A Better Safety Goal Than Zero Harm?

Christmas wreathA Better Safety Goal Than Zero Harm?

Its that time of year again – To all the regular readers and commenters on this blog I would like to wish you all a Very Merry Xmas. To those of you who really don’t like much of what you read here I’d like to wish you a Zero Misery Xmas (I chose the image just for you) and to those who are sitting on the fence or don’t like too much pressure this time of year just Have The Xmas You Have Smile

A friend of mine just left on an overseas holiday and at the airport I said something like “have a great time” – boring and normal right? Imagine if I had said “I hope the plane doesn’t crash”! I would not be getting a snow dome from Mt Fuji like I asked for!

Max Geyer commented recently on this article (Understanding Safety Goals – A GREAT READ BTW !!!) where he said: “Try implementing a prevention goal strategy at the AIS, or any sporting team, or in your personal life and see how long that lasts. Try it with your kids; try it in school classrooms; try it with your significant other, or your much loved parents. I.e. don’t hate your mother, don’t hate your sister/ brother, don’t fail, don’t get a low mark in that maths exam, don’t do slow, don’t jump low, don’t miss that score, don’t hate your lover, don’t miss hugging your dying mother. Now apply that same strategy at work – don’t make a mistake, don’t fail, don’t have an injury… Oooops, that is what we do; isn’t it?”

What I have noticed recently is a slow but definite move away from safety being about injury metrics and perfectionist goals (see World’s 3rd Largest Construction Company Dumps Zero). Comments from Zero Crusaders like “oh so how many people do you want to harm” have all but disappeared. Those still clinging on are showing a desire change but still not sure what lies on the other side. Perhaps the most common response I get in discussions about zero injury goals is something like: “I know it isn’t possible in the long term so it’s really just an aspiration. I don’t see anything wrong with it but what is the alternative?”


“People need to start with the understanding that words matter and that all goals have an unconscious psychological trajectory. Low order measurable goals miss the great importance in culture of trust, care, hope, understanding, values, likeability, happiness at work and a host of higher order goals that motivate people to work and develop ownership in risk. I think we need to start with mantras and value statements that are meaningful and believable.

A few I have liked have been ‘safety matters’, ‘safetyworks’, ‘manage risk’, ‘supporting safety’, ‘work safe’, ‘home safe each day’ and so on. As soon as we drift back into lower order calculative goals and mantras we tell our workers that numbers matter more than safety and them. We would be far better off with a focus on resilience and doing our best than the fixation we have currently on counting.

The real challenge for those who ask what the alternative is shows that safety has already robbed them of imagination and creativity by a fixation on binary thinking. The problem is safety in its current format creates dependence and narrow thinking that wants to be spoon fed to spoon feed others. It is light years away from what Weick set out as sensemaking and mindfulness.”

Your comments and thoughts are welcome – particularly from those who have made the change to more positive, learning and promotional safety goals

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below