Key Takeaways

  • This article presents the authors' analysis of current Bureau of Labor Statistics data at the national and industry sector levels to determine whether simple revisions to Heinrich's theory are in order rather than dispensing with it entirely, as has been recently suggested.

  • The authors determine that Heinrich's theory has merit in contemporary safety management through an analysis of recordable, restricted work, lost-time and fatality data at the national and industry sector levels.

  • The authors determine that instead of a singular model, multiple models are in order as evidenced by the "house" models presented in the research findings.

Herbert William Heinrich was an employee of the engineering and inspection division of Travelers Insurance Co. He collected data from insurance claims and analyzed it to form a theory that he outlined in the first edition of Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach, which was first published in 1931. His findings have served as the foundation of much of the teachings in modern safety management. He was a pioneer in his era of occupational safety in that he sought to establish a model that would predict incidents and the ratios in which they would occur based on the data he examined.

As presented in the literature review, Heinrich's theory has become the object of much recent criticism. Heinrich used data based on a spectrum of industries insured by his employer. Some critics have indicated through research that his model is inaccurate and that not enough information is available through his methodology to replicate his research. Critics allege that minor incidents cannot be used to predict the volume of serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs), which has given rise to a body of literature on SIFs. The criticism is also based on macro-level Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) data that indicate a reduction in other recordable, restricted-work and lost-time injuries, while fatalities have not experienced the same improvement (Krause, 2011). Figure 1 presents incident rate data from 2003, the year in which the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) changed to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), through 2014, the most recent year for which BLS data are available.

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