Zero harm can never be achieved, is unrealistic, is practically impossible, and meaningless. These are all arguments against zero harm, and there are many (including health and safety professionals) who agree with them.
Maybe stopping all accidents, forever, is unachievable - (at the current time, but in an age where driverless cars are being developed, who knows, we could all be working in protective bubbles or indestructible armour in the next 20 years).
Is zero harm just setting ourselves up for failure? If your only target is zero, then maybe. But zero harm is a vision, and should be accompanied with an action plan and goals against which we can measure success.
Here are 10 reasons why you can achieve zero harm.
Zero harm should be more than just a message on a poster. It needs to have an action plan, it needs to have meaning.
If you are aiming for zero harm (and let’s face it, everyone should be, no one wants to get hurt at work), what actions are in place to work towards it?
Zero harm needs everyone to be involved. Humans can cause accidents, and they can prevent them. From good leadership down to those on the tools, everyone has a part to play.
You can’t achieve zero harm alone, you have to work together.
Zero harm, itself is not a goal or an objective. It’s a vision.
The road towards that vision should have measurable, and achievable goals. So, you want to work towards zero harm, if you currently have 20 workplace accidents a year, your goal might be to reduce that number year on year.
If you currently have a large number of trip accidents a year, a goal might be to train up all staff on the risks of slips, trips and falls within 4 months. Another goal might be to implement a near miss reporting incentive for trip hazards within 2 months.
If you go in with the attitude that all targets are zero, and any accident or incident is a failure of the whole system, then you are doing it wrong.
Zero harm is a journey, and all journeys start with a first step.
Any improvement, a small goal is achieved, a near miss is reported and a future accident prevented, a new control measure is introduced, a day without accidents, a dangerous machine is replaced, there are all successes. These are all steps on your journey to zero harm.
A reason many argue zero harm fails, is that it results in under-reporting of incidents and cover ups. If your only way of measuring success is through zero reported accidents, them yes, this is a valid argument. This actively encourages people not to report accidents or incidents.
A good zero harm system should actively encourage reporting. Near miss reporting, accident reporting, incident reporting, all providing valuable information for health and safety improvements that can be made. All vital in moving towards zero harm.
Measure communication, health and safety actions, near miss reporting, incident reporting, controls implemented, risk assessments carried out.
Do no near miss reports mean a safe work environment? Or does it just mean no one is reporting them? Measure actions and not failure to take action.
A major reason for the argument that zero harm cannot be achieved is that it only measures accidents, and any accident is a failure. Our goals we set up should measure and reward success, not measure and punish failure.
Success is safe behaviour, near miss reporting, safety actions, completing training, getting involved.
One reason zero harm can fail is because it’s unrealistic. One reason it can succeed is therefore, if you make it realistic.
By setting in place an action plan with measurable and realistic goals, just as we have discussed so far, you can achieve success with your zero harm vision.
Zero harm should not just be a topic for your boardroom, or your health and safety meetings. It shouldn’t just be on posters and in documents.
It must be part of everything you do, and everything your team does. It is in the control measures, actions and behaviour of the workforce.
Zero harm is a vision, and one to work towards. Every time you move a step closer to that vision, that ultimate aim, you are succeeding. One step a time, one goal, one improvement, it all adds up.
There are lots of reasons why a zero harm strategy can fail, there are lots of arguments against it, but there are also reasons why zero harm should be part of your health and safety vision. Everything we do in health and safety is to protect us from harm. The ultimate aim being that no one gets hurt.
Zero harm is not about setting ourselves up for failure, it’s about working towards success.