What can we still learn from the world’s first and oldest safety guru? 14/4, 2021

Uppdaterat: 3 juni 2021

Have you heard and used the ideas about the accident triangle, the accident sequence/domino model, the hidden cost of accidents, the human element and management responsibility with regards to safety?

Then, perhaps without knowing, you have been influenced by the works of Herbert William Heinrich, one of the earliest and most influential thinkers in the world of risk and safety.

In his new book Preventing Industrial Accidents: Reappraising H. W. Heinrich – More than Triangles and Dominoes, Carsten Busch has gone back to the core of Heinrich and studied his original writings, his life and work. This in order to analyze and reflect on what elements of Heinrich that are still relevant today, and what perhaps should be left on the dusty book shelf.

In this two part webinar, Carsten first introduced us to the emergence of safety as a profession. This provided the context for a brief introduction of Heinrich the person, and Heinrich’s work. Then a brief overview and a selection of a few subjects followed, such as the economics of safety, his dualism of causation (unsafe acts and conditions), safety management and several of his models. As part of this, Carsten discussed the myth that most accidents are caused by human failure. The first part closed with some reflections on Heinrich’s relevance for today’s safety and for safety professionals today.

In the second part, Carsten focused on one of Heinrich’s most famous metaphors, the accident triangle (also known as pyramid or iceberg). This is perhaps also his most misunderstood contribution to safety. Carsten explored the origins, what it means and how it should be understood. At the end of part two, Carsten discussed some misunderstanding and finally reflect on some limitations of the idea of learning from weak signals.

The presentation was built on material from his new book on Heinrich, as well as on Carsten’s previous books on safety and measuring safety.

Preventing Industrial Accidents: Reappraising H. W. Heinrich – More than Triangles and Dominoes was released on February 26 and can be ordered as a hardback or eBook from most online bookstores. More information can be found HERE, at the site of the publishing house.

About Carsten Busch

Originally from Norway with a background in Mechanical Engineering, Safety, and Human Factors, Carsten Busch has over 25 years of international work experience in Safety and Quality Management from different sectors and countries. He is also professionally active on various forums, owner of mindtherisk.com and tutor at Lund University Human Factors and System Safety programme.

Prior to “Preventing Industrial Accidents” Carsten has written three books: “Safety Myth 101”, “Veiligheidsfabels 1–2–3”, and “If You Can’t Measure It… Maybe You Shouldn’t”. A common trace in all of his books on safety is a curious and analyzing approach to critically see things and knowledge from new and historic perspectives. This in order to get a better understanding of their relevance to safety today.



The Prezi presentation from the first part of the webinar can be found and explored HERE.

The slides from the second part of the webinar can be downloaded HERE.

Further material

If you are interested in some of Heinrich's original work (most of it is hard to find), check: https://mindtherisk.com/heinrich

Carsten mentioned "Work-Accidents and the Law. The Pittsburgh Survey", an interesting publication from 1911 where Crystal Eastman came up with a lot of smart things in regard to safety, way ahead of her time. She isn't as well known as she should be in the world of safety research. Give her a change and read her! "The Pittsburgh survey (findings in six volumes)" can be downloaded HERE or read in another format HERE.

Result from the Mentimeter polls

The participants got to do some polling on a number of questions based on knowledge about Heinrich and also about incident report and management systems.

The result can be seen as a pdf HERE


A recording of the webinar can be seen on SÄKUPlay (Youtube) below.