Hoodwinked by Heinrich
I have written before about the Heinrich Hoax and Delusion (https://safetyrisk.net/ration-delusions-and-heinrichs-hoax/), the Heinrich Hoodoo (https://safetyrisk.net/the-heinrich-hoodoo/) and Heinrich Propaganda (https://safetyrisk.net/the-heinrich-hoodoo/). All this critique is anchored to an openly declared philosophy/worldview anchored to the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). Very few perspectives offered in the risk and safety world openly articulate their worldview (philosophy). Very few. You will see the word ‘philosophy’ used but no philosophy is explained, just like you will see the word ‘professional’ used when indeed what is being enacted is unethical.
When one applies any form of critical analysis to Heinrich the one thing that hits you in the face is its audacity. Yes, his work was published in 1931 (with minor revisions following) but why is this work continually being validated in the WHS curriculum and AIHS BoK? We know about the turmoil of the Great Depression and this book was published in the depths of it. This may help with some contextual understanding and placing the book in its historical place but why are the erroneous models and ideas from this text still validated in the risk and safety industry? We also know that Mein Kampf was also popular in 1931 but we know not to validate it.
The truth of the matter is that the risk and safety world wants the Heinrich worldview to be true, because Heinrich’s view substantiates the engineering, behaviourist and mechanistic bias of the industry. Safety wants Heinrich’s concocted ratios, pyramid and dominos to be true because it enables the brutalism of the industry and its ideology of zero. It doesn’t seem to matter to Zero that most of Heinrich’s work is dehumanizing and erroneous.
What is the most astounding about Heinrich for SPoR is his semiotics, models and speculations that are infused throughout contemporary safety texts, literature and curriculum. Even more absurd, very few people have actually read much of Heinrich yet safety texts validate his semiotics. Semiotics is far more powerful and anchored to the human unconscious than text.
There are some who seek to see the work of Heinrich through their own philosophical lens of appraisal (https://www.mindtherisk.com/heinrich) but I see little evidence of anything good in Heinrich at all. Indeed, most of what I see in Heinrich is simply dangerous. But this is not some bizarre poorly considered view, nor some vendetta against a Heinrich or a safety text. I have researched Heinrich’s work extensively and from an SPoR view find nothing of value but endless material that is simply unhelpful in charting any course in safety. The reality of the AIHS BoK validating Heinrich causality says much about the AIHS BoK and its amateurish approach.
So, let’s have a deeper look at Heinrich’s work.
Of course, the problem starts even from the title of the book ‘A Scientific Approach’. Nothing could be further from reality. Heinrich’s work is about as scientific as Alice in Wonderland. Heinrich’s work is littered with:
1. Unfounded emotional judgments. Heinrich loves the expression of ‘recklessness’ eg. ‘Further enquiry also indicated that his social environment was conducive to the forming of unsafe habits and that his family record was such as to justify the belief that reckless tendencies had been inherited’ p.17 see further p.25.
- This kind of stuff is riddled throughout the pages of the text but let’s look at just this one quote.
Heinrich has no expertise or right to assert such judgments about: social context, formation, psychological development, habituation, family psychology, the nature of belief and the insane idea that recklessness is inherited!!!
So many examples throughout the book but one more – ‘few who were responsible for the poor record were inherently reckless’ p.37
2. Speculations asserted as ‘facts’. When it comes to Heinrich’s assertions about ‘facts’ one can only be amused about his use of such language applied to: theories, speculations, semiotics, concocted stories, silly ratios and bizarre psychological assertions eg. All of Chapter 4 on ‘fact finding’ is speculation about linear causation anchored to the domino theory (p.103).
3. ‘Man Failure’. This is one of Heinrich’s favourite expressions eg. p.22, 25 or p.128. Eg. p.127 ‘It is generally agreed that man-failure accidents can be prevented by education of employees’.
– Despite the reality that Heinrich thinks that instruction is education, look at the style of language of assertion as fact in his references to ‘man failure’ and the classic ‘all accidents are preventable’ (p.92) nonsense.
– One of Heinrich’s favourite expressions is ‘unsafe acts’. Of course, this is never defined any better than ‘something gone wrong’ (p.91) or ‘an error or miscalculation, an instance of inefficiency or of fumbling and bungling in general’ (p.91). The simplistic nature of all this kind of judgement and the easy in making such statements is breathtaking.
4. Absurd judgmental and blaming language. P.23. ‘scatterbrained youth’, p.37 ‘inherently reckless’, p.72 ‘spirit of bravado’, p.73 ‘who is indifferent’, p.75 ‘under developed mentalities’, p.107 Recklessness, p.125 unsafe practice is often named as an ‘indulgence’.
