Zero Harm or Zero Pessimism

Zero Harm or Zero Pessimism

Very interesting article by Sidney Dekker from the Safety Differently Blog about the manipulation that becomes the logical response to Zero Harm visions and targets. His final message is: “don’t worry about the dependent variable. It is what it is. Worry instead about the manipulable variables, and proudly talk about those. Compare yourselves on what you do, not on what the results are.”

Please, someone step up and logically and sensibly either explain or defend the concept of Zero Harm being beneficial to the workplace rather than just the Corporate Bureaucrats …….anyone?……..

Extracts from the article:

Not surprisingly, there is no evidence that zero vision has an impact on safety that is any greater than the next safety intervention. This may not matter, however, because zero visions are a strong instrument of what is known as bureaucratic entrepreneurialism. It allows people involved in safety to say two things simultaneously: they can claim that great things have been accomplished already because of their work, but that more work is necessary because zero has not yet been reached. And because it never will, or because the organizational fear of backsliding away from zero can be maintained, safety people will stay relevant, employed, contracted, funded. Whether people in these positions genuinely believe that injuries and accidents can be fully expunged is hard to know. But they have to be seen to believe it—in order to attract investments, work, federal grants, contracts, regulatory approval, and affordable insurance………….

Does a zero vision have practical benefits though? Defining a goal by its dependent variable tends to leave organizations in the dark about what to do (which variables to manipulate) to get to that goal. Workers, too, can become sceptical about zero sloganeering without evidence of tangible change in local resources or practices. It is easily seen as leadership double-speak. Not only is the vision itself unable to practically engage workers, there is nothing actionable (no manipulable variables) in a mere call to zero that they can identify and work with. A zero vision also tends to stigmatize workers involved in an incident. One of the most deeply rooted instances of this can be found in medicine, which has had its own version of vision zero handed down through decades, centuries even. Many there are still battling the very idea that errors don’t occur. They are faced daily with a world where errors are considered to be shameful lapses, moral failures, or failures of character in a practice that should aim to be perfect.


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