• Simon Lawrence
    I did a search of the Forum and this topic appears to only have been touched on tangentially before.

    How do Forum members view this concept? It's at least a decade old, possibly two. It appears to attract adherents and despisers in equal proportions but, like a disease, it won't go away.

    I personally put it in the "you-have-to-be-a-zealot" category. To me, I could only ever contemplate it in the same context as "zero defects" That's a quality concept which, at its heart, means "take personal responsibility not to pass defects on". So in safety, zero harm would be "don't accept harm is inevitable or allow harm to others". I think that's useful as a guiding mindset. It doesn't mean anything more than "no harm is acceptable". In other words, "never compromise". I don't believe it was intended to be taken more literally than that.

    But many people seem to see it as a meaningful goal. One that can be permanently achieved, like a state of nirvana. More than that, by refusing to recite the mantra or suggesting it cannot be permanently achieved, you are almost blaspheming. You have to be a True Believer. Thereby, it fits into the "religious" realm of safety management.

    So I wondered if this might stimulate some debate. Here's a blog post I wrote, based on a little research. It's part of a series I'm doing on Safety Myths.
  • PaulReyneke
    You've got the gift of the gab Simon. As always (last 20 years), I am impressed not only with what you say, but how you say it!

    Down with binary speak!
  • Sheri Greenwell
    - Excellent blog article, and right on the mark!

    Like you, I came into safety management through quality management, and also through the 'Zero Defects' movement. Your reframing of the aim of 'Zero Harm' is exactly what safety practitioners need to take on board. Much of what we struggle with in safety management has its root cause in reluctance to take personal responsibility - at ALL levels.

    I am going to step out even a little further on this precarious limb to suggest that safety, like quality, is actually only an outcome, rather than the aim of the business. As you suggest in your article, both quality and safety - as well as other key business aims such as productivity and profitability - are desired outcomes that require businesses, managers and safety practitioners to connect the dots, follow Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) processes, take responsibility for the part each of us plays in delivering successful work outcomes, communicate, coordinate, collaborate, engage and involve, and all those other familiar safety themes throughout the business, to facilitate business processes that make sense and work effectively.

    Safety is quite simply a significant outcome of efficient business processes, effective managers and good leaders who model the very behaviours they want from their workers, and when things go wrong they start by looking at themselves, their leadership habits, and the organisation's culture and processes.

    Unfortunately, the current legislation quite undermines these efforts by wagging a critical finger even more menacingly in front of senior managers, with scolding threats of fines and jail sentences aimed to scare them into complying. Using fear as a weapon is not modelling good leadership for NZ businesses, and seems in many cases to further undermine the principles of effective organisations and workplace safety by placing greater focus on legal compliance than on genuinely caring for workers and accepting responsibility for their workplace experience of safety, quality, productivity, reliability, etc - they become overly focused on avoiding fines and jail sentences and how they might throw someone else under the bus if it goes wrong.
  • Andrew
    "Silliness" is an understatement. I rate "Zero Harm" up there with the worse of corporate nonsense along with "Diversity", "Equal pay/Gender Pay Gaps", "Rainbow Tick" and "Climate Emergency" - all which are myths ascribed to by a bunch of ardent faith based believers.

    Indeed, I'd go as far as saying it is a dangerous smokescreen which gives a sense of positiveness but is in fact destructive. It is a corporate distraction which focuses on the un-achievable but no doubt gives Boards and Management of sense of superiority. (I can't think why else a company would sign up to such nonsense.)

    Hard words I know - but look at the members of the Business Forum who have signed up to Zero Harm. Now look at the listed companies in that list and compare their share price now to what it was three years again. Half of them have overseen major destruction in shareholder value - that is, their Share Price now is lower than it was three years ago.

    And in that list is an organisation who I would rate as THE VERY WORST corporate bully (and incompetent organisation ) in the whole history of New Zealand. And I've spotted one who is/was into exploiting labour - particular foreigners. And there are others I know who have employees who have serious cases of OOS of the eyeballs from all the eye rolling they do every time a manager mentions "safety"

    I put a lot of this nonsense down to the "Wealthy Worried Well". Its a scourge which is inflicting our society more and more. We see it at a domestic level with those visiting doctors (and wasting Dr's time) for reassurance on non-issues. And now we see it at corporate level with wealthy decision makers looking for reassurance (from like minded group thinkers) that they are doing the "safe" thing while losing sight of their core business. They are happy to spend recklessly on "safety" while ignoring profitability (and productivity) or respecting those who have invested their hard won earnings into their businesses. We can of course put the Government Departments and Local Authority organisations aside as they have an unlimited supply of tax/rate payer loot to bolster their "safety" ambitions.

    At least those who sign up to "Zero Harm" have the decency to highlight their CorporateSpeak. We can't say we weren't warned when things turn to custard.
  • Sheri Greenwell
    Yes - so much comes down to personal responsibility and learning HOW to think for yourself, rather than allowing ourselves to be programmed WHAT to think.
  • Steve Setterfield
    Zero harm is a target, something to aspire to. And to be honest the chances of it ever becoming a reality are remote at best. Why? Because human nature will spoil the party every time. Work generally involves activities which mean the use of body parts (mainly hands) to achieve a result. Nicks, cuts and such minor injuries are par for the course and should serve as a reminder to think before you act. But were we to actually get anywhere near zero harm then paper cuts might be the next big zero harm target meaning the desk drivers in this world would be wearing cut proof gloves. Would that be practicably possible?
    The definition of an accident is an unplanned event which has the potential to cause injury. Hence my job is to plan for others not to have an unplanned event - as I say, human nature will spoil your party every time.
    Besides reinventing common sense it's about time reality was was given a check over too!
  • Scott Williams

    Every day, the royal "we", accept risk. New Zealand hasn't grown up enough to admit we accept risk every single day. I believe once you realise there is always a risk, you then acknowledge that can never be Zero Harm or the modern "Towards Zero Harm". Both can't exist together, either you have an acceptable level of risk ergo no Zero Harm, or you have Zero Harm and no risk. They cannot be done together because risks exist.

    There are companies and people that adamantly believe that Zero Harm is possible, but like your blog, what's your measure? I'm Zero Harm right now; I have not hurt myself today. Yay me.

    Also, this forum is unlikely to get a real debate on this issue, as there is unlikely to be a Zero Harm believer on a progressive website. Read into that what you will.

  • Scott Williams

    I have to disagree with your statement, as in New Zealand, without the stick (fines, etc.), we have an unbelievable track record of harming people; mainly because there was no incentive to protect the worker. And if you were a contractor, you basically gave up any human rights what so ever concerning H&S. And this logic still exists, remember the guy who died falling off the container a wee while back? What was the companies response; He was a contractor, he had a SWMS, not our fault. And then they followed this up with; How do you even know he fell from a ladder/container? And their list of it couldn’t be us, it must be someone else - went on and on in that case.

    In a capitalist society, we would be remiss to believe any organisation places their