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“.
* 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.