World’s 3rd Largest Construction Company Dumps Zero

World’s 3rd Largest Construction Company Dumps Zero Mantra

safety differentlyWhen they launched ‘Mission Zero’ in 2010 it seemed that Laing O’Rourke were about to become one of the world’s largest safety companies – who also dabbled a bit in construction contracting on the side!

On the back of news that General Motors are to “Stop Using Safety Metrics” (but they aren’t really!), SHP ONLINE MAGAZINE report on comments made recently at a ‘Safety Differently’ forum, attended by Sidney Dekker and other “thought-leaders’ (see full article here).  John Green, HSEQ Director of Laing O’Rourke, is quoted as saying “safety is broken” – lamenting that there has been no improvement in the fatality and serious injury rate in the construction industry over the last 15 years (regression to the mean?).

SHP state that:

“this  realisation  led John away from the ‘Holy Grail’ and the oft-echoed battle-cry of contemporary health and safety practitioners ‘Zero-Harm’ (or ‘Mission-Zero’ ‘Target-Zero’ or any of its other myriad lexical incarnations). This represents a brave and bold move for a major construction contractor in the current climate of increasingly ‘safety conscious’ clients.”

Laing O’Rourke are therefore embracing the concept of ‘safety differently’ as a “paradigm shift in safety management”. There is some interesting language in John Green’s comments like: “developing three paradigms of change to champion this cause” and “transform the old-world conceptions” and move “towards the new-world order”.

Whilst it’s great to acknowledge the harm done by zero goals, the impressive language seems, to me, just like with GM, to disguise a systems approach which really isn’t all that different? We have posted previous articles about ‘Safety Differently’ (see Safety 1, Safety 2, Safety 3) and in his article, Safety as a World View, Dr Rob Long says:

As long as Safety remains consumed with ‘style’ rather than ‘substance’, it is not likely to tackle to deep ethical problems it sustains through its discourse of power and control…………I am yet to see any paradigm shifts in Safety that move the core discourse of power and control of objects to a more humanizing dynamic, regardless of however one spins the word ‘differently’.

Dr Long (@HumanDymensions) and another ‘thought-leader’ Kevin Jones (@SafetyOz) responded to the article on Twitter with:

  • the how is the issue, retreat to systems is not different
  • The “safety differently” conversation spreads globally but still has major barriers on implementation.

You can read the full article here: and form your own opinions. Some notable quotes were:

“This obsession with the ‘Zero-Harm’ mantra has led to the dangerous assumption within safety circles that: “the absence of one element means the presence of its opposite.” In the context of what’s up for discussion here, this leads you to the logical conclusion that: “good safety is the absence of accidents.” However as we have seen, low-level accident frequency rates provide no indication of your next major accident hazard that could be lurking just around the corner.”

“a study of fatality and accident rates in the Finnish construction industry over 15 years has shown that the fatality rate in the construction industry increases when the accident frequency rate declines.”

“He is also indicative that he isn’t expectant of this ’Safety Differently’ strategy proving immortal in its application, and would dearly love someone to be standing in his shoes ranting and raving about the abolition of the ‘Safety Differently’ agenda and its outdated and antiquated principles in 20-30 years time.”

“What John is suggesting is neither simple nor straightforward in its approach and application: it will engender division and it will encourage debate. In fact three of the most immediate concerns and counter-arguments have come in the following forms:

  • If we move away from ‘Zero-Harm’ as an achievable aim, we are immediately accepting a level of harm that we are prepared to inflict on our workforce and our supply chain. This is inconsistent with our ethical approach to managing risk as an organisation.
  • From the perspective of the end-client, we would find it difficult to openly advocate a system of safety management that deliberately departs from measuring performance with metrics and does not ascribe with our designated aim of achieving ‘Zero-Harm’ to the workforce engaged on the delivery of this project. How can you align this safety strategy with the expectations of the end client?
  • If your focus is on the prevention of Major Accident Hazards, which you hope to achieve with a wholesale focus shift from low-level accidents, and which you propose to no longer measure as a result, then how do you prevent a surge in incidents of this nature? Is a pandemic of these incidents not in some senses as disruptive and undesirable as a single Major Accident Hazard?”

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below