Workplace accidents and self-organized criticality

John C. Mauro, Brett Diehl, Richard F. Marcellin, Daniel J. Vaughn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The occurrence of workplace accidents is described within the context of self-organized criticality, a theory from statistical physics that governs a wide range of phenomena across physics, biology, geosciences, economics, and the social sciences. Workplace accident data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal a power-law relationship between the number of accidents and their severity as measured by the number of days lost from work. This power-law scaling is indicative of workplace accidents being governed by self-organized criticality, suggesting that nearly all workplace accidents have a common underlying cause, independent of their severity. Such power-law scaling is found for all labor categories documented by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our results provide scientific support for the Heinrich accident triangle, with the practical implication that suppressing the rate of severe accidents requires changing the attitude toward workplace safety in general. By creating a culture that values safety, empowers individuals, and strives to continuously improve, accident rates can be suppressed across the full range of severities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-289
Number of pages6
JournalPhysica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
StatePublished - Sep 15 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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