Herbert William Heinrich is one of the most influential pioneers within safety. His concepts, originally from the late 1920s, influence safety practice and theory, even today. In recent years, Heinrich’s legacy received increasing critique, also from contemporary safety authors that generally are counted among the ‘new view’. The objective of this thesis is to explore how ‘new view’ thinkers/authors discuss Heinrich and whether they apply the approaches they advocate to Heinrich’s work.
This thesis starts by offering a biographical study of Heinrich and an overview of his work, which establishes a timeline and the context necessary to put Heinrich’s work into perspective. This background analysis also touches on Heinrich’s influences, how his work developed and how his work is cited. This part of the thesis meant literally archaeological research, uncovering more of Heinrich’s work than has been available/accessible to safety science before and through this it presents a unique collection of resources that give a richer picture of both the person Heinrich, and his work.
The thesis then turns to a characterization of the ‘new view’ and a selection of authors to work with. It is reviewed how these ‘new view’ authors discuss Heinrich and his work. It shows that ‘new view’ authors discussing Heinrich rarely employ ‘new view’ approaches. Seldom do they seek deep explanations or explore alternatives. Mostly they take a position and discuss things from that point of view. In addition, they bring forward claims and attributions with regard to Heinrich that are not substantiated and are open for questions when studying Heinrich’s work properly instead of cherry picking.
The discussion suggests that substantial critique is only one element in the ‘new view’ discussion of Heinrich’s work. The normative and judgemental language also serves as a pedagogical device. In addition, the increasing ‘new view’ critique of Heinrich can be seen a part of establishing a new movement that needed something to contrast its message to as a tool of persuasion. In the way of classical storytelling, the ‘new hero’ needed some ‘villain’ to overcome in order to make the message looking better.
This illustrates that critique of ‘old’ safety theories and approaches contains substance as well as ethical implications. When we offer critique, we have a choice of what story we want to tell – just as is the case with accident investigations. Critique does not only serve scientific purposes, or to propose better/alternative approaches. The discourse of this critique can also serve other goals, for example ideological purposes, or even be a way to market a product to sell.
As an alternative analysis, the thesis offers an attempt to recreate Heinrich’s local rationality regarding three topics and explores why it made sense to him to subtitle his book ‘A Scientific Approach’, to offer a linear model and focus on direct causes, and to discuss ‘real’ and ‘true’ causes. This exercise shows that, just as they give us a better and richer understanding of accidents and organisational events, ‘new view’ approaches prove to be useful for the analysis of texts. Looking for the local rationality of an author suspends judgement and contributes to a better and deeper understanding.
The thesis concludes by suggesting some areas for further study.
Heinrich, safety, science, new view, local rationality, causation