This is one of the books in the bibliography of Heinrich’s 1931 version of Industrial Accident Prevention. My main focus in this discussion/summary is an attempt to distil the main threads from this book and to a make a comparison to Heinrich’s book, and - in a later phase - to the other safety handbooks that came out around the same time.

Sidney J. Williams was an engineer with 20 years of experience as an industry executive, from the Winconsin Industrial Commission, formerly chief engineer with the National Safety Council, and at the time of publishing the book Director of the Public Safety Division of the NSC. (The latter is probably the reason for the final chapter in the book that deals with Public Safety, somewhat an odd one out in this book).

The first thing that stands out is Williams’ audience. This “manual attempts to set forth the essential information needed by a man who devotes all or part of his time to industrial safety.” (p.iii) This is a clear contrast to Heinrich, who sees management as his prime audience, and others (safety engineers, students, foremen) only after these.

Another interesting aspect is that Williams draws on several of his contemporaries. Each of the rather short chapters is followed by a short list of references, which are often NSC standards or publications, but he also cites the work of DeBlois (on multiple occasions), Boyd Fisher (Mental Causes of Accidents), Beyer, and also Heinrich whose work on indirect costs of accidents had just been published.

The main focus of the book is clearly on the organisation of safety (we would probably call it safety management), rather than on safe guarding. In contrary to other safety handbooks, Williams did not include pictures and photographs with examples of hazards or guarding. Still, Chapters 12 to 16, and 18 and 19 are rather detailed discussions of hazards and remedies. There for example a chapter (15) on personal protective equipment, a subject which Heinrich would not touch explicitly before 1950.

While Williams claims to discuss basic principles (just as Heinrich does), the book is for the greater part very much of a how-to book of Safety Organisation (strongly drawing on DeBlois) that discusses for example committee work, inspections (given the shortness of most chapters it is surprising that Williams spends several pages on an inspection list), safety meetings and how to conduct a safety campaign.

Some other similarities between Williams and Heinrich:

  • The importance of (top) management: “…effective accident prevention requires that the general management shall place responsibility for safety in each operating unit, squarely upon the executive of that unit. The manager of the plant or other operation - no one else - must be held responsible for safety…” (p.5)
  • The foreman is seen as the ‘key man’, “He is the top sergeant of industry. To the men, the foreman represents the company, and their morale is largely determined by his treatment of them.” (p.20) However, Williams spends not more than 5 pages on the subject.
  • There is a mention of unsafe acts and practices, but more in passing where the foreman “…is held responsible for preventing accidents in his department through the correction of unsafe conditions or practices.” (p.21)
  • There is some attention for the human element and (temporary?) accident proneness with an entire chapter about the ‘new employee’.
  • Both advocate the same prioritization when selecting remedies: “The first rule of safeguarding is this: If a certain kind of accident can be prevented either by a mechanical guard or by carefulness on the part of the employee, always provide the guard.” (p.90)
  • The fact that safety and production go together (Chapter XVII), including a discussion of hidden costs (drawing on Heinrich’s research) and efficiency. Williams appears to be stronger influenced by Taylor’s work: “American industry today is founded on standardized mass production. The engineers and executives who have revolutionized industry in the past generation have done so by resolutely seeking the ‘one best way’ of doing each particular job and by then insisting that the job shall always be done that way. That is efficiency - complete and unvarying regularity of operation.” (p.141). According to Williams “…an accident is almost always a symptom of some underlying inefficiency.” (p.141/142) (One might of course remark that safety and inefficiency not always are incompatible, after all can redundancy serve as a buffer to correct things before they do ‘real’ harm.)
  • Interesting is the discussion of ‘Safety First’. Williams considers it “…a valuable and necessary slogan in the pioneer days. It aroused attention and it bore witness to an almost revolutionary determination on the part of industry to give greater human values.” (p.141) But there had been progress and by now people should think “…in terms of safety and production”. (p.142)

Some significant differences:

  • There is rather little focus on causes. This is a central subject for Heinrich because his belief that you need to know what the problems are to address them effectively. If Williams agrees on this view, he expresses the ‘finding’ of problems differently (he focuses more on ‘hazard’). There is some discussion of causal classifications around pages 81 to 83, including some interesting reflections about judgement and statistics. “The trouble […] is that you are trying to get out of your statistics something that you cannot get. No statistics will automatically do your safety job for you. They merely show you what sort of accidents you are having - where you must look for trouble.” (p.83) There is also a brief section on causes drawing on Boyd Fisher’s work (p.154/155).
  • Williams uses the term Risk in a quite contemporary way (p.54 and 63). This was not all that common in the 1920s, and is entirely unlike Heinrich who uses the word exclusively in an insurance meaning.
  • Surprising is the discussion of minor accidents. Williams advocates to not oblige people to report them as part of the accident statistics and only ‘count’ the real lost-time injuries. In his opinion, workers would else be encouraged to cover up minor injuries instead of having them treated - with more serious consequences (e.g. infections). (p.76) However, also Williams was aware of the limitations of LTI-statistics: “It is true that an ordinary department or small plant without special hazards may go for a considerable period without a lost time accident even if no particular attention is given to safety.” (p.76) Even more interestingly, Williams sort-of predicts the ‘Texas City-effect’ where attention for small stuff (frequency) served as a decoy (to use Barry Turner’s term): “…it may mean that educational activity has cut down the minor accidents while at the same time hazardous plant conditions or lack of careful analysis and supervision of hazardous occupations has permitted the serious and costly accidents to increase.” (p.80)
  • However, later in the book, Williams offers a triangle-worthy example, however William does not (like Heinrich) offer the early-intervention opportunity: “Consider likewise the case of a labourer pushing a truck load of material through a shop. A piece of material falls off - because it was poorly piled, or because the truck was not of the right sort, or because the floor was rough, or the lighting poor, or the labourer untrained or careless. This happens a hundred times, always causing some loss of time, not only for the trucker but for others behind him, perhaps for the machine tender waiting for the material. The hundredth time, the piece of material falls on the labourer’s foot, and he is injured. This accidental injury calls attention to the fact that something is wrong with the truck, the material, or the man.” (p.143)

One final thing that stood out while reading - I have never read a safety book where so often is mentioned that the safety professional shall be a “friend” or be “friendly” or “friendly assist”. I agree with the general idea, but after a certain number of pages it grated on my nerve. But hey, that’s just me.


Williams, S.J. (1927) The Manual of Industrial Safety. Chicago & New York: A.W. Shaw Company.

At this moment no digital version appears to be available online, and getting an original copy is next to impossible...