation) and indirect or hidden costs (Friend & Kohn, 2010; Hosseinian & Torghabeh, 2012; Safety Institute of Australia, 2013).

The Controversies or Disagreements in the Three Models

The epidemiological model of accident causation does not reflect the reality of organisational performance. The epidemiological accident causation model emphasises the need for performance deviation and appreciation of the hidden causes of accidents in the workstations (Hudson, 2014). For example, employees or organisations should facilitate the avoidance of unsafe acts or behaviours. However, the epidemiological approach does not address the core cause of accidents, namely, system lapses. Behaviour change can often result in negative consequences on the respective organization. Hence, an efficient accident prevention strategy should ensure the existence of systems that cannot generate negative results.

The systems model does not capture the actual dynamics of accident causation and defences. Rasmussen (1990) examined the systems theory and concluded that systems model could not provide viable accident prevention mechanisms to be ever-changing thereby making it harder to mitigate some accidents. Rasmussen (1990) explores the effect of active errors and latent errors to highlight the weaknesses in the model. Active errors are easily identifiable because they cause an immediate impact on the actor or organisation. However, latent errors create delayed consequences. Most systems would address active failures, but the potential errors are often unknown or ignored until an accident takes place.

Heinrichs domino model is hard to implement because it is quite complicated. The model recommends the removal of one of the accident causation factors to eliminate the knockout effect (Safety Institute of Australia, 2013). However, one accident can be caused by a single problem such as negligence or the use of drugs and not a series of incidences. It would be difficult to determine whether genetics or ancestry would override all the training and safety measures. Also, the injury is a regular part of an accident. Hence, it should not be a factor in accident causation chain of events.


In conclusion, the essay has explored the similarities and differences among the three theories of accidents causation: the systems theory, the Heinrichs domino theory, and the epidemiological theory. The models examine how accidents occur and the mitigation factors that can be put in place to prevent the occurrence of those accidents. However, each model uses a different premise to explain the accident phenomenon. Each theory also has its limitations or controversy that challenges the core idea.

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