5. Models/semiotics/metaphors dreamt up from (undeclared) reductionist/materialist philosophy. Chapter 2 of Heinrich’s book is titled ‘Basic Philosophy of Accident Prevention’. Of course, no philosophy is declared nor discussed in this chapter. Chapter 2 section 2 introduces the foundation of Heinrich’s causation theory – the falling dominoes.
- He returns throughout his text to this domino model as if it is some kind of ‘fact’, ‘truth’ or ‘scientific’ reality. The model is a semiotic, a symbolic representation of a philosophy that is never declared throughout the book. Symbols are neither objective nor neutral and Heinrich’s use of this model without discussing its embedded ideology is deceptive, unethical and primitive.
6. Astounding psychological judgments. On p. 270 we have this: ‘It is known that some individuals are more prone to accidents than others’. There you go, where is the science and facts in such language? All attribution and judgmentalism without any expertise applied to such a judgment.
– Then what is typical of Heinrich he relates concocted case studies to support his assertions. The six case studies offered on pp. 270-275 are littered with a pure fiction to reinforce claims he wants to make as ‘facts’. He then follows up with discussion of data from Boston Elevated railway to assert that it demonstrates ‘accident proneness’ (p.276).
– P.72 ‘machine operator who subconsciously fears personal injury’, hmmm. How does Heinrich know this? In what way does this meet his idea of science or facts?
– Here is a classic on p.32 ‘No intelligent employee who is jealous of his physical well-being will deliberately expose himself unnecessarily to danger’. Then throughout the text blames workers for inherent recklessness. This anchors unsafety to intelligence and therefore Heinrich’s idea that instruction is the ‘remedy’ or lack of intelligence the cause of ‘unsafe acts’.
7. Absurd (undeclared) Behaviourist assertions. One of Heinrich’s favourite phrases is ‘unsafe acts’ (eg. pp. 106-108) and all linked to this idea of ‘facts’. There is never any discussion or definition of what makes an ‘act’ nor about ‘enacting’ anything into reality.
– There is no discussion at all in any of Heinrich’s work about the human unconscious or the complexities in understanding human decision making.
– There is no discussion at all in Heinrich about social complexity, economic complexity or psychological complexity associated with decision making.
8. Absurd assertions about mental health. Heinrich loves to talk about the ‘mental condition of the employee’ p. 8. And his work is riddled with endless judgments about the mental condition of workers, with absolutely no expertise to even make comment on such.
9. Profound ignorance of the Humanities. Chapter 8 (pp. 268ff) ‘Safety Psychology’ is laughable. This is the insurance salesman completely out of depth asserting what he doesn’t know about what he doesn’t know. Even so, what was known about psychology in 1931 was at best speculative and with just a few choices between Freudian-Jungian analytic psychology or Pavlovian/Watson behaviourist psychology. Heinrich chose behaviourism, of course of its appeal to measurement, materialist and reductionist engineering assumptions (never declared in the text). Heinrich thought he had some concrete reality in this idea of ‘unsafe acts’ which of course, is a speculative interpretation of a decision unknown to the behaviourist observer.
– It is indeed in this Chapter 8 that we sense Heinrich’s dabbling in the nature of Eugenics.
– One of Heinrich’s most profound contradictions come from his assertions about human character, mind and consciousness (p.279). Interestingly he asserts ‘bodily characteristics, instincts and, unconscious mental habits are far more important than conscious intentions’. Heinrich knows about none of these things and yet discusses them as if he does. Of course, from a behaviourist perspective of somehow interpreting ‘unsafe acts’ he speculates about instincts, the unconscious and habits with no knowledge of either. Similarly he claims there is research into ‘proneness’ (p.280) when of course there is no such thing.
– A classic is as follows ‘ As a matter of fact, a great deal of psychology is an inherent part of properly conducted safety engineering’ (p.281) thereby demonstrating complete ignorance of both. And this ‘the child also might have inherited chance-taking and reckless tendencies, and if this should be shown by psychological research, a way would probably be found to combat them’ (p.281). Again, with no expertise in child psychology, child development or education and learning, Heinrich is happy to assert such nonsense as ‘chance-taking’ (risk is essential for learning) and ‘reckless tendencies’ and then applies his assumptions to a silly story about fireworks and common sense (p.282) Then makes an absurd jump to comparing boys with firecrackers to safety in workplaces!
– A classic statement is at p.95. ‘no attempt has been made to express the principles of either analytic or introspective psychology, nor are the preceding statements and suggestions based on professional knowledge of industrial psychology or psychiatry’. Yet, the text is littered with unfounded psychological judgements on nearly every page about the nature of human judgment and decision making.
