Heinrich's Safety Pyramid
Heinrich’s safety pyramid shows us the different levels of safety incidents, beginning with unsafe acts
and going all the way up to the worst-case scenario, death. There are many discussions on the
validity of this pyramid, but for today’s purposes please focus only on the base of the pyramid,
where accident prevention happens because everything above the blue portion relates to accidents
that have already happened.
With that in mind, lets first define what an accident is. One definition is An unplanned RESULT of an
act or event which can be a fatality, injury or property/product damage. The bottom of the pyramid
represents hazardous acts and conditions. These situations can and will often lead to an injury and
the word “act” is in both the definition of an incident and in the foundation of the pyramid. Most of
the time, accidents are caused by people’s unsafe actions or the hazards their actions create.
Accident prevention really comes down to two things. Either the person who had the accident wasn’t
aware of the hazards they were exposed to, or they knew there was a hazard and didn’t respond.
Do you think you always respond appropriately to hazards? Lets take a few everyday examples as
you may have more near misses than you think:
Scenario 1: If you were told to reach into a substance you couldn’t see through and pickup 8 razor
blades would you be concerned? This scenario actually happens quite frequently when we wash
steak knives in a sink full of soapy water. Most of us don’t think that performing this action will lead
to an accident but it actually happens quite often.
Scenario 2: If I told you that you had an opportunity to navigate in a 3000 lb missile travelling at
102.667 feet per second blindfolded through an obstacle course while eating, drinking, reading,
texting with your dog on your lap would you do it? This scenario happens daily when we drive our
cars distracted by any one or more of those listed.
Scenario 3: After agreeing to help a friend move out of their house, you get to the moving location to
find there is a library upstairs and all the books are packed. All of the books are in just 9 boxes but
they weigh 90 lbs each. We all know that handrails are on stairs for a purpose and this type of work
could preclude their use, especially with heavy boxes to carry.
The answers to these and hundreds of other questions is yes we do know and for the most part we
recognize the hazards we are presented both on and off the job. But we don’t respond
appropriately, usually for reasons of comfort and convenience. It’s more comfortable to not wear
ear plugs while mowing the lawn and its more convenient to use the chair as a ladder than to go to
the garage and get the ladder and so on. When we have the awareness and the ability to do an
activity safely, we only need the motivation to do it that way. Accident prevention is all about
recognizing and responding to hazardous conditions and hazardous acts which create those daily
near misses. Convenience and comfort can be a powerful enemy and can impact all of us. It is critical
to keep safety as a personal value both on and off the job.