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## Who Was HW Heinrich, What Did He Do and Why Should You Care?

**Who was HW Heinrich?**

You may or may not have heard of Herbert William Heinrich, but if you’re involved in workplace safety, you’ve certainly heard his thoughts.

He was born in 1881 in Bennington, Vermont, USA. He served an apprenticeship as a machinist and was promoted to third assistant engineer before joining the Traveler Insurance Company where he became assistant superintendent of the engineering and inspection division. He retired from there in 1956 and died in 1962.

**What did HW Heinrich do?**

Unlike many who tried to put him down, Heinrich was not an “insurance salesman.” He was a qualified engineer who lectured on safety at New York University for over 20 years. He served as an engineering officer in the US Navy during World War I. He was appointed Chairman of the Safety Section of the US Army’s War Advisory Board during World War II and became a Fellow of the American Society of Safety Engineers in 1961.

What he will be remembered for is his book *Industrial Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach*. The first edition was published in 1931 and he published 3 revisions in 1941, 1950 and 1959.

**Why you should care about it**

If you work in the safety field in any capacity you should care because the concepts of injury causation and prevention that are prevalent today were first proposed by Heinrich. The most consistent of Heinrich’s concepts was:

- A mathematical relationship exists between the number of accidents of the same type and their severity;
- The most common cause of workplace accidents is the unsafe actions of employees; and
- Reducing the overall frequency of workplace injuries will lead to a corresponding reduction in the number of serious injuries.

These are the basic foundations of many current security programs such as behavior based security; Zero loss (or zero nothing) and others are promoted by consultants and adopted by firms and security professionals.

So what were these concepts?

**Heinrich’s Loss Control Triangle**

Heinrich obtained data about insurance claims and workplace injuries from workers (usually supervisors). None of this data is available today and neither Heinrich’s books or notes contained enough information to be able to reproduce it.

From an analysis of the data, Heinrich proposed that for every major injury there are 29 minor injuries and 300 no-injury accidents. Most people working in health and safety have seen some variation of this formula in presentations with different colored horizontal bands representing different injuries and the ratios between them. Often, these are used by proponents of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) programs and are often called Heinrich’s Triangle or Byrd’s Triangle (after Frank Byrd’s modification of Heinrich’s taxonomy in 1969).

Basically, Heinrich did not qualify his discussion of these ratios. However, by the Fourth Amendment (1959) they applied only to similar cases with similar causes involving the same person.

Heinrich’s severity classification was also quite different from what is discussed in today’s presentations using this concept. Heinrich considered a major injury to be a requirement to file a claim with a workers’ compensation insurer or report it to a state regulator, regardless of the actual severity of the injury. A minor injury would be considered a first aid injury in modern parlance and no injury would be a near miss. Bird modified these classifications and the actual ratios between them and qualified the results by indicating that they would differ for each workplace and time.

**Heinrich’s Theory of Accident Causes and Prevention**

Heinrich proposed that:

- 88% of workplace accidents were caused by unsafe acts (usually by the injured person);
- 10% of workplace accidents were the result of unsafe equipment or conditions; and
- The remaining 2% were unavoidable.

In his domino theory, Heinrich argued that injuries result from accidents; Accidents from unsafe acts that arise from human error that originated in the social environment. Injuries can be prevented if accidents can be prevented. Since the immediate cause of accidents was unsafe acts, eliminating them was the most effective focus of injury prevention programs. Does this sound familiar? This should underline BBS and other psychology-based safety programs—that changing worker behavior is a key means of reducing the number and severity of workplace accidents.

**conclusion**

There are many other topics discussed in the nearly 500 page book but these are the concepts that people come across most often – although Heinrich is rarely credited as the originator of these ideas. So, as it may appear these ideas are not new but have become truisms within the security industry. However, given their age, they should not be blindly accepted but should be re-examined in the light of modern workplaces and work practices.

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