– On p.73 Heinrich trots out a list of 10 ‘motivations’ that apparently give explanation to why people are int4ersted or not interested in safety. Without any expertise in psychology or educational psychology these are trotted out as the most simplistic understandings of human motivation. Most simplistic nonsense.
10. Profound ignorance of the human unconscious. Heinrich loves to talk about conscious, unconscious and subconsciousness *(the pejorative unconscious) in his text without any expertise in the matter (eg.P.9). He also likes to discuss ‘absentmindedness’ as a pejorative expression (p.276) as if this is somehow an explanation of decision making. Again, no scientific definition or discussion but assertions that ‘accident prone employees’ (p. 277) can be controlled.
11. Profound ignorance of collective unconscious. Heinrich has no expertise at all in any form of psychology even organizational psychology and yet applies behaviourist assumptions to groups of people as if they ‘behave’ as a person.
– There is no idea in the text about any of the pressures on workers that are social or psychological that can affect decision making. The text is profoundly individualistic and behaviourist.
12. 98% of accidents are preventable. On pp.19-32 Heinrich explores this idea that 98% of accidents are preventable, the classic case of Hindsight bias. He associates the remaining 2% with ‘Acts of God’ (p.106) so typical of insurance language. Of course, the notion of an act of god is not just an insurance matter but carries with it the imputation of theology and faith into the nature of risk. This is not discussed.
13. Non-ownership of bias. On p.74 Heinrich states this:‘Selection of the means of approach to a worker’s interest may be likened to a salesman’s plan for arousing the interest of a potential customer’.
– This is classic Heinrich, with no expertise in the psychology of motivation, draws back into his assumptions as an insurance salesman, that motivation to safety is like insurance sales.
– On the very next page Heinrich speaks of ‘the spirit of conformity frequently is strong in recently arrived immigrants of a better type’ (p.75). Of course, such dated racism is typical of a text in 1931 but simply absurd when thinking of discourse about race in 2021.
14. A fixation on fault and blame. From the outset Heinrich is set to determined blame on ‘man failure’. Despite some language to the contrary in some places the pages of the text littered with reference to the wanton (inherent) ‘recklessness’ and ‘mindlessness’ of workers.
15. Naïve notions of History. Heinrich loves to talk about History throughout the text with no expertise in Historiography (p.17) and with the naïve idea that history is objective. On P114 for example he talks about events just ‘becoming a matter of history’ and that this history provides ‘a fertile field for fact finding’. Of course, anyone with expertise in Historiography or Hermeneutics will tell you that all history is both subjective and interpreted, there are no self-evident objective facts that speak for themselves. This is supported by Heinrich who speaks about the ‘imagination of informed persons’ (p.102) yet with no expertise in the nature or meaning of human imagination.
16. Naïve notions of objectivity. Heinrich has no understanding of either his own bias or the bias of others. He has no sense of understanding prejudicial judgment and so offers his views as ‘facts’ and ‘scientific’ when they are neither.
17. Naïve notions of investigation. The investigator’s knowledge (safety engineer) and ‘imagination’ is deemed (p.8) essential for causality. How interesting that Heinrich makes no definition of or explanation of what imagination is.
18. Naïve notions of causality. Heinrich proposes the idea that there are ‘first, direct, underlying, and proximate causes’ (p.109). In his ‘corollary of facts of causation’ (p.108) he lists ‘mental characteristics and home environment’ as a factor in causation.
-As an example of the simplistic thinking of Heinrich we have this on p. 125. ‘In each case, simple reversal of a true cause points to a cure’. Of course, language such as ‘true cause’ is neither factual or scientific but an assertion based upon what Heinrich deems a cause.
– Heinrich makes quite an extensive emphasis on ‘sub-causes’ and because of his pyramid ratio asserts that every small event must be investigated because his model asserts that any one event holds a cumulative cause to a catastrophic event. In this way Heinrich is the creator of petty safety.
– Heinrich also like the phrase ‘true cause analysis’ (p.129, 132), a very convenient expression to cover all bases should your following of his causation model not work.
19. Claims to ‘exhaustive and authentic research’. One of the bold claims Heinrich makes is that he has conducted ‘exhaustive and authentic research’ when there is no evidence of such (p.2). Indeed,
20. Absurd claims of ‘self-evident truth’. Eg. On p. 12 Heinrich states ‘The following list itemizes these self-evident truths’. The first apparent self-evident truth is that ‘the occurrence of an injury invariably results from a completed sequence of factors’. This of course leads to Heinrich’s domino theory of accident causation that he declares as scientific and factual. However, he never declares his philosophical assumptions anywhere in the text but applies his assumptions of linearity to a flawed model that is nothing more than a speculation about linear and reductionist causation. Stating something is a truth doesn’t make it so.
