Heinrich’s law

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Heinrich’s law

 KANG KI-HEON
The author is an industry 1 team reporterof the JoongAng Ilbo.


Any Korean worker will be familiar with Herbert William Heinrich (1885-1962). He appears in the industrial safety and health class, a compulsory course. Heinrich’s law never fails to be mentioned when it comes to industrial disasters.

Heinrich worked at the inspection division of the Travelers Insurance Company and published a book titled “Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach” in 1931. He statistically analyzed the cause of major industrial accidents. He argued that for every major accident, 29 minor accidents and 300 accidents with no injuries occur. The one to 29 to 300 pyramid was the conclusion of his career of studying industrial accidents for 17 years.

Heinrich argued that major accidents could be prevented by preventing minor incidents. It leads to the domino theory of industrial disasters. According to Heinrich, industrial accidents occur because of a social environment that causes workers to make mistakes, which leads to dangerous behavior and mechanical risk. Therefore, he concluded that the chain leading to industrial accidents can be broken by removing a domino piece.

Heinrich’s law is criticized by some, as he used data from 75,000 cases, some of which had been handpicked by other managers. Industrial structures have changed drastically. The 1930s is very different from the present, as electricity, construction and automobiles were the main industries. Despite these flaws, Heinrich’s study is indispensable when discussing industrial accidents. He proposed a scientific method to prevent industrial accidents based on empirical data.

According to Heinrich’s interpretation, the bus accident in Gwangju and the fire at an Icheon warehouse could have been prevented. The bus accident is similar to the demolition accident in Jamwon-dong in 2019. The fire at the Icheon warehouse was similar to the refrigeration warehouse fire in 2008.

The government emphasizes safety above all, but similar accidents are repeated because not much has been learned from experience. Based on my personal experience, follow-up responses are not that different from the past. The government will launch a special inspection on workplaces. The National Assembly will revise related laws to raise the punishment level and increase check points. It is the limitations of policy with little connection to the field. Rather than special inspections or legislative revisions, empirical analysis is the priority. A country that cannot learn from its experiences has no future.
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