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Dr Tim Marsh | The Application of Heinrich’s Principle in Health and Safety

Dr Tim Marsh | The Application of Heinrich's Principle in Health and Safety (Safety Thoughts #2)


In the second podcast from our safety thoughts series, Tim Marsh breaks down Heinrich’s principle and the different ways the theory behind it can be applied to good health and safety management.

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Welcome back. This second short piece is really about how we work a strong culture. But it’s really all about Heinrich’s Principle, not Heinrich’s Triangle. Lot of controversy about personal and process safety and what predicts what, but Heinrich’s Principle, which is that you tend to get the luck that you deserve more or less.

Very simple example from the offshore industry. We know that the likelihood of falling down the stairs, if you’re not holding the handrail, about 100,000 to 1. On a typical platform, the stairs will be used a million times a year. So if nobody holds the handrail, then you’re looking at 10 accidents, give or take. If we can get 90% to hold the handrail, then an accident, give or take. And if we can get 99% to hold the handrail, then an accident every 10 years or so.

And that fabled zero harm actually becomes a reality because so many accidents that we have are about moderately dangerous but frequent events, like walking up and down the stairs, like driving a car. So, obviously, for, you know, holding the handrail, isn’t necessarily going to predict process safety issues unless there’s an overlap in general culture and safety excellence.

But the sorts of things that do predict process safety issues are things like the quality of a shift handover, the number of times a permit to work is signed off blind, and so on. So in the world of cultural empowerment, you know, the quality of our transformational leadership really is determined by how many transformational leadership behaviors we undertake: how many times we praise rather than criticize, how many times we coach rather than tell, how often we lead by example in a good way, how many times we communicate in a really impactful way.

And so, one very simple example to try and illustrate how that might work and how we get out from our workforce the amount of engagement and empowerment that we put in. I’d like to talk about the feedback fish. Because if you have a picture like this brought to you by your 5-year old, you’re simply not going to say, “That’s crap that. That is useless. You’re wasting my time. I’m a busy man.”

You know, what you’re going to say is, to your 5-year old, “That’s excellent. It’s a work of genius. It’s going up on the fridge, might even get it framed.” You know, because golden rule number one of coaching is you lavish as much praise on the person as you can get away with, in a specific circumstance. You certainly wouldn’t want to come over all, “Way to go, Joe. We’re all going home safe tonight,” on an offshore oil rig.

You’d need to temper it a bit. But that’s golden rule number one. Golden rule number two is to move to questioning technique. So with your 5-year old, you say, “Let me think. How do fish see?” And of course, your 5-year old will say, “Well, with an eye, Dad.” Poof. And you get the eye, and then the fins, and the fish is complete.

What’s really interesting is it doesn’t matter, when you study the brain, it doesn’t matter that it’s really obvious you’ve been led to the answer, what’s absolutely key is that you say the answer first. If you say the answer first, ping, you light up, you take ownership of that issue, and you take it away with you. And again, it’s really simple.

It’s just working the odds. The number of times we engage in dialogue that makes you go ping, the stronger the level of empowerment, the stronger the culture. It’s a really simple principle, and it impacts on everything in life. As Gary Player said, “The harder I practice, the luckier I seem to get.” As the Dalai Lama says when asked, “How come you’re so happy all the time?”

He said, “Oh, well, it might perhaps have something to do with the fact that I’ve been practicing really hard every day for 60 years now.” It’s all the same principle. You get the luck that you deserve more or less.