Generative HSE
Safety beliefs, standards, leadership & performance


The End of Zero?

Every great business has a well articulated vision with a clear set of  objectives that can be measured and linked to performance outcomes. The assumed starting point is that great businesses don't want to hurt anyone and so it would be fair to say that not harming people is a value held in common.

It could be said that the Zero Harm philosophy ticks many boxes. It can be reduced into a simple phrase, it appeals to the shared goal of not harming people, it's easy for everyone in the business to understand and it's measurable. It's for all of these reasons and many more that it has become a consuming focus and why we've spent the last few years asking our employees and contractors to commit and believe in the possibility of 'zero'.

Zero Harm has played an important role in capturing hearts and minds. For organisations starting their safety journey, it has helped them to mature into a more responsible space. But what does Zero Harm look like in the future?

One question that comes to mind is 'If we ever actually reach zero, does it mean that our job is done?' Will nobody in our care ever get hurt again? Or could the glorious zero actually give us a false sense of security? Might the Zero harm philosophy lure us into a dangerous space and actually drive the counter intuitive and unexpected outcome of disengagement?

Further to this, if our focus is on reducing frequency rates to zero where every 'notch in the ruler' is worth equal value, then where is the incentive to focus on mitigating the critical risks which are more difficult to manage and yet present our greatest risks? Tragically, a number of organisations while dramatically reducing their Lost Time Injury Rate have seriously hurt or worse still killed a person. A longitudinal study of the construction industry in Finland showed a very worrying relationship between the number of incidents and fatalities, as the incidents decreased the number of fatalities rose.

How do we increase the focus on critical risks - the ones that will cause the greatest harm and yet on the surface only dent our metrics? Does Zero Harm have a role to play here?

Where do you think Zero Harm is headed? Please tell us what you think