From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
Heinrich's precursors of unsafe acts and conditions -- social environment and ancestry, and fault of the person -- have been challenged by some as being overly class-conscious, and even racist. Similarly, ideas about causality have become more sophisticated, making the domino theory seem too simplistic. In Heinrich's own words, "each accident was assigned either to the unsafe act of a person or to an unsafe mechanical condition, but in no case were both personal and mechanical causes charged".
The industrial safety pioneer explained that he would assign an accident caused by the use of a badly mushroomed (damaged) chisel as an unsafe act rather than an unsafe condition. His over-simplification and bias towards the unsafe acts cause render as unreliable his view that these were responsible for 88% of accidents, with unsafe conditions accounting for a further 10% (the other 2% were "unpreventable"). Clearly, this rationale is of little use in more sophisticated, modern investigations.
These criticisms of Heinrich's work have led some safety professionals to dismiss all his ideas. But if you read the news of prosecutions in any issue of IOSH Magazine, the role of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions is still apparent: companies allow employees on to unsafe roofs; they provide unsafe ladders. Though we may want to forget about the other dominoes, it is hard to argue that the conditions and acts in the table are seldom part of the network of events contributing to accidents and injury.
A checklist of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions is not a means of attributing blame
A report by the UK Health and Safety Executive on the pitfalls of risk assessment (bit.ly/2vvrRfo) said a "structured, systematic approach" is needed to pinpoint hazards. This should account for "substances, machinery/processes, work organisation, tasks, procedures and the people and circumstances in which the activities take place, including the physical aspects of the plant and/or premises".
The report supports this advice with a case study in which a critical decision was left to local plant management in a predictable emergency rather than fully assessing the situation and determining the best approach in advance. This is an example of an unsafe act being the result of an unnecessarily unsafe condition having been allowed to develop.
One approach to reusing Heinrich's categories would be to work through the hazard identification process twice -- once to see whether all the unsafe conditions that could be created have been considered, and again to consider all the reasonably foreseeable unsafe acts that might need to be mitigated. A checklist of unsafe acts and unsafe conditions is not a means of attributing blame, but an added layer of verification in a "structured, systematic" way of identifying all the reasonably foreseeable hazards.
Heinrich's list of unsafe acts and conditions was developed for the industries he was working with in the middle of the 20th century. Some of these remain relevant, but to reflect 21st century concerns we might want to add some new ones.
Unsafe acts might now include driving or walking while distracted by mobile technology, bullying and harassment, using inappropriate handling techniques, and allocating tasks to staff or contractors without checking their competence. Unsafe conditions could be expanded to take in complex systems instituted without adequate training, stressful environments and unsuitable or missing systems of work.
Heinrich's 1959 list
Operating without clearance or warning
Operating or working at unsafe speed
Unguarded, absence of required guards
Making safety devices inoperative
Defective, sharp, slippery, cracked, etc
Using unsafe equipment, or using equipment unsafely
In British criminal law, the employer has to look at the evidence that all reasonably foreseeable hazards were identified, and that all reasonably practicable controls were put in place. However, in civil law, vicarious liability is strict, with the organisation liable for what is done (or not done) on its behalf by employees.
New figures which begin to quantify this stark truth were revealed at the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore (September 2017), a triennial gathering where leading organisations for safety and health connect with ministers, policymakers and some of the world’s largest corporations.
The initiative is supported by the World Health Organization, the US safety regulator OSHA and the International Association of Labour Inspection.ISSA, which represents social security institutions, government departments and agencies in more than 160 countries, is encouraging organisations to pledge to follow seven “golden rules”, including controlling risks, defining targets and developing programmes to meet them, improving worker competence and ensuring work equipment is safe.
Rating: Readers outside the US will have to accept that Reese’s book is aimed at that market so its regulatory references are to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the studies it cites are mainly from the US.
Women in OSH are in the minority, but more are choosing to enter the profession. The OSH skills shortage may explain why the differential is half the national average but, as a woman, I believe any pay gap suggests employers value the work we do less.
Blood bikes provide a motorcycle courier service to local hospitals and other NHS facilities. Contrary to what people often think, the blood we carry isn’t used only for transfusion; the journeys usually entail carrying samples, patient notes, medicines for urgent injections, and breast milk.The groups are run by volunteers who fill various roles: the riders, obviously, but also fundraisers, co-ordinators and people who take calls – there has to be someone available to take calls at all times. So there are many volunteers who never ride.