Deconstructing the Myth of Heinrich

One of the most significant factors that enables the mythology of Heinrich in Safety is that people don’t read Heinrich, can’t access Heinrich and have no expertise in Historiography.

Most often in Safety those profess some expertise in: History, Culture, Neuroscience, Habits or Psychology, have no such expertise. Many are Engineers, making money out of spin and gobbledygook. It sees the best way to publish a book in Safety is to make sure you have no expertise in the subject you are discussing.

So, let’s have a look at Heinrich from his second edition (1941) Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach.

The first thing one will note is that Heinrich was no Scientist and had no expertise in Science or research. But he sure loves parading about the mythology of his own non-research and lack of expertise. Then after declaring he has no expertise in psychology etc, declares psychological positions throughout the text and parades ‘facts’ that are NOT facts.

What is most remarkable is that this ancient, inaccurate, immature and ignorant stuff is still anchored to safety texts. Why is safety so interested in this goop that is dated (82 years) old?

Of course, the first rule of safety texts is to declare something by what it isn’t. The title of the chapter ‘Basic Philosophy’ is fraudulent (See Figure 1. Page 12 Heinrich). There is nothing philosophical in any of the text of this book. We see similar claims throughout safety and S2 that use the word ‘philosophy’ when there is nothing philosophical in the text.

So, here we have this idea that truth is self-evident, a lovely deontological bias. No wonder safety loves it. Then on the next page the classic linear domino semiotic which of course is nonsense because no accidents or incidents are linear. Yet, the assertion is that ‘the accident in turn is always the result of the factor that immediately precedes it’. Of course, this assertion is neither true, supported by science or evidence and is typical of all mythology built on a symbol.

Then in small print we get this classic on page 13: ‘Recklessness, stubbornness, avariciousness, and other undesirable traits of character may be passed along through inheritance’.

What classic stuff, from an insurance salesman with no expertise in psychology, anthropology, ethics or cultural theory. Didn’t you know, your sins are inherited? No wonder Safety loves this goop. This is the kind of view at the time that accepted eugenics and racism as normal cultural stuff. Indeed, the Nazis fed on this kind of stuff.

Roll up, roll up, roll up folks, here it is in your favourite safety myth. Your traits of character (that lead to unsafety) are inherited.

Well of course this stuff is dated, of course this stuff is nonsense but why is Heinrich still in safety texts?

Figure 1. Page 12 Heinrich


This is then followed soon by a classic on p. 25 (See Figure 2. Page 25 Heinrich)

Figure 2. Page 25 Heinrich


Here are the psychological causes of unsafe acts, from a source with no expertise in psychology or research skills: ‘Willful disregard, recklessness, violent temper’. Hmmm, and how does one know ‘willful disregard’? of course, Heinrich can read minds too!

Folks, this is called projection and attribution, has nothing to do with science and shows the dated and emotional rubbish Heinrich was anchored to. No wonder safety loves Heinrich, he’s the hero of blaming.

Then let’s jump to page 39. (Figure 3. P.39 Heinrich).

Figure 3. P.39 Heinrich


Here we see the foundation for simplistic safety. Look at the four causes on page 39. This is the kind of simplistic stuff Safety feeds on, but none of this explains why people do what they do nor why accidents occur. It is all just fluffy projection with no clue about many critical factors associated with human judgment and decision making.

Then let’s jump to page 72 and here we see all the evidence of a salesman with no idea of human motivation or the human unconscious. Yet, here we have it on page 72 that Heinrich projects about knowing the human subconscious and how people think. Pretty arrogant stuff from a salesman! (See Figure 4. P.72 Heinrich)

Figure 4. P.72 Heinrich


Look lower on page 72 and we see Heinrich the expert in psychology projecting that injury is cause by a ‘spirit of bravado’. This is the kind of stuff of a Disney cartoon, not so-called ‘safety science’. Then look at page 73 at this naïve and simplistic list of motivations from a salesman who knows nothing about motivation. This reads more like the dogma of the 10 Commandments than anything to do with what motivates people to do what they do.

Then on to page 74 and 75 (Figure 5. P.75 Heinrich)

Figure 5. P.75 Heinrich


In this section it’s hard to keep up with the rambling rubbish of projected nonse4nse paraded as so-called ‘scientific approach’. And here we see Heinrich likening a workers interests to his own field of a salesman’s plan’s to a customer. And page 75 is simply line after line of pure gobbledygook.

