The Zero Harm Ethos
Guest post by Peter Ribbe
I have long been involved with safety; as such my aim is the prevention of workers harming themselves, with emphasis on the word aim. Unfortunately it does not always work out, having an aim or goal, is a healthy aspiration in any job. I have for some time now been following quietly in the back ground, the writings of Dr. Robert Long, although we often do not see eye to eye, and most of this is due to my personal prejudices about safety academics. Pushing this aside, and studying his views on Risks and Zero Harm, I can see where he has attained his views, as they are almost inline with my own, and I say almost very loosely.
I am currently exploring the world of the psychological aspect of behaviour based safety, and I keep coming across many references to “Zero Harm” It seems to be an all consuming catch phrase. I have come from a previous work place that was swamped with this ethos, and I always wondered how this was achievable? In a business that had so many various branches, industrial and environmental, was it really true that no one ever hurt themselves? Figures and data can be manipulated to show what ever it is you want to portray, the federal government does this all the time with the jobless figures, move the jobless numbers into other areas, and voila! The numbers have been halved! But is the Zero Harm philosophy really attainable? And how do they justify the Zero in Zero harm? Is it only physical injuries that count? What about mental or psychological injuries? There is no blood or broken bones, but does that mean they are not counted?
In my last job, I had to investigate an accident where a rubbish truck and a small car had a serious accident, the woman driver went through a stop sign and was hit by the truck, she was killed, the driver although very shaken was not hurt. Point,, he was not hurt,, really? The accident although registered as such and investigated, did not list an employee injury, so did not break the Zero Harm data for that quarter. Question, did the driver suffer an injury? The driver was subject to a very traumatic event, and it took a number of months for him to come to terms with it, if the Zero Harm believers took this type of injury into account, they would loose the Zero, and that would not be good. How many psychological injuries are suffered each day? A boss rakes a worker over the coals for being late, this upsets the worker, has the worker just suffered a mental injury? And should this show up in the data? Psychological damage and injuries are slowly becoming more frequent in Workcover claims, are these injuries documented as accidents? Probably not, as this would kill the Zero.
Long ago safety was about keeping workers safe from themselves, now safety has gone over complicated, over compliant, over regulated, over jargonized and basically overboard. My studies so far into behaviour based safety, especially looking at the psychological aspects, I can see that we may be fault shifting, and the onus of any accident or injury placed squarely at the feet of the worker, so it would be the workers fault if he put his hand into an unguarded roller and had it crushed, because last night he had a fight with his wife and was still upset about it at work, so was not focused on the job at hand.
So is this what safety is going to be about, looking to apportion blame? Taking behavioural and psychological aspects of the current trends, should these then not be relegated to purely finding root cause in an investigation? Zero Harm and BBS, two philosophies geared against safety and in particular employees. Reality is, workers compensation insurers, have a no fault claim system, so even if the employee deliberately cut off his arm, he is still entitled to workers compensation, the work place safety philosophy may not be in line with legislation, and therefore opens a new can of worms for the employer through common law claims against them.