In the 1930’s, William Herbert Heinrich, an employee working for Traveler’s Insurance Company, published groundbreaking theories about safety and health in the workplace. One such theory became known as Heinrich’s Law: that in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries. Because many accidents share common root causes, addressing more commonplace accidents that cause no injuries can prevent accidents that cause injuries.
Heinrich’s theories, in particular the one I mention above, are considered sacrosanct. Until now…
Fred Manuele is an accomplished safety professional and currently serves as president of Hazards Limited, a consulting firm. Mr. Manuele published a recent article in the ASSE periodical Professional Safety challenging the validity of Heinrich’s Law. The challenge specifically targets this premise – focusing on incident frequency reduction will equivalently achieve severity reduction. What Mr. Manuele found is that if you manage the small incidents effectively, the small incident rate improves, but the major accident rate stays the same, or even slightly increases.
Click here to read Mr. Manuele’s compelling article: http://www.asse.org/professionalsafety/pastissues/056/10/052_061_F2Manuele_1011Z.pdf
At Predictive Solutions, we have come to the same conclusions as Mr. Manuele. Addressing low to medium severity findings such as housekeeping, administrative items, and PPE does nothing to address serious or life threatening observations such as fall protection hazards or excavations. In fact, we find that most inspectors tend to shy away from or fail to document higher severity observations altogether for many reasons. It is very difficult to manage your greatest risks when this continues to occur.
Ideally, observations on behaviors and conditions, including unsafe observations, should be gathered freely and without judgement. In fact, I consider these consequence free – no accident has occurred and they provide an opportunity to both predict and prevent future occurrences. Once this is done, an organization can then prioritize where resources and actions should be focused – namely at the highest severity findings in conjunction with the frequency of occurrences. Once action has been taken, future observations can then validate the effectiveness of the intervention. This methodology allows for both continuous improvement and sustainability.