Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The New Safety Pyramid: If Your Company Is Developing a 21st Century Safety and Health Program, Check out This Comprehensive Model for Safety Success

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The New Safety Pyramid: If Your Company Is Developing a 21st Century Safety and Health Program, Check out This Comprehensive Model for Safety Success

Article excerpt

Since at least the early 1930s, safety has been driven by the principles of H.W. Heinrich. In fact, Heinrich's pyramid (Figure 1) has long been held as the model for safety and accident prevention theory, which was to focus on near misses instead of injury-related incidents. We know the ancient pyramids of Mexico and Egypt have changed only negligibly over time. Dramatic and important changes, however, have taken place in our understanding of safety management that require us to update Heinrich's early pyramidal model if we are to achieve lasting improvement in safety and health programs. The application of the principles of behavior-based safety (BBS) and a management systems approach vs. the "safety program" approach represent the major transitions going from Heinrich's model to today's much more comprehensive version.

Heinrich's theory and consequential relationships provided a tremendous insight into incident causation and prevention. Interestingly, a study was conducted in 1984 at Procter & Gamble's (P&G) Port Ivory plant on Staten Island, N.Y., that shows a remarkable relationship to Heinrich's original pyramid (Figure 2). The Port Ivory study conducted by J.C. Bartlett, a P&G safety engineer, reviewed the 1,062 incidents that occurred in the plant from April 1982 to April 1984. They were classified according to severity of outcome, a method similar to what Heinrich had done, and bore a remarkable relationship to Heinrich's 1931 array.

This theory served the safety movement well until the mid-1970s, when another P&G safety engineer, Gene Earnest, came to the realization that safety efforts should be focused on behavior. Earnest's conclusion was based on an article in the Harvard Business Review by professor James A. Lee titled "Behavioral Theory vs. Reality." This led to a major modification in P&G's approach to incident prevention and an important modification to the Heinrich model (Figure 3). This was not only a profound addition, but totally logical. Behaviors, by definition, precede first aid cases as well as near misses and represent a powerful "before the fact" or proactive, approach.

Until this point, traditional safety had emphasized unsafe conditions such as missing machine guards, trip hazards or failure to lockout/tagout. By focusing on unsafe conditions, safety and health practitioners fall into the "after the fact" mode. That is because there is always some unsafe behavior that creates an unsafe condition. The literature suggests that unsafe behaviors are the cause of 85 percent to 90-plus percent of workplace incidents.

Attitude vs. Behavior

When discussing BBS, it is not unusual to get disagreement on just where the focus should be -- on attitudes or on behavior. There is no question that a "safe attitude" is highly desirable. Attitude is an internal state, however, whereas behavior is an external state defined by observable actions. Further, Lee, in his paper, stated, "There is scant evidence that attitude can be changed and then behavior ... ." This brings us to the most critical aspect of BBS: Behavior is observable and measurable, whereas attitude is not. This means that safe and unsafe behaviors can be observed, measured and quantified, which is absolutely critical in achieving significant reductions in workplace incidents.

The Simplified Version

Figure 4 illustrates the difference between traditional safety and BBS. Simply stated, BBS involves the whole employee from head to toe. Employees must understand just what the safe behaviors are in their work and perform their job functions accordingly. The traditional system focuses on unsafe conditions and physical hazards and does not really involve employees in terms of thinking about their actions as a precursor to a desirable or an undesirable consequence. BBS operates on the premise that every behavior is initiated by a preceding event and reinforced by the consequence of the behavior. …

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