Zero Means Nothing

Back in the early 2000’s the organisation I was working for awarded us all with a portable DVD player for achieving 200 days without an injury. It was amazing! Looking back now, I wonder if someone had been injured on day 199 would they have wanted to report it.

Individuals and organisations have struggled with the concept of Health & Safety Objectives and Targets for years. There have been a number of valuable studies on the effectiveness of health & safety targets and associated programs, yet it is still so common to see targets of Zero Injuries or Zero Incidents.

A target of zero means you are aiming for nothing!

Think of it this way – a target of zero means you are aiming for nothing! If there is no safety program behind the target, then the organisation is quite likely to achieve nothing.

Some large organisations have run health and safety programs entitled ‘Zero Injuries’ or ‘No Harm’. When an organisation uses that terminology, it can discourage reporting, and that can hide small problems that have the potential to grow into big ones.

Avoidance vs Promotion

Lately I’ve been trying to encourage my son to choose healthy snacks. If I say “Have an apple” he considers having an apple. If I say “Don’t eat biscuits” guess what he wants! It works better if I use the words I want to promote rather than the Avoidance words.

Zero Injuries or Zero Harm is an Avoidance Goal. It is all about avoiding injuries. By contrast a Performance or Promotion Goal stretches you to achieve something. Leaders should be talking about ‘keeping people safe’ rather than ‘preventing harm’[1].

Try setting goals and targets that speak about the ‘safety journey’, ‘safety leadership’, ‘management of risks’, or ‘family and welfare’, and talk about improving safety processes, not just safety results.

Don’t Walk By

A simple and effective example comes from Hindmarsh Constructions who have a focus on ‘Leadership at Work’ and use such mottos as ‘Don’t walk by’. The Don’t Walk By principles of ‘see it, fix it, report it’ remind everyone on site that they are all responsible for safety.

Setting objectives isn’t easy, but taking the time to make them about what you will do rather than what you won’t do can be the difference between organisational stagnation and effectively building a safety culture.

For the Love of Zero, Dr Robert Long