Ratio Delusions and Heinrich’s Hoax
There’s no doubt that founding interests in safety emerged from insurance and engineering. The concocted rubbish of Heinrich in 1931 was founded in mechanistic assumptions of apportioning blame and responsibility for compensation. It is from this foundation that Heinrich made up false accident ratios and a linear notion of causality. It is an indictment of the safety industry that much of these false ratios and triangles remain in most safety training documents, the AIHS BoK, WHS curriculum and AIHS publications (https://issuu.com/safetyinstitute/docs/ohsprojune2020 ). All of this concocted junk helps fuel nonsense aphorisms like ‘what gets measured gets managed’ (https://www.aihs.org.au/sites/default/files/SeptOHS2019Final_0.pdf ). It is this kind of simplistic aphorism and others like ‘safety is a choice you make’ (https://safetyrisk.net/why-safety-isnt-a-choice-you-make/ ) and ‘all accidents are preventable’ (https://safetyrisk.net/all-injuries-are-preventable-and-other-silly-safety-sayings/ ) that bog down this industry in unethical unprofessionalism.
The material and sources Heinrich researched for his 1931 publication are by any modern thinking ‘primitive’ and ‘archaic’ (https://www.mindtherisk.com/2-uncategorised/220-heinrich-s-influences ). It says much about an industry that it anchors itself to such outmoded and unfounded ideas. Whilst Heinrich’s sources and ideas sparked interest in safety, it would seem absurd that safety texts and sources in 2021 still refer to such a flawed framework for consideration of accidents at work. If safety is ever to become professional it needs to work out the difference between research and fairy tales, history, ideology and reality.
Nothing is more amusing that listening to Safety spruik thoughts on the future for safety when it is so heavily anchored to a crazy idea from 90 years ago. Unless this junk can be jettisoned, 50 years from now Safety will remain the industry of: objects, brutalism, counting, data, engineering and metrics. If Safety was professional it would drop this junk and move on.
One of the great problems with Heinrich is of course semiotics and its communication to the unconscious. Whilst Heinrich’s writings may have disappeared, it is a testimony to semiotics that the ratio pyramid/triangle remains a prominent feature of safety. In many ways the pyramid/triangle image itself has become the go to icon for safety(https://safetyrisk.net/safety-curves-and-pyramids/ ). Heinrich’s triangle graphic conjures up the idea that human ecology is hierarchical, linear and systemic. It is none of these. To then put an imposed ratio into this semiotic and connected to dominoes, concocts the idea that there is a causal connection between numbers and events. This was later developed by others connected to curves, swiss cheese, matrix coloured boxes and other semiotics perpetuating the same flawed methodology.
BTW, all of this is attribution, there is no ‘scientific approach’ as Heinrich or his followers assert. You will find discussion of these flawed models in the AIHS BoK on causation as if each holds some kind of validity in itself. None of the models in this chapter in the BoK receive criticism and are accepted and inferred by the Chapter as valid. All of the conclusions of the chapter accept without question assertions like Dekker’s ‘drift into failure’ (p.19) when this too is flawed in the face of the evidence. There is no discussion of ‘wicked problems’ or semiotic models outside of the safety club in the chapter.
What Heinrich’s ratio and semiotics does is affirm simplistic reasoning regarding events, creating a new blindness to critical thinking. Heinrich’s triangle, dominoes and ratio (regardless of any other publication by Heinrich) only make sense if you accept the assumptions of Heinrich, which by the way are never disclosed in his text. I find it so amusing when Safety uses the word ‘philosophy’ and then doesn’t disclose a philosophy.
Real professions like medicine, teaching, nursing etc dispose of outmoded and archaic ideas because they are open to critical thinking and historical rigor. It is one thing to appreciate past paradigms and philosophies, it’s quite another carry them forward and validate them against the evidence. The first step in moving safety forward into some sense of being professional is dumping these semiotics and moving to semiotic models that help understand complexity, persons and causality in a realistic way.