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.
According to his credentials in the book, Sydney Withmore Ashe was Chairman of the Committee on Safety and Health National Association of Corporation Schools, member of the Educational Committee, and secretary of the Foundry Section of the National Safety Council. Apparently, he was an experienced educator, Head of the Educational and Welfare Department of the Pittsfield Works of the General Electric Company and had previously written books on electric railways and electricity.
His book is a rather slim volume, especially when compared to the ‘direct competition’ of the books by Cowee and Beyer which were published the year before. A mere 126 pages and 6 chapters (of which the last only five pages long). Besides, much space of these 126 pages is taken by side-filling pictures, many of which are about first aid.
The book is a somewhat curious affair. The title suggests that organisation is the main theme. Not so much of that however. In the introduction, Ashe emphasises education and one expects that the book will concentrate on this. Not so much about that either, however. There is an overall lack of structure, guiding framework or thread through the book. It feels very much like a collection of loose ideas. Like the author started with one idea, then was distracted and never returned to what he started with. Curious, regarding his experience as an educator and author… Let us go through the book:
Chapter 1 starts telling us “Safety is a habit…” (p.1) and this can best be developed “through educational means” (p.2). Safeguards are important, but Ashe puts stress on caution and habits - without really explaining why. He offers four necessary elements, which is the closest this book comes to some kind of framework, namely: Fellowship, System, Education and Discipline. He elaborates a bit on these, stressing the importance of cooperation and working together of employer and employee to create safety, approaching the matter systematically, mapping hazards and making a plan (he does not go in real detail there), give safety education to foremen and down the line and in a continuous manner, and finally following up and making sure that safe practices are followed, although Ashe stresses that discipline is the last option, which “…should not be exercised until all other means have failed; and even then with due allowance for unusual conditions.” (p.9)
The long Chapter 2 (44 pages) is titled Special Accidents Which May Be Reduced By Educational Means. This does not really cover the matter, however. Because self-preservation is a strong driver for humans (Heinrich agrees, DeBlois is more nuanced), Ashe’s idea is apparently that starting with focus on lifesaving and first aid is a good way of arousing interest in safety. That explains some of the odd structure and focus in this chapter and the book.
First things follow expected routes: “…use foremen as centers from which to radiate safety ideas.” (p.26)
“The foreman, in other words, has every facility and every liberty in instituting accident prevention work and in using discipline if necessary to make working conditions safe. There is every reason, therefore, why foremen should feel the responsibility for such accidents as occur in their departments.” (p.26) and
“As in safety work, so it is with other things; if we center responsibility in the foreman, placing every facility and suggestion at his disposal, we accomplish the best results.” (p.27)
Most of the early safety authors agree on this. But immediately (literally!) after this quote, Ashe switches to the subject of Prone Pressure Method of Resuscitation which he discusses for many pages in extreme detail with examples from the Pittsfield works and discussions of electricity. Then he switches to PPE (goggles and shoes), tools, cranes, orderly work, wood alcohol and fire protection. A super strange mixture of subjects! And little about the suggested prevention from the chapter’s title.
Chapter 3 deals with medical and physical examination which is seen as a way to ‘shape’ the workforce, and also as a way to avoid getting the ‘losers’ (my word, sorry) from other companies. There is much attention for tuberculosis (probably a relevant subject at the time) and hernia. The latter with descriptions of right and wrong ways of lifting. From today’s perspective with some hilarious exercise pictures.
Chapter 4 is dedicated to emergency hospital and first aid. Little about accident prevention in those 14 pages…
Chapter 5 is about records, analysis and ratio curves. Most interesting here (from a Heinrichian perspective) is the quote from R.C. Richards, the Chairman of the Central Safety Committee of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad on page 113. He makes an argument to focus on the ‘little accidents’ because not even 1 in 30 was injured in the bigger accidents (collisions and derailments). However, his reasoning is not the same as Heinrich, but more akin the blurred/twisted interpretation of Heinrich’s triangle that we have seen in cases like DWH or Texas City:
“…believing that if we could stop the men getting hurt in little ways and gradually inculcate in them the spirit of thoughtfulness or carefulness and pull out by the root that old careless habit that we railroad people have been forming for the last fifty years, we could put an end to the accidents generally, and the big accidents would take care of themselves.”
Much to say about this quote and this line of thinking (that a positive influence of one action - or culture - will radiate out to other areas), but I will save that until another occasion.
Interestingly, Ashe also has a small section on the Importance of Minor Accidents (injuries) but his argument is mainly of having them treated quickly and professionally to avoid infection or worse. Nothing about using them in a proactive way.
The short final chapter deals with Accident Relationships, so to say correlations about accidents and for example foreign workers, age, the day of the week or time of the day and health. And then the book stops just out of the blue. Curious.
Ashe, S.W. (1917) Organization in Accident Prevention. New York: McGraw-Hill.
A digital version is available for online reading, and downloading in case you would like so: