Column: The 80/20 Rule in Safety—A Few People, A Lot of Incidents
You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 Rule many times before, or, at the very least, you’re familiar with the concept. The 80/20 Rule refers to Pareto’s Principle, or Pareto’s Law. This is basically the observation that about 80% of outcomes or results are attributable to about 20% of inputs or activities.
It’s named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who developed a theory and formula that described that that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the wealth. Following this, Joseph M. Juran attributed the 80/20 Rule to Pareto in the 1940’s and called it Pareto’s Principle. It has since been applied to many fields of study, including economics, business, science, and sports.
Perhaps you have experienced this in different areas of your work or personal life, where a few things, or people, lead to the majority of outcomes (whether positive or negative). For example, have you ever felt like:
- You spend most of your time dealing with problems or issues related to just a few of your projects, employees or customers
- During training sessions or classes, most of the discussion comes from just a few participants
- Most of your team’s productivity comes from a small number of your team members
- The majority of your company’s profits come from just a handful of “big” customers
We’ve all experienced these types of situations, where the 80/20 Rule seems to accurately describe the biggest sources that contribute to the results and outcomes that we observe. But what is interesting is the idea that this could apply to workplace injuries. Specifically, the majority of a company’s safety incidents being incurred by just a small proportion of the workforce, and, more importantly, a small number of employees involved in multiple incidents.