Monday, November 14, 2011

Heinrich the 8th – Safety controversy and safety reality

There seems to be a never ending controversy around the famous 1930s injury pyramid work of Herbert Wagner Heinrich. Once again, a long article has appeared in Professional Safety Magazine ( complaining about the lack of statistical rigor back in 1930. In turn, this recalls memories of a 1960s rock song “Henry the 8th” by Herman’s Hermits; “second verse same as the first….” And so on, ad infinitum.

The issue of the number of near misses/close calls to actual injuries has been revisited many times by the likes of Frank Bird in the 1960s, a UK safety society in the 1990s, and who knows how many others:

• Heinrich, 1930: 300 to 29 to 1
• Bird, I969: 600 to 10 to 1
• HSE Executive Group of the British Government, 1993: 189 no injury events for every 3 days of lost time

Indeed, almost all of us use the same concept every day as we focus on our organization’s downstream indicators. What is an injury rate, other than a reality that for every so many millions of hours of work we can expect a certain rate of near misses, first aides, medicals and lost time injuries? We each have our own injury pyramid reality that we wish would go to zero. And this is the whole crux of the tempest in the teapot that Heinrich started way back in 1930.

My favorite response to all this analytical rhetoric came from the late Dr. Dan Petersen. He was not concerned about counting or debating the various types of incidents. Rather, the real issue was what are we doing to prevent these inexcusable incidents from happening? His research showed that there were about 20 fundamental safety processes that, if people in a safety culture lived very well, were able to prevent incidents from happening. If the people in an organization error proofed these processes and lived a safety culture of practical accountabilities for each improved process, incidents would not occur.

Our Continuous Improvement teamwork on these, and a few other processes, has shown Dan to be right. If our hourly through senior management personnel will live practical daily accountabilities for each error proofed process; minor through serious incidents no longer occur. Safety performance does not improve by counting, or debating, various downstream indicators. Safety performance only improves if we will do appropriate, value added activities that eliminate the possibility of incidents from occurring in the first place.

The Doc

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