Reviewing Heinrich: Dislodging Two Myths From the Practice of Safety
- Fred A. Manuele (Hazards Limited)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- October 2011
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 52 - 61
- 2011. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 56 since 2007
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In The Standardization of Error, Stefansson (1928) makes the case that people are willing to accept as fact what is written or spoken with-out adequate supporting evidence. When studies show that a supposed fact is not true, dislodging it is difficult because that belief has become deeply embedded in the minds of people and, thereby, standardized.
Stefansson pleads for a mind-set that accepts as knowledge only that which can be proven and which cannot be logically contradicted. He states that his theme applies to all fields of endeavor except for mathematics. Safety is a professional specialty in which myths have become standardized and deeply embedded. This article ex-amines two myths that should be dislodged from the practice of safety:
1) Unsafe acts of workers are the principle causes of occupational accidents
2) Reducing accident frequency will equivalently reduce severe injuries.
These myths arise from the work of H.W. Heinrich (1931; 1941; 1950; 1959). They can be found in the four editions of Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach. Although some safety practitioners may not recognize Heinrich’s name, his misleading premises are perpetuated as they are frequently cited in speeches and papers.
Analytical evidence indicates that these premises are not soundly based, supportable or valid, and, therefore, must be dislodged. Although this article questions the validity of the work of an author whose writings have been the foundation of safety-related teaching and practice for many de-cades, it is appropriate to recognize the positive effects of his work as well.
This article was written as a result of encouragement from several colleagues who encountered situations in which these premises were cited as fact, with the resulting recommended preventive actions being inappropriate and ineffective. Safety professionals must do more to inform about and refute these myths so that they may be dislodged.
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