Monthly Archives: July 2015

John C. Burnham, professor of history at Ohio State University resently contributed electronic versions of the notes and citations to his book, Accident Prone: A history of technology, psychology, and misfits of the machine age (2009). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-08117-5. The book was very favorably reviewed by David Hemenway in Injury Prevention (2011),  doi: 10.1136/ip.2011.031658.

The book traces the birth, growth, and decline of the concept of “accident proneness.” The book provides a prehistory of modern concepts of injury prevention through to more modern ideas that replaced the “the worker is responsible for avoiding danger” policies of the past.

There are two kinds of reform: the inside or the desire right and the outside or the compelled-right. A workman who has been taught to avoid danger, and thus desires to avoid danger, illustrates the first kind; the workman who must be kept out of danger by preventive safety appliances represents the second kind… All reform for must come from inside. Christ taught that, and every sensible man must admit it. An obcessed desire to avoid danger, a vivid outlook and continual avoidance of places where it lurks are the greatest preventatives of accidents in the world. The mind which controls the hands and body must be trained automatically to keep all portions of the physical self in complete safety from dangerous places. An enlightenment of the mind is superior to any number of iron hoods or preventive bars around dangerous machinery. What I mean is that the workman’s mind must be subconsciously on alert. Safety must be so inwrought into the fabric of his subconsciousness that he will unconsciously avoid danger. Teach him to defend himself, instead of trying to defend him from himself. The only way to get his brain and subconsciousness thoroughly saturated with this automatic idea of safety, this alert desire to defend himself, is to have its importance beating continually in upon his gray matter. Advertisers who have made fortunes know this psychological truth. I have often thought that an ad’ writer for avoidance of accidents, if not a good paying employment, would certainly be a worthy one. Some such conspicuous signs as: Machinery does not think; men do; therefore be careful. A think before being hurt is worth 1 million thinks after. Danger is no respecter of persons. This room is full of it. Machinery is active; some brains are not. Beware! Such signs should be displayed conspicuously and their positions shifted every few days, as well as different signs, posters, pictures of men getting hurt, a family meeting over a dead father, electric signs, etc. If owners of plants exercised as great care in reaching by advertising the minds of their employees in regard to their safety from accidents, it would pay even better often times then reaching after the brains of their customers. Safety engineering 1914. 28(3): 242-243

Special Thanks to Dr. Burnham for providing an electronic copy of the bibliographic notes that accompany each chapter. This greatly facilitated adding previously unidentified records to the SafetyLit database. SafetyLit users may obtain a listing of the book’s references by searching using the following Textword(s) Exact query: “Burnham-Accident-Prone”.  This project will be ongoing for the next several months. As of this writing, only about 60 of the citations have been added. The citation style (Chicago, full note) used by the author does not require journal issue numbers and includes the book author comments rather than the original abstract that acconpanied each published report. SafetyLit is providing the the authors’ abstracts and full metadata (including issue numbers and other items) so that SafetyLit users may be assisted in citing these publications in reference styles that require that metadata.