For The Love of Zero–Book Review

For The Love of Zero – Dr. Robert Long

– Brief book review by the late George Robotham


See more details about the book HERE

After a number of years in OHS an observation of mine is that OHS personnel and managers have a tendency to pick up and run with safety fads. Often there is little logic in the decision to adopt the fad and less logic in the decision to continue its use.

The 2 most common complaints I have heard about Zero Harm are:

  1. The goal is neither realistic nor achievable. A lot of the workers thus think it is a management wank.
  2. People end up using lots of resources on relatively minor issues

My mentor, Geoff McDonald, talks about displacement activities, a displacement activity is something we do, something we put a lot of energy into but which there is little logical reason to do it. Zero Harm has always struck me as a displacement activity.

There has been discussion on this topic on some Linkedin OHS forums lately, to my mind many arguments have been long on emotion and short on logic.

The book is 150 pages so not a big effort to read

Major sections are-

  • The attraction of zero
  • The logic of zero
  • The discourse of zero
  • Zero dissent
  • Making sense of zero
  • The nature of fundamentalism
  • Strategies without zero
  • The humanising organisation

Rob gives a fair bit of himself in this publication and explains how his upbringing, learning and experience has led to the various conclusions about OHS, Risk and Zero Harm. There is an abundance of references that support Rob’s claims about the many problems with Zero Harm.

Rob’s arguments against Zero Harm are many and varied. Strategies without Zero is important and I particularly liked the section on learning and the Hudson model.

I would recommend this as a must read for anyone using or contemplating using a Zero Harm approach. Those not using Zero Harm will find it of general relevance in a number of OHS areas.

To sum up I would say Rob has put a factual basis on my long term gut feel that Zero Harm does more harm than good

To my mind this book is an important addition to the OHS body of knowledge



George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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