Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training CoordinatorApril 2014

Please Don’t Climb on the Pyramid!

It’s the time of year when those of us in the Great Lakes region become antsy for the arrival of spring.  I haven’t seen a blade of grass since early December, and while a warm sunny day would be very welcome, I try not to complain.  Flying snowflakes aren’t nearly as annoying to me as the mosquitos that begin to buzz when the puddles remain thawed long enough to allow hatching of eggs.  I hate mosquitoes more than Indiana Jones hates snakes!

I’ll never forget a moment from an evening early last spring while conversing with a friend outdoors.  We had experienced a few days of warm, spring weather, yet plenty of snow was still on the ground, melting little by little each day.  I remember thinking how nice it was to enjoy the fresh air in a t-shirt without swatting at the biting, summer time insects…or was it.  The sun was low when a tiny mosquito gently floated between us.  We both took notice as the conversation halted in disbelief.  Our unspoken words were no doubt very similar.  “Could it really be?  Surely not…there’s still snow on the ground!”  That little bugger soon died upon my arm and was the first of many casualties last year.

Maybe by now, we’ve forgotten how annoying our biting insects can be.  Possibly we’re unable to recall the sting of a fresh sunburn, or what working outside in 95% humidity feels like.  Regardless, I recently caught myself looking out at the falling snow while remembering a trip I once took to Tulum, Mexico.  While visiting the ancient, Mayan ruins, I remember a huge structure that looked like a pyramid.  Like so many other tourons (a term derived from combining tourist with moron) before me, I wanted to climb the steps to the top.  How disappointing to learn the structure was no longer open due to damage caused by thousands of prior visitors and I could not climb to the top of this pyramid.

There is another pyramid that none of us should climb as well.  The Safety Pyramid, first written about by Herbert William Heinrich in his book Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach, Published 1931, took a statistical approach to predicting and preventing serious accidents and fatalities.  H.W. Heinrich’s Law stated that for every accident resulting in a major injury or fatality, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 incidents that cause no injuries.  We typically call the 300 occurrences “near misses” or “close calls”.  

Many who have spent a significant amount of time in the industry personally know someone who has been killed “in the log woods”.  Most of us know someone that has endured a minor injury and ALL of us have experienced a handful of close calls.  Various industries have adapted H. W. Heinrich’s theory specifically to their workplace and have added employer / employee intervention levels at certain numbers of events. Unfortunately, too many of us let minor incidents slide without a second thought.  It isn’t until something catastrophic happens that we make time to stand back, evaluate the situation and develop a game-plan on how to avoid similar accidents in the future.  Heinrich’s theory has proven itself many times over, so why do we often wait for a major injury to occur before taking action?  Have we not learned that proactive management is better than reactive management?

In order to be proactive in avoiding a major accident and fatality, we need to take a moment every time we experience a close call or near miss. Take note of what happened and why it happened.  Inform your employer, employees and co-workers of the incident and discuss ways to avoid repeating it.  When a minor injury or property damage occurs, follow the same procedure.  Only this time, take a time-out / safety meeting opportunity to discuss, in depth what happened.  Talk with your team about factors like complacency, distractions, lack of focus, overconfidence, lack of instruction or planning, ignoring safe procedures, work area conditions or impatience, that led to the accident.  By discussing near misses and meeting about minor accidents, we educate and inform our counterparts how to avoid repeating our mistakes.  By doing so, fewer minor occurrences are expected, resulting in fewer close calls; which ultimately keep the major, catastrophic occurrences at bay. 

Employer’s attitudes are very important when promoting this system to avoid accidents and injuries.  Workers must feel confident they can approach their supervisors and co-workers without being harshly reprimanded or ridiculed.  Encourage sharing these experiences, record what happened, how often it happens and the causes.  By keeping track of such incidents, we can focus our safety meetings on topics where they’re needed as well as anticipate how dangerously close the crew is approaching the next level of the safety pyramid.  Is it not better to avoid a catastrophe before it happens?

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or