Zero Incident Goals Motivate Risk-Taking

Zero Incident Goals Motivate Risk-Taking, Not Excellence

Just came across the interesting article by Shawn M. Galloway. Shaun makes a good point when he says that in organisations that promote zero harm as being safety excellence then anything an employee does and isn’t harmed is probably automatically assumed to be excellence??? – a very tenuous and unsustainable condition to be in! Complacency then sets in, caused by a false sense of security and ignorance of any risk that hasn’t yet hurt anyone. These organisations get quite a surprise when these hitherto ignored risks then suddenly bite them on the bum!!!!!  Excellent results are not always indicative of excellent performance. If we do, likely as a result of good luck, achieve our goal of zero harm then where to from there? Where is the motivation for continuous improvement if we have already achieved our perceived excellence goals?????

See the while article here:


Zero incident programs and goals are the desires of average safety cultures, not excellently-performing ones. Organizations that have achieved sustainability of excellent results in culture and performance define, measure and motivate what they want, rather than what they don’t.

Is health the absence of visible disease? If you never receive a check-up by a physician, yet you feel good and nothing appears to be wrong, have you reached your goals of health and feel confident you will live a long life with this approach?

To define health as the absence of visible, self-reporting indicators is recognizably dangerous. “Early detection, early response,” the motto of Dr. Larry Brilliant who helped eradicate smallpox and frame the thinking that shapes global infectious disease control, is a mantra we should similarly use in safety.

Within the medical community, to respond is positive, to react is negative. If the body responds to a drug, procedure or intervention, this is positive. When the body reacts to such approaches, this is negative. When we measure success by negative reported outcomes, we are driving safety culture excellence by reaction, rather than proactive identification and response.

How we frame our goals is the difference in excellent performance and excellent results; the two are not interchangeable. If the goal is zero incidents/injuries and it is obtained, what is the measure of continuous improvement? Moreover, if an organization obtains excellent results and cannot precisely describe why, the successful results are lucky, not excellent. Whenever results are rewarded, by default, the performance that obtained the results is reinforced. Were the excellent results obtained by excellent performance or did the group just get a little luckier this year?

Figure 1 outlines the approach most organizations take to improve safety. Leadership will review the current incident rates, determine a new incident rate goal (either a desired rate or reduction amount), develop a list of initiatives impacting the goal, execute the initiatives, and then review the results. I refer to this widely-used methodology as the Perpetual Cycle of Avoiding Failures.

Figure 1: Perpetual Cycle of Avoiding Failures

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below