There is Another Ethic than Zero Accidents

Editors note: In a comment in the article “The Worm at The Core” a reader directed me to an article by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in which they decree that “Accidents are not approved or permitted”  – That statement really did something to me so this article by Dr Rob Long was very apt and timely for me. There is some interesting semiotics in this image I found – this is a safety poster being sold by The Safety Poster Shop – how long do you think it would last on a building site before being defaced?

There is Another Ethic than Zero Accidents

zero accidentsOne of the beliefs of the Zero Accident Vision and Netwerk is: ‘zero is the only ethically sustainable goal for safety and health’ ( ). The Zero Accident Vision group at least recognize that this is about a philosophy ( rather than about numerics.

This philosophy is a philosophy of denial because its ‘is based on the belief that all accidents are preventable’. So, embedded in this philosophy is both an ideology of perfection and a denial of fallibility, randomness and uncertainty. A philosophy that is founded on the possibility of perfection and absolutes must have a trajectory that is dehumanizing. Despite this, the philosophy talks about ‘learning’ even though it cannot logically hold to such an aspiration in tension with its own absolute. Neither can it ‘leave room for the unexpected’ because the foundation for the philosophy founded in perfection denies it.

Despite that fact that ZAV claims success (which must mean the achievement of the sustainability of zero –….pdf), which is impossible in the real world. Of course, there is no evidence for this absurd claim, it’s just more spin generated by the ideology that believes its own assumptions and strikes fear into anyone who challenges their claims. Similarly the claim that: ‘The importance and benefits of implementing Zero Accident Vision are undeniable’ ( ). Again, there is no evidence that the implementation of a ZAV philosophy improves the management of people and risk. However, there is extensive evidence to demonstrate that perfectionism and absolutes create ethical and moral dilemmas for humans. (,,, )

The ZAV philosophy also states, ‘The Zero Accident Vision does not accept that accidents simply happen because of bad luck, Human error or haste are often seen as the root cause of an accident’. So apparently, there is no randomness and no ‘misfortune’ in life, a sure foundation and trajectory for blaming, anti-learning and tyranny. Can someone please pass this philosophy onto the gambling fraternity and insurance companies and put them out of business?

One of the key reasons for having a philosophy is having consistency within itself. Unfortunately, the ZAV has no consistency with its own assumptions and ideological foundations. So ZAV accepts there is no bad luck but does accept that it must ‘leave room for the unexpected’??? I wonder what the unexpected is??? ZAV states: ‘Leaving room for the unexpected is important if one is striving for zero accidents’. So, if the unexpected exists, which means humans and systems are not infallible, then there can never be perfection of zero harm.

However, it is this claim that: ‘zero is the only ethically sustainable goal for safety and health’ ( that I wish to challenge. This claim is premised on binary logic and as such undertakes an absolutist ethic that corresponds to its zero tolerance discourse. The trouble is, there is nothing virtuous about zero. Zero has no room for tolerance, no room for learning, no room for mistakes and no room for bad luck and ‘misfortune’. Zero is absolute.

Everything within this ZAV ethic remains focused on calculative thinking and numerics, for example: ‘In addition, the Zero Accident Vision is a useful way of thinking when numerical goals for accidents are set, because it considers that all accidents to be preventable.’ Yet strangely ZAV claims: ‘Transparency in information sharing is an important tool in co-operation towards better safety within an organisation’. Quite simply there can be no transparency nor cooperation when there is a discourse of zero. It has been demonstrated over and over again that zero discourse promotes hiding, fear and under-reporting. See the recent discussion on Deepwater Horizon ( where there is a direct connection between the ideology of zero in BP and the suppression of conversations about risk.

The ethic of ZAV is also an ethic of emotivism, as MacIntyre (1987, A Study in Moral Theory) states: ‘Emotivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing more but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude and feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character’ (p. 12). Unfortunately, emotivism is not an ethic with meaning but rather an ethic of preference.

Whilst we all would have a preference that no one should be harmed, this doesn’t validate a binary ethic of intolerance. Indeed, there are other ethical positions other than the ZAV binary absolute. The statement that there is no other ethic that ZAV is simply not true. The ZAV ethic is profoundly religious in nature ( and its claims to an ethic and ideology ought to be viewed in this light. On the other hand a situational ethic that considers the reality of the human condition and complexity, is a humanizing ethic.

A situational ethic of tolerance doesn’t necessarily imply the binary entrapment of ZAV nor the desire for harm. Indeed, a situational ethic that bases an ethic in the realities of fallibility, uncertainty and randomness honours the reality of being human in the world rather than creating an ethic that only succeeds when humans become super-humans. The ethic of the super-human is the ethic of Nietzsche ( and has no place in tackling risk. Such an ethic lays the foundation for the despot and places the value of objects over humans.

For an understanding of the full implications of the ZAV ethic perhaps read Mizzoni (2010), Ethics the Basics.

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