What causes industrial accidents? Original theorists narrowed the cause of accidents to unsafe acts and unsafe conditions. This theory, which is still held by many regulators, business, labor unions and safety professionals, has been rightly criticized as oversimplified and one-dimensional. If we accept to any degree the notion that accidents are the result of human actions, we should apply a multi-dimensional accident causation model. This would encompass not just shop floor workers but the president and CEO and all other employees and management in between. This article will briefly sketch out the evolution of modern thinking about accident causation.
Heinrich & the "Unsafe Acts" Theory
The original unsafe acts theory is most closely associated with Herbert William Heinrich and his famous 1926 report "The Origins of Accidents." Heinrich analyzed 75,000 accident reports and concluded that 88 percent of all accidents are caused by the unsafe acts of persons, 10 percent by unsafe physical conditions and 2 percent by "acts of God."
The Heinrich theory of unsafe acts and conditions dominated thinking about industrial accidents for decades. Heinrich and his advocates may have been correct in their observations, based on the information and research available to them at the time. But the world has changed considerably since Heinrich first propounded his theory.
The Ham Commission Report
One of the first reasoned and modern examinations of the causes of workplace accidents is the 1976 report from the Ham Commission, a body created by the Ontario government to study health and safety in uranium mines during a miners' strike. Report of the Royal Commission on the Health & Safety of Workers in Mines takes aim at the Heinrich theory. In the report, Commissioner Dr. James M. Ham makes the following statement:
"The Commission believes that emphasis on unsafe conditions and unsafe acts falsely dichotomizes and generally oversimplifies the organic circumstances out of which accidents arise."
The report continues:
"In the hearings before the Commission there were two particular points of emphasis in relation to accidents, unsafe conditions and unsafe acts. Some workers' representatives emphasized the former, and some management representatives the latter. Unsafe conditions may have their origin in unclearly defined and communicated management objectives. They may arise through defects of plant and mine design, through methods of work inadequate in themselves or inadequately supervised, and through tools, equipment, and processes inadequately maintained. Unsafe acts of any person may originate in want of vigilance, training, skill, physical strength or judgement when all conditions of work are otherwise within standards."
"The apparently common view that the great majority of accidents are the direct result of nothing more than unsafe acts or unsafe conditions is, in the Commission's opinion, too restricted a view of the human problem of accidental injuries. Workmen and their supervisors at every level may act unwisely, but they do so within a system for the performance of work whose responsibility it is to set clear and supervised standards of what is expected.";
The Ham Commission Report casts legitimate doubt on the validity of Heinrich's theories and suggests that accident causation must be considered from multiple dimensions. Next week, in the conclusion of this series, we'll examine more modern theories of accident causation that incorporate these notions.
THE MODERN WORKFORCE
Concerns of Working Women
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Things aren't so rosy for riveters and other female workers today
By Glenn Demby
The rising numbers of women in the workforce performing jobs traditionally held by men has been well documented. What has received less attention is the mentality of today's "Working Jane." A new AFL-CIO survey of more than 26,000 working women furnishes valuable insight on the mindset and concerns of the female workforce.
The survey shows that women are concerned, deeply concerned, about healthcare and retirement and uneasy about the future. The pervasive feeling seems to be that the country is moving in the wrong direction.
The timing of the survey's release two months before elections is no accident. The AFL-CIO's support for democratic candidates nationwide is well known. Still, it would be unwise for politicians-and safety directors--to dismiss this survey as pure political propaganda.
Here are the six concerns working women reported feeling "very worried" about:
- The rising costs of healthcare (79%)
- The rising cost of living (73%)
- Lack of retirement benefits (72%)
- Higher education costs (57%)
- The flight of jobs overseas (50%)
- Lack of job benefits (46%)
More than one-third of survey respondents said their jobs don't provide retirement benefits or prescription coverage; just less than one-third said they don't get paid sick leave; nearly two-thirds say they don't have paid family leave; and over 50 percent say they get paid less than men for equal work.
Source: AFL-CIO, "Ask a Working Woman Survey,"