The Pro’s and Con’s of using the Heinrich pyramids

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Safety and Accident Prevention is a major concern in the manufacturing and mining industries. Accidents equate to injuries, property damage and losses, and in the worst case scenarios, fatalities. Different theories have surfaced over the years since the Industrial revolution, one of which is still very much used today, this ratio is called the Heinrich Triangle or Pyramid. H.W. Heinrich was an engineer who worked as an inspector for insurance and claims with the Traveler’s Insurance Company in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In his book Accident Prevention: A Scientific Approach, he proposed the ratio of 1:29:300 which means that for every fatal or major injury in the workplace there is 29 minor injuries and 300 mishaps or near misses. This theory was further improved by Frank Bird Jr. in 1959 as he conducted his own research to see if the ratio is true and reliable. In his findings he trimmed down the ratio to 1:10:30, 1 major injury per 10 minor ones and 30 property damage accidents.

Here are the major out takes from the Heinrich Triangle ratio:

• A mathematical relationship exists between the number of accidents homogenous in type and degree. The occurrence of accidents and injuries in the workplace can be measured and analyzed for the purpose of the formulation of preventive measures.

• The most common cause of accidents in a workplace is unsafe acts by the workers/employees. The ratio proposed that injuries and accidents in the workplace is relative to the behavior of the workers.

• It further proposed that by reducing the overall frequency of workplace injuries, an equivalent reduction in the number of severe injuries, will result. Safety and preventive measures and changes in behavior within the workplace and workforce will reduce the occurrence of severe injuries as the total number of accidents, injuries and near misses go down.

As with any theory, there are critical views on the Heinrich Triangle. Critics argue that the theory missed out on some major points regarding safety issues. Here are the critical points which were left out:
• Critics doubt if each level or hierarchy is accurate and represents a real world scenario. Based on Heinrich’s book, his research was conducted on insurance claims and other sources which, after publication, became unavailable for further studies.

• From Heinrich to Bird, as the Triangle was further simplified, the contention was whether or not the theory is truly applicable to the various industries where safety and preventive measures are critical to operation. Other critics opted to add more levels to the tiers such as near miss incidents and employee behavior.

• The theory is too simplistic and lacks industry specifics.
The point the ratio puts across is the measurability of the occurrence of accidents from major or fatal to minor and property damage, management across manufacturing and other industries can formulate safety and prevention standards with the help of the Triangle. And that by using the theory, companies may be able to lower the probability of accidents and incidents of damages by nurturing a culture of safety from the level of top management down the tiers of the employees/workforce.
Because the occurrence of accidents is mathematically measurable, management can discover potential threats based on previous data and address these to avoid future threats. The rule of thumb is to be able to set the numbers in the ratio as far apart as possible such as 1:60:600. This then helps to push management to adopt measures to improve safety standards and practices.

Overall, Heinrich and Bird both wanted to put across that safety and prevention calls for a higher level of commitment within the workforce and management for it to work and prevent accidents and losses. That fatalities, injuries and property damage are not merely the subject of circumstance but rather are the result of “missed” behaviors and the lack of safety supervision. By nurturing a culture of safety from top management to the lower ranks, safety and prevention will foster a safe environment that will foster an increase productive output in the long run.

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