That Magic Five-Point Program, Part 1

Captain James Cook: South Seas explorer who eliminated scurvy aboard his ships.

Captain Cook’s Five-Point Safety Program

In his novel, Alaska, James Michener credits the British naval explorer Captain James Cook as being not just a discoverer of new lands but of new health and safety practices. According to Michener, Captain Cook created a five-point safety program for sailors that revolutionized the state of medical care aboard ships of the Royal Navy. Cook’s greatest accomplishment was the elimination of the dreaded scurvy contagion that caused the death of so many sailors. Wouldn’t it be great if all safety programs were as effective as Cook’s?
When Captain Cook took command of a ship, he carefully explained to the crew of 400 that almost half of them could expect to die on a two-year voyage. If they had really rough weather, then the death toll estimate would rise to almost two-thirds.

Cook then offered a safety program consisting of five measures that sailors could take to improve hygiene and health and save lives. Cook ordered his sailors to:

  • Keep their quarters clean.
  • Keep their clothing dry – despite the high waves and heavy rain.
  • Get plenty of sleep and rest. Here, Cook introduced the 8-hour shift. Eight hours on and 16 hours off was an idea that was easy to sell to the crew.
  • Take their daily portion of Wort, a blend of sauerkraut and yeast.
  • Take their daily portion of Rob, a juice mixture of lime, lemon, orange and other citrus fruits.

Likely motivated by the dire statistics and knowing that fewer hands on deck meant more work for the survivors, Cook’s crew followed this program faithfully. And, with a healthy crew of Rob-drinking British sailors (who became known as “Limeys” after the principal ingredient in the mixture), Captain Cook was able to explore far-off lands with minimal disease and loss of life to his crew.

Today’s Five-Point Safety Programs   For years, safety professionals have worked to develop HS&E programs that might emulate the success of Captain Cook. Today’s programs usually address:

  • Engineering
  • Equipment
  • Education
  • Enforcement
  • Ergonomics (which worked its way into both Education and Equipment.)

But with all of the strides made in engineering and safety equipment, and with fantastic training programs and the often-rigid enforcement of safety rules, there are still injuries.

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