Some information about the book Preventing Industrial Accidents, published by Taylor & Francis/Routledge.

A reader’s guide

Just a quick overview of what to expect in this book. Although it is recommended reading the book start to end, the chapters are as much as possible assembled such that they can be read on their own. There are ten chapters. The first three provide an introduction and basic overview of Heinrich’s life and work. Chapters 4 to 10 discuss the various main themes in his worth with a varying level of depth. The final chapter ties things together and reflects upon the contemporary value of Heinrich’s legacy.

  1. Introduction
    Setting the scene, why discuss old safety ideas, how is Heinrich cited in safety literature, limitations.
  2. A biography
    What it says, with attention for the historical backdrop.
  3. Heinrich’s work
    Provides general overview and defines main themes, to be discussed in later chapters. Influences, developments. Heinrich’s success and longevity.
  4. A scientific approach
    Heinrich claimed to approach safety scientifically. Critique. Was Heinrich a Taylorist? Why it made sense to Heinrich. Missing data.
  5. The economics of safety
    His first break-through theme, hidden cost, safety and efficiency, critique.
  6. Causation
    A subject he emphasized and discussed extensively. Causation in early safety. The accident sequence (dominos). Focus on direct causes. Why it made sense to Heinrich. Duality in causes. The 88:10:2 ratio. Problems with this. Underlying and ‘other’ causes. A more complete model.
  7. The human element
    Humans as something to control, and how. Psychology, accident proneness and ancestry. Humans as an asset.
  8. The role of management
    Foremen, supervisors, top management and employer. Management literature of the time. Professionalisation. Safety as part of everyday business. Responsibility. The Axioms. Safety management.
  9. The triangle and reacting on weak signals
    His most famous metaphor. Also, his most misunderstood. What is it? What is it not? What Heinrich said. Ways to read it. Interpretations and attributions. Critique.
  10. Other main themes
    Professionalisation of safety, practical remedy, and social engagement.
  11. Heinrich in the 21st century
    A chapter that ties together several threads and reflects on Heinrich’s relevance for safety students, scholars and practitioners today.

The book concludes with a glossary and an appendix, presenting the Heinrich bibliography.

The blurp

Herbert William Heinrich has been one of the most influential safety pioneers. His work from the 1930s/1940s affects much of what is done in safety today – for better and worse. Heinrich’s work is debated and heavily critiqued by some, while others defend it with zeal. Interestingly, few people who discuss the ideas have ever read his work or looked into its backgrounds; most do so based on hearsay, secondary sources, or mere opinion. One reason for this is that Heinrich’s work has been out of print for decades: it is notoriously hard to find, and quality biographical information is hard to get.

Based on some serious "safety archaeology," which provided access to many of Heinrich’s original papers, books, and rather rich biographical information, this book aims to fill this gap. It deals with the life and work of Heinrich, the context he worked in, and his influences and legacy. The book defines the main themes in Heinrich’s work and discusses them, paying attention to their origins, the developments that came from them, interpretations and attributions, and the critiques that they may have attracted over the years. This includes such well-known ideas and metaphor as the accident triangle, the accident sequence (dominoes), the hidden cost of accidents, the human element, and management responsibility.

This book is the first to deal with the work and legacy of Heinrich as a whole, based on a unique richness of material and approaching the matter from several (new) angles. It also reflects on Heinrich’s relevance for today’s safety science and practice.


Some material had to be edited out from the final manuscript. Some of it is presented on this website.


Read some of the feedback regarding the book.


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