Personal accidents are very common and their impacts could be trivial to severe, and are usually local. Examples are simple fender benders, a child pushing another one while reaching out for a toy doll, and a house fire.
1, 2, 3, and BP's oil well leak 4, 5, 6.
Key differences between individual and organizational accidents are listed below:
|Root Cause||Individual or personal error, negligence; poor decision-making; poor personal quality.||Accumulated errors; altered relationships between systems and human elements; altered states of the environment due to technological innovations|
|Impact||Local, usually agent and victim could be the same; small to devastating||Wide-spread, reaches to uninvolved populations; small to devastating.|
|Complexity||Low||Medium - High|
|Survival Rate||Medium – High||Low – Medium|
|Defenses||Weak or lacking||Medium to strong|
A main challenge in understanding organizational accidents is defining where the boundaries of the accident end. Both time and causality are seamless and do not have natural boundaries. To best analyze an accident, to prevent it from happening again, one may limit the scope of interest to things that people in the organization can manage. Accidents are usually triggered when some weakness in a defense system appears, the weakness could be a latent condition that exists and turned into an active failure. Latent conditions are similar to pathogens in a human body, they can be present for a long time and might not be detectable, however once triggered they turn into failures leading to immediate accidents. All organizations young and mature, simple and complex include latent conditions within their boundaries. More about latent conditions and active failures in my next post.