Organisational accidents – the harm of zero harm

You don’t have to go too far before running into the ‘zero harm’ in corporate safety speak.  It’s in documents, on posters and shouts at us from big signs outside factories.  Sometimes there are ‘zero harm’ pens, pads and ironically high visibility vests.

Critics argue that it is ill-defined and impossible to achieve.  Proponents can reasonably counter that zero harm is an inspirational target; perhaps not achievable but useful in driving improvement.  Like a hole in one in golf.  Rarely achievable but a useful aim.

However, depending on what follows, in practice zero harm may increase harm.  The harm does not result from the idea itself which is admirable but in what might happens in an organization once the objective is set.  Most harm – if we count all incidents as equal – are minor things.  Thus the organization becomes fixated on the prevention of minor things.

The result of a zero harm program might be a behavioral campaign consisting mainly of flag-waving barracking for safety.  Work on the underlying problems that can yield serious harm may be obscured by the flurry of busyness, ‘observations’ and management ‘interactions’ largely concerned with trivia,  This is the potential harm of zero harm.

Please take a look at “How to have a big industrial accident: Step by Step Guide“.

coke zero

* Note: Coke Zero has nothing to do with zero harm.  But putting up Coke Zero signs is possible as useful as a safety strategy as putting up Harm Zero signs.

About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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1 Response to Organisational accidents – the harm of zero harm

  1. This same thing is happening in Canada. Please read:

    Worker injuries have declined at Saskatchewan mines in recent years but the troubling statistic of one death per year has already held true for 2014.

    A 31-year-old married father of a two-year-old boy died Monday at Saskatchewan Potash Corp.’s Cory mine, when he was struck by falling rock.

    Provincial figures show one worker has died at a mine each year for the past 10 years, except for 2011, when two workers were killed.

    The fatalities occurred at underground potash mines and at gold and uranium mines sites, said Tareq Alzabet, executive director of the occupational health and safety division within the Ministry of Labour and Workplace Safety.

    “We are really very saddened with the loss of life whenever it happens. Our condolences go to the family that lost their dad and husband,” Alzabet said. The government has numerous education, inspection and enforcement programs relating to the mining industry, but there is still a lot of work to do, he said.

    “Our goal is to reach mission zero – zero accidents and zero suffering.”

    “This is a high-risk industry … We need to work on the culture of safety and make sure that safety is not just a side thing. It’s paramount of our operation at work and is considered an essential part of the work we do.”

    Worker deaths have remained constant even as safety efforts have shown positive results through fewer injuries causing days off work, as reported to the Workers Compensation Board.

    Time lost among potash or “soft rock” miners was 1.19 per cent in 2012, which was less than half the provincial worker rate of 2.79 per cent, Alzabet said.

    That rate fell from 2008, when it was 2.05 per cent.

    Underground “hard rock” mining, such as in uranium and gold was 1.12 in 2012, down from 2.38 per cent in 2008.

    The name of the victim in Monday’s mishap had not been released as of press deadline.

    PotashCorp spokesperson Bill Johnson has said the man was a miner operator working alongside the borer when the groundfall occurred. He had worked there for three years.

    The mine is temporarily shut down as workplace safety officials investigate. PCS and provincial OHS are each doing their own investigations.

    “Right now our primary concern is ensuring that our employees are getting the counselling that they need and that we’re attending to the needs of this individual’s family,” said Johnson.

    OHS reports must be completed within the two-year deadline, and, if warranted, charges must be laid during that period, Azabet said.

    Approximately 400 people work at the mine, 18 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon.

    © Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

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