American Society of Civil Engineers

Identifying Root Causes of Construction Accidents

by Tariq S. Abdelhamid, S.M.ASCE, (Grad. Student Res. Asst., Civ. and Envir. Engrg., Univ. of Michigan, 1340 G. G. Brown, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2125) and John G. Everett, M.ASCE, (Asst. Prof. of Civ. and Envir. Engrg., Univ. of Michigan, 2353 G. G. Brown, Ann Arbor, MI)

Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, Vol. 126, No. 1, January/February 2000, pp. 52-60, (doi:

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Document type: Journal Paper
Discussion: by Alistair Gibb E-mail: and et al.    (See full record)
Discussion: by Akhmad Suraji, Ph.D.; formerly, Lect., Dept. of Civ. Engrg., Univ. of Andalas, Padang 251263, Indonesia and et al.    (See full record)
Closure:(See full record)
Abstract: Construction accident investigation techniques and reporting systems identify what type of accidents occur and how they occurred. Unfortunately, they do not properly address why the accident occurred by identifying possible root causes, which is only possible by complementing these techniques with theories of accident causation and theories of human error. The uniqueness of the construction industry dictates the need to tailor many of the contemporary accident causation models and human error theories. This paper presents an accident root causes tracing model (ARCTM) tailored to the needs of the construction industry. ARCTM proposes that accidents occur due to three root causes: (1) failing to identify an unsafe condition that existed before an activity was started or that developed after an activity was started; (2) deciding to proceed with a work activity after the worker identifies an existing unsafe condition; and (3) deciding to act unsafe regardless of initial conditions of the work environment. In addition, ARCTM emphasizes the need to determine how unsafe conditions exist before or develop after an activity is started and proposes that these unsafe conditions are due to four causes: (1) management actions/inactions; (2) unsafe acts of worker or coworker; (3) non-human-related event(s); (4) an unsafe condition that is a natural part of the initial construction site conditions. Thus, ARCTM acknowledges the possible contribution of both management and labor to the accident process. This perspective helps in better explaining accidents on construction sites and in identifying areas where prevention efforts should be directed, so that labor and management may provide more effective measures for preventing accident occurrence.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Construction industry