Safety Excellence for Business

The Goal is Zero sets us up for failure.

None of us wants to have anyone get hurt in our organization. We are trying hard in various ways to keep people from getting hurt. Sometimes organizations can achieve very long periods of injury-free performance. One large plant I know of went 24 years without a lost workday case (LWC), and another one went for about 10 years. These sorts of strings of injury-free days are commendable. This can tempt us into believing that if we just work hard enough that we can achieve workplaces where there are no injuries.

We do indeed have to work hard, but I don’t think that we can ever achieve injury performance forever.  The things that people do or don’t do relating to safety are the cause of over 95% of all injuries. None of us is perfect. Our minds wander. We get into a hurry. We forget something. We get distracted. We are upset by a problem at home or at work. We develop bad habits.

I expect that all of us do something unsafely every day and don’t get hurt. But one day the conditions will be just right for things to come together in a new, different and unexpected way. Then we suffer the consequences.

When management sets the “Goal is Zero” we set ourselves up for failure. There is very strong pressure in most organizations for people to report what management wants to hear. If the “Goal is Zero” then the pressure builds to look for ways to avoid having to report an injury or near miss and the cover-ups begin. People will tend to just report things that are too big to hide. A major source of our safety information disappears. When we don’t report the small things then we can’t learn from them. Problems persist, bad situations are not addressed, and reporting can get a person on the wrong side of their management. Sometimes management creates a reporting system that is so difficult and exposes the person making the report to criticism, that the people just avoid reporting. Trust among the people in the organization is impossible to establish. When trust disappears, learning stops!

In order for trust to be built information needs to be openly available to everyone. The environment needs to be secure enough that we can talk and learn together. We need to help each other becoming our brothers and sisters keepers. Listening and respecting each other is critical.

When management creates a culture of openness, trust and interdependence, and an environment where everyone can see the big picture long periods of injury-free performance can be achieved.

John, a wise friend, told me once  “When the safety gets right, everything gets right!”

About Richard N. Knowles

© Richard N. Knowles and Safety Sage Blog, 2014. You may use this article on your blog, website or in your newsletter or magazine, provided that full and clear credit is given to author, Richard N Knowles, Ph.D of Safety Excellence for Business with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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