Heinrich Is The Enemy Of The Worker


By Phil La Duke

The image above is disturbing, and it is not my intention to in any way diminish the seriousness and horrific nature of the Holocaust.  My use here is to reinforce that the same thinking that made the Holocaust possible was the same thinking that shaped Herbert Heinrich’s view of safety and by extension the foundation of much of  modern safety thought and practice.  We have to ask ourselves is this the kind of thinking that we want to perpetuate in any circumstance, but most particularly worker safety? I for one stand against blaming the worker and hiding behind bogus models based on junk science.  I thought that this was a no-brainer, and yet the Heinrich Pyramid is still part of so many safety orientations. This has to stop.

“It is always interesting to read something that uses Heinrich as a punching bag and then raise their arms in triumph believing their ideas on safety is superior.
To be clear, I do not subscribe to Heinrich’s theory at all. I do side with the assumption that he was well-intentioned (although I truly do not know his intentions). Again, I do not support his theories. However, I am glad that his errors and/or miscalculations helped usher in increased and improved awareness for safety.
I enjoy reading as many ideas on safety improvement as I can. Other ideas help broaden my own perspective, maybe even support what I’m already doing. It helps me learn. Ultimately, I hope, it benefits the workers.
I just wish those ideas could be offered without the overt criticism of Heinrich…or any of the rest of us.”——Michael Kleinpeter (Posted on LinkedIn)

Battle lines are being drawn and it’s time to choose a side. Either you see Heinrich and his accursed pyramid as the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in Safety or you see him for what he was—an unethical swine-fornicator who saw himself as a member of the master race and then set out to prove his bigotry through dubious if not out-and-out maliciously fictitious research.  

Defending Herbert Heinrich as “well-intentioned”—particularly when one has no idea of the man’s intentions—is the equivalent of defending  Heinrich Himmler as “well-intentioned”. After all, didn’t both Heinrichs believe in the inherent justice of not necessarily of their life’s work? I don’t see well-intentioned men

Didn’t both Heinrichs believe in the inherent inhumanity and predictable fallibility of the “mud people”? Neither gave much credence to dissent for, or scientific disapproval of, their theories. They simply acted on their bigotries with no regard for whom it would harm or the damage it would inflict on society. Heinrich’s pyramid has done as much for safety as the Great Pyramids did for the Egyptian slaves, or the Aztec pyramids did for their POWs.

Both Heinrichs were the enemy of the poor, and under-served workers who they saw as chattel, a resource to be used up and discarded,  and both were  the enemy of the hundreds of thousands of good and dedicated people working in safety. Slapping that accursed pyramid up on the screen is, to me, like slapping a swastika on your PointPoint presentation and then, once confronted by the hate and evil it represents defending it as an Indian good luck symbol.

For too long we have ignored the Eugenics that underlie Heinrich’s racist, and ethnic bigotry, and promote the idea that the real problem in protecting workers is that most of them don’t deserve it and we are better off as a society without them. People like my father who died of mesothelioma (because of corporate greed of suppliers who failed to warn his employer) or my brother-in-law of silicosis.  If you believe that some workers are worth saving and others aren’t, then you are of one mind with the Heinrichs and you need to OWN that.  If you don’t believe that some workers because of their race, creed, color, education level, or the way they part their hair are less entitled to safety or more likely to hurt themselves, then you MUST stop perpetuating Heinrich’s Pyramid 

As for “However, I am glad that his errors and/or miscalculations helped usher in increased and improved awareness for safety.” Really? So the Triangle Shirt Waste Fire that killed 146 garment workers in New York, on  March 25, 1911, that remains the most deadly industrial disaster in New York history and one of the most deadly in U.S. history had nothing to do with raising the awareness of worker safety? (Source) Coincidentally, most of the victims were recent Italian and Jewish immigrants, whose ethnicity Heinrich would later cite as a root cause of many the accidents he investigated.  What PRECISELY can we learn from a man who concluded that a person was injured because of his or her ethnicity? 

Long before Heinrich published his work, the U.S, (and the world) was well on its way to enacting legislation to protect workers—In 1911 the first U.S. worker’s compensation laws were enacted. Also in 1911,  the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A professional, technical organization, ) was founded and later developed safety codes for boilers and elevators,

Perhaps most significant event to “usher in increased and improved awareness for safety” was the 1912 founding of the National Council for Industrial Safety (you may know it better as the National Safety Council as it changed its name to in 1913.)
In 1913 The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data that show a rate of 61 industrial deaths per 100,000 workers. 1914 The U.S. Public Health Service establishes the Office of Industrial Hygiene and Sanitation. Its primary function is research in occupational health. After several name changes, it became the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1971. So sufficed to say, there was plenty of awareness for worker safety before Heinrich.  

All of this happened long before Heinrich—too say nothing of social reformers and labor leaders who fought and sometimes DIED in furtherance of the workers’ right to a safer workplace.  To claim Heinrich awakened Americans to the need for greater worker safety is absolutely an insult to the intelligence of anyone working today—whether they are sweeping a floor or a captain of industry—Heinrich was a hack, a fraud, and a liar.  It’s said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” maybe so, but the foundation below that road is laid by people like Heinrich and all those who adamantly refuse to let him and his stupid, worthless pyramid go.

I’m not raising my arms in victory, I’m hanging my head in shame that we stand as peers with people who still perpetuate this swill because it makes them money. I’m shaking my head in disappointment and disgust that there are—I admit a minority (but not enough of one)—of people who not only still believe this crap but pass it on to the next generation of our profession. So to those who would defend this dreck, I say this: stupidity and obstinance kills,  and the more stupid and obstinant one is the more likely one is to speak in the hushed tones and through the lens of hero worship for Heinrich, whether it be Herbert or Himmler it makes little difference.

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