Monday, October 1, 2012

Heinrich Triangulation – healthy debate over an historic theory


In my September 17 blog post, I refueled the controversy H.W. Heinrich started way back in the 1930s with his accident triangle. Much to my delight, a reader comment confirmed that debate over Heinrich’s theory and its modified successor remains vibrant among today’s safety professionals.

As you read my response below to reader D. Johnston’s counterpoint, you will discover that I truly enjoy the opportunity this blog affords us to share thoughts and debate these timeless issues. I hope this dialog encourages you, too, to share your perspective on the accident triangles and how they relate to your own safety culture.

Those of you who choose to can dig a little deeper into our blog files, go back to November 14, 2011, for another Heinrich post. Here is my response to D. Johnston:

Thank you very much for your in-depth response to this short blog article. I have seldom gotten such a detailed, well thought out commentary on any of the 150+ blog posts to date. I find I am in agreement with much of what you mention. I frequently use Heinrich’s base material because it often leads to controversy and this in turn leads to meaningful engagement on what really makes a difference in safety. Yes, I have seen the material by both Frank Bird and the UK that shows there truly is a relationship between close calls, actions (behaviors) of employees (hourly and salaried) and injuries. In fact countries, industries, companies and work groups all have these kinds of downstream measures we call incident rates. And they are statistically validated.
As for solutions; I favor a multifaceted approach that goes way beyond single focus initiatives like BBS or regulations. There truly is a complex dynamic that includes solid safety management systems, engagement in appropriate safety activities at all levels in an organization and a relentless pursuit of a zero-incident safety culture across the organization. Not all of this material can be delivered in a short blog article. In the blog article I did allude to some of what I have found to be important to achieving such a zero-incident safety culture:
Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence
Visible upper management leadership in safety
Noticeable involvement of middle management
Focused supervisory performance
Active participation of hourly employees
Flexibility in approach
Feedback from the workforce that continues to focus on what needs to improve
      More research from Dr. Petersen that details 20 statistically proven safety management processes. These are upstream processes that must be error proofed by the hourly and salaried workforce if downstream injury indicators are to improve. Each process solution must include accountabilities (activities/behaviors) that are not treated as the normal fluff of BBS. Rather they are engagement requirements that make a difference to safety performance. Hourly, supervision, middle management and upper management have both responsibilities and accountabilities as a part of this model. I tried to show a few of these as the rock solid subfoundational processes in the last graphic of the blog article: Incident Investigation, Discipline, Supervisor Performance, Communication, Recognition, Accountability.
      Excellent Safety Management System:  the 20 Safety Management Processes are a part of this, as are accountabilities; observations of work; well thought out safety systems that are documented and carefully followed by all in the workforce; safety regulations that are absolutes of a culture of correct; and more that a short article could not deliver
As the blog article concluded: The key then is not to focus on compliance or to reward “acceptable injury levels/goals,” or to take any other single tactic approach. The key is to concentrate on the foundational fundamentals that eliminate the activities/behaviors that in turn move us out of the chance probability of the Heinrich inevitability triangle. We must error proof the fundamental safety processes and deliver safety accountabilities at each level of the organization. We then engage in a daily practice of the upstream activities that deliver downstream performance.
D. Johnston you have obviously had a career that includes a passion for excellence in safety. I appreciate and honor your heartfelt comments and commitment. I wonder if there is a way we could actually meet and continue a worthwhile dialogue on achieving safety culture excellence. Thank you for pushing the envelope on this.

The Doc

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