Oh, that’s tight, let’s project conformity on to immigrants as a better ‘type’. Just remining me, where is the ‘scientific approach’ in any of this. Add to this crazy speculations about ‘underdeveloped mentalities’, comments on pride, logic, humanity and rivalry and you’ve got a mish mash of purse nonsense paraded as Heinrich’s ignorance about anthropology, psychology and human personhood.

On page 95 (Figure 6. P.97. Heinrich)

Figure 6. P.95. Heinrich


We have this classic and typical safety-goop that always comments on what it doesn’t know and then proceeds to comment on what it doesn’t know.

So far, the book is littered with comments on the psychology and anthropology of human persons and then this silly four lines that states that no attempt has been made to express anything about psychology or psychiatry. Classic safety stuff, when the previous 94 pages have been about all kinds of nonsense declarations about human psychology, anthropology and psychiatry.

This is what Safety does. It starts a book on the theology of suffering, states it knows nothing of a theology of suffering and then writes a theology of suffering. Or a Chemical Engineer with no qualifications in psychology or neuroscience writing a book on safety neuroscience, brain safety and habits. Or a chemical engineer writing on culture with no idea about culture. This is the safety way. All of this is the model laid out by Heinrich – the insurance salesman who mystically become psychologist, sociologist, ethicist, anthropologist, mind-reader and scientist.

The next example of absurd nonsense is on page 102,103 (Figure 7. P. 102. Heinrich)

Figure 7. P. 102. Heinrich


Of course, we call all these speculations and projections from no foundation of expertise ‘fact finding’. How strange that Heinrich in the first paragraph of this section anchors his facts to ‘imagination’. And then this ‘in certain cases of industrial injury a true accident is not an unseen event’. What??? Can it get more stupid? So just apply a little bit of logic here, if it is an accident then by its very nature must be unforeseen. Oh yes, but this is a ‘true accident’. Goodness me, are these the accidents one can predict? No wonder you have to be a super hero to work in safety! Good olde Heinrich, redefines the very meaning of the word accident. Then anchors back to the dominoes to make his point. This is called making myths founded on myths, then calling them facts.

Then on to page 108 (Figure 8. P.108. Heinrich).

Figure 8. P.108. Heinrich

This is where we discover the ‘Corollary facts of causation’.


This is where the grand psychologist Heinrich speculates about the ‘mental state’ of the person after just declaring he has made no statement about psychology or psychiatry in the book. Ah yes, but all is ok, I’m now a ‘safety engineer’.

Ans look at the language on page 127 (Figure 9. P.127. Heinrich)

Figure 9. P.127. Heinrich


This is where we learn of the ‘mystifying appearance of the safety engineer’ who solves a dilemma with ‘true cause-analysis’. Further at the bottom of p.127 we discover that ‘man-failure accidents can be prevented by education of employees’. Well, there you go. Classic behaviourism and brain-centrism all rolled up in one line.

So, next close out with the conclusion from Heinrich where we learn (p. 362, yes, this gobbledygook goes for 437 pages). Here we learn that Heinrich has told the story of ‘scientific accident prevention’, more like a fairy-tale than anything of any sense to a safety person. And in come the ‘accident-prevention engineers’, yes you guessed it, the same ones who write about brain-safety, habit safety, culture and neuroscience. And there are ‘no mysteries’ and only a ‘few technical conditions to contend with’.

Then on page 363 right up the top we have deontological, Kantian and natural law ethics paraded openly (See Figure 10. P363 Heinrich). Not that Heinrich would know anything about this. It just all helps to sell accident insurance.

Figure 10. P363 Heinrich



So, there it is. This is what Heinrich is about. This goop is what safety anchors to as if there is some kind of credibility in spruiking nonsense to people. And still, you will find the nonsense of Heinrich, Bird and the likes of Reason etc. in many texts in safety.

Unless Safety can jettison this nonsense and the associated goop of zero, linear causation, Swiss cheese, pyramids and curves it will never move forward to any sense of relevance to people working in risk in this century.

For those who actually want a copy of Heinrich’s book, email me for a copy.

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