Accident, unintended and unforeseen event, usually resulting in personal injury or property damage. In law, the term is usually limited to events not involving negligence (that is, the carelessness or misconduct of a party involved) or to a loss caused by lightning, floods, or other natural events (See Act of God). In popular usage, however, the term “accident” designates an unexpected event, especially if it causes injury or damage, without reference to the negligence or fault of an individual. The basic causes of such accidents are, in general, unsafe conditions of machinery, equipment, or surroundings, and the unsafe actions of persons, caused by ignorance or neglect of safety principles. See Negligence.


Organized efforts for the prevention of accidents began in the 19th century with the adoption of factory inspection laws, first in the United Kingdom and then in the United States and other countries. Fire insurance and accident insurance companies made efforts to enforce safety rules and to educate the public. Factory inspectors and inspectors from fire insurance and casualty insurance companies carried on the campaign against unsafe conditions and actions, and at the beginning of the 20th century, a new branch of engineering developed, devoted to finding and eliminating such hazards (See Industrial Safety).

Laws concerning workers’ compensation were passed in Germany in 1884, in Great Britain in 1897, and in several states of the United States from 1908 onward. By placing the financial burden of caring for injured workers on the employer, such laws created an incentive for providing safe machinery and working conditions, and for improved selection and training of employees. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive is the government agency charged with ensuring that employers provide a safe system of work and a safe working environment. The Executive prosecutes companies whose workplaces are dangerous.


The single greatest cause of accidents in the developed world is the motor vehicle. The huge rise in the number of motor cars in the 20th century has resulted in approximately 5,000 deaths a year from vehicle accidents in the United Kingdom.

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