This is one of the books in the bibliography of Heinrich’s 1931 version of Industrial Accident Prevention. I am trying to follow up all of these books in order to get some measure of their influence on Heinrich’s work. My main focus with this review/summary (and others) is an attempt to distil the main threads and a comparison to Heinrich’s book, and - in a later phase - to the other safety handbooks that came out around the same time.
So far I have found not much biographical information on the author. From his writing it becomes clear that he had several years (possibly decades) of experience as a safety engineer under his belt. He has worked as a safety engineer for the Industrial Commission of Ohio, lectured to college engineering students about safety and before the publishing of this book, he made a three year trip to Europe to study industrial conditions.
This Handbook of Safety and Accident Prevention is a bit of a curiosity - not only from today’s point of view, already a review from the year of publishing questions the relevance and presentation of some of the contents and concludes, “The message the author desires to convey could probably have been put into a book of much less dimensions.”
Part of the problem lies probably in the process of publishing. The book was compiled in 1922, then the author went abroad, and after these years the text was reviewed and supplemented. Other underlying issues are probably the author’s aim to “bring together into one volume all the widely scattered material which is essential to a proper understanding of the Safety First movement”, the fact that he intends to write a book for a broad audience, including students, practicing safety engineers as well as foremen and managers, and in my opinion the lack of a proper or logical structure. There is no proper division in chapters, and some changes in subjects (e.g. from safety suggestion procedures to safety conferences) that make no sense at all. Add to that many pages (probably a third of the book?) filled with boring, outdated (at the time of writing!) and obsolete statistics and lists. On the positive side, the author provides many sample forms, and high-quality pictures, but again structure is lacking and they appear in-between sections that deal with entirely different subjects.
Looking from a historical point of view, one might say that Lange stands between the first ‘wave’ of safety authors (Beyer, Ashe, Cowee and Van Schaak) and the late 1920’s authors (DeBlois, Williams, Heinrich), but in much of his writing he is more akin the earlier authors, especially because he very much propagates the Safety First thinking which is more connected to the first decade of the 20th Century rather than the mid-1920s when the book was published (and the later writers actually were critical of the Safety First slogan).
Lange succeeds partly in his aim to offer a huge collection of detailed information for safety practitioners. I have no doubt that the lengthy sections about locating hazards, guarding (ca. 70 pages, including a complete ‘code’), illumination and first aid were very helpful. Some things are discussed in huge details, like how to use a statistics chart, or how to fill a form. A bit more dubious are the lengthy sections on Public Safety and the supplement on safety at schools, and also the list with laws and codes is probably more of historic interest.
It is interesting to see that Lange is the only author (that is, what I have seen so far) who explicitly discusses making safety rules as a subject. After that he lists in absurd detail several pages (p.172-202) of possible safety rules, both general and for specific professions. Many of these ‘rules’ are more akin safety slogans, of which Lange offers 5 more pages with examples in tiny print.
When we look at some common themes with Heinrich, apart from practical remedies, like guarding, illumination and industrial health (here Lange really outdoes himself with pages upon pages listing occupations and hazards in super tiny print), we will notice that Lange touches upon some, but often much more superficially and briefly:
- Professionalization of safety: this is an important subject with some interesting reflections about how technical a safety engineer should be, and about the breadth of the profession.
- Cost: some comments on efficiency, a brief mention of indirect costs (p.8), the need to justify safety work financially (p.259) and sections about compensation and forms of insurance.
- Foremen: acknowledgement of their responsibility and key role (p.171), but the 8 pages contain mostly some practical to-do directions.
- It is interesting to see that Lange is a bit sceptical of having foremen in a lead for accident investigation, “Foremen’s report on accidents should not be taken as final when it is possible to avoid doing so, for the reason that foremen sometimes try to shield themselves by giving an incorrect version of how the accident occurred.” (p.57) On the other hand, this critique does not invalidate Heinrich’s opinion that foremen are in the best position/opportunity and also have the (or a) responsibility.
- Lange agrees with others that it is best to eliminate hazards and guard machines (p.20/21) and speaks at some length about “engineering revision” (p.23-25).
- The ‘human element’ appears throughout the book in various guises. Often Lange leans much towards carelessness, which is not to be tolerated (p.32), he even suggests an “unsafe practice committee” whose tasks include sanctions (p.46), there is a quite harsh section on discipline (p.171) without the nuances that Heinrich would add (it is the last option), and of course there are the sections on rules and the obligation to follow them - “YOU DO YOUR PART MR WORKMAN” (p.179).
- On the other hand, there is little discussion of accident proneness (briefly a suggestion on p.166) except for specific groups like new workers (p.167) and non-English speaking employees (p.167). The section on these may even have influenced Heinrich in his idea about “ancestry”: “Some interesting figures have been compiled on the non-English speaking workmen. Their efficiency is from ten to forty percent below that of men who understand English. They are injured three times to every two injuries of their English speaking fellow workmen, and the injuries are more severe. From the foregoing it is evident you will have to pay special attention to these men.” (p.167).
- While Lange does say on various occasions “there is a right way to do things, and a wrong way”, and thereby hinting at Taylorist thoughts, he has a quite extensive discussion of suggestion systems and using the good ideas and initiative of workers (p.75-78), and also in the section about welfare he speaks a lot about involvement and consultation.
- Lange pays relatively little attention to causes. When he does, he often cites what Heinrich would do away as “so-called causes”. For example the proximate cause to Lange is often the agent of the injury (e.g. a machine part). Also his section about accident analysis is rather thin. There is, however, some interesting critique about the habit of some safety professionals to only tabulate one cause per accident in statistics (as Heinrich would do in the research leading up to the 88:10:2 ratio). He thinks “It becomes perfectly clear that such figures are very misleading” (p.23) critiquing those who claim certain percentages about human or machine contributions. Lange suggests that multi-causal representation is the only way to get useful information in a rare feat of quite progressive thinking: “Only by taking all factors into consideration on each accident can we know the relative importance of the main hazard groups.” (p.73)
Speaking about progressive thinking… Quite interesting is the section about female employees that even contains some proto-#MeToo:
“Where males and females are employed together, every effort should be made to safeguard the females against ‘freshness’. The necessity of this is sometimes overlooked with disastrous results. If females are to commence working in a department where they have never been used before, someone of the management should give the men a heart-to-heart talk prior to the entry of the women. This will prevent a lot of ‘fresh’ remarks when they take up the work. Cubbyholes, dark passages and other places where illicit affairs can be carried on should be eliminated.” (p.162)
Another interesting term, from today’s perspective is when Lange speaks about creating “a safety atmosphere” (he does so two or three times). Do we dare to mention culture?
For the greater part this book is only interesting from a historic perspective, but some gems are in fact buried in the 512 pages.
Lange, F.G. (1926) Handbook of Safety and Accident Prevention. New York: The Engineering Magazine Company.
At this moment no digital version appears to be available online. But you can find the review mentioned above online:
Hayhurst, E.R. (1926) Handbook of Safety and Accident Prevention. American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 16(7): 730–731.