Could Zero Harm be Unlawful?

Could Zero Harm be Unlawful

Zero Tolerance Area Sign SunsetAlthough 2 days ago I committed to the goal of zero zero harm articles I could not let this can of worms sit unopened on the shelf! If this doesn’t create a little cognitive dissonance in the zero proponents then nothing will!

This feast for thought was just published on the STE Safety And Legal Blog: When does the language of “zero harm” become unlawful?

The article raises some serious concerns from the ongoing studies into the mental health effects of FIFO/DIDO in mining.


  • I am not a fan of the language of “zero“, either as an aspiration or as a stated goal. It has never sat well with me, and seems so disconnected from day to day reality in both society and a workplace that people cannot help but become disconnected from, or dismissive of, the message behind the term. My view has always been that the language of zero actually often undermines the objectives it is trying to achieve (see this case for example).
  • If you are interested in this topic (and if you are involved in safety you should be) there are far more passionate, learned and articulate critics of the language of zero than me – See for example, anything by Dr. Robert Long.

Read more: When does the language of “zero harm” become unlawful?

  • The AMA also expressed its concerns about this issue, noting that “[o]nerous rules, safety procedures and focus on achievement of production levels have been shown to create a distinct sense of entrapment in FIFO workers.”
  • The common criticisms of the language of “zero” seem to me to go directly to the factors that have been identified in this research as contributing to psychological harm in the workplace. The pressure to comply with rules, fear about reporting incidents, the inability to exercise individual judgement on how to manage risk and the inflexible application of process are all side-effects of the language of “zero“.
  • Up until this point the debate around “zero harm” and its utility (or otherwise) as the headline for safety management has been relatively benign. Apart from the advocacy of people like Dr Robert Long “zero harm” seems to have been perceived as a relatively neutral strategy, insofar as people believe that it “does no harm“, and “what’s the alternative?”.
  • It seems, in fact, that much harm may be perpetuated in the name of “zero“, and at some point the behaviours that it drives will be found to be unlawful.
  • It is also going to be interesting to see how health and safety regulators, often the champions of “zero harm” oversee its potential impacts on psychological harm in the workplace. Indeed, it would be very useful to see what risk assessments, research or other measures were taken by regulators prior to introducing “zero harm” style campaigns or messages to understand the potential effects of their interventions, or any subsequent research to understand the potential harm they may have done.

Read more: When does the language of “zero harm” become unlawful?

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below