21. Absurd claims of ‘common sense’. Heinrich is a believer in ‘common sense’ yet never defines what this means (eg. p. 18, p.23). The idea that there is a form of knowledge shared in common that ‘dictates’ decision making is simply absurd and of course there is no evidence for such. Eg.
22. Engineering bias. One of the major attributions of Heinrich is his idea that solutions in safety come from engineers (eg. p.16, p.46). Of course, such assertions are stated as ‘facts’, not as attributions. He often refers to the idea of a ‘safety engineer’ which is probably why Safety associations in the USA until recently was called The American Association of Safety Engineers.
23. Claims to moral authority. In several places Heinrich claims improper attitude and moral responsibility (eg. p.110) but in no place demonstrates any expertise in Ethics or moral philosophy. Indeed, Heinrich’s swift turn to judgmentalism without evidence is a sure sign of a disposition of brutalism when it comes to achieving safety.
24. Concocted ratios. We see on p.26 that Heinrich uses the language of ‘estimation’ to assert his ratio as fact. The graphic (semiotic) produced on p.27 then further emphasizes and substantiates the claims of the chapter but there is no research of substance to any of his claims.
25. Endless contradictions. The on p.30 Heinrich asserts ‘The number of no-injury or potential-injury accidents in comparison to actual accident injuries has always been a nebulous quantity, and it probably will never be known exactly’. The goes on in th same page to talk about ‘In view of these facts’.
– On the same page he also asserts that his own data is ‘limited and misleading’.
– On the following p 31. he discusses the ‘truths of his deductions’
– On the same page discusses ‘the difficulties can readily be imagined’. Then follows up his discussion by stating incidents that have no lead up and accidents caused on a 1-1 ratio and then owns up to his own selectivity and exclusion of data from machines so his ration could be attributed to ‘man failure’.
26. A Focus on Petty Safety. One of Heinrich’s assertions is that minor incidents are just as important as major incidents (eg. p. 18ff, p. 344).
27. Excessive Paperwork. Heinrich endorses excessive paperwork in his many examples of forms etc regarding causation eg. Chapter 4 ‘Fact Finding’. Of course, this chapter is NOT about fact finding but reinforcing the assumptions of the domino theory (p.103).
– How fascinating this Chapter on ‘Fact Finding’ littered with psychological assumptions and emotive language (p.107) of ‘wilful disregard’, recklessness’, violent temper’, ‘absentmindedness’ (astounding ignorance) and ‘wilful intent to injure’ etc. All with such judgment and blame and yet no expertise in psychology to make any of these judgments.
28. Training Asserted as Education. Heinrich is not an educationalist, nor has any expertise in education but is happy to assert a model of training as education in Chapter 14 p.345ff. It is clear that Heinrich has no expertise in learning, the psychology of development, cognition, motivation or Education yet is able to expound on it. Eg. ‘In practice education is not broadly defined. Ordinarily it refers to meetings, talks, personal contacts with authorities or teachers, the use of bulletins and posters and other reading matter, stereopticon slides and motion pictures, first-aid instruction, and any oral or written instruction in avoiding hazards and cultivating safe methods of doing work (p.345)’. This is what audaciousness looks like and what is expounded here as very little to do with education or learning. He goes on to expound on the ‘limitations of education’ pp. 345-347 with not a clue about what education is.
29. Redefines what an accident is. On p.102 we have this: ‘Further, in certain cases of industrial injury a true accident is not an unseen event’. Then Heinrich makes up an absurd example of being trapped between rail cars and then redefines the meaning of accident to suit his assumptions.
How amusing then to see the AIHS BoK Chapter on Causation validate the ideas and models of Heinrich including the nonsense domino model (p.15), Heinrich’s Causation model (p.18) and the assertion that Heinrich is science (p.12). What an amateurish approach to causation. Indeed, the AIHS BoK Chapter on causation has as much credibility as the Chapter on Ethics or Document Usability.
This leads us back to the opening of this blog and the audacity of this discipline of Safety to apply its worldview to everything with so little expertise in the disciplines it dabbles in. Safety is light years from considering a Transdisciplinary (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/) approach to epistemology and like Heinrich retards any hope of envisioning risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ). Unfortunately, little has changed in safety since Heinrich so no wonder his erroneous ideas and semiotics still make the pages of texts that then want to claim the word ‘professional’.
Still lots of hoodwinking going on in safety but such an easy way to attract amateurs and the naïve to empty their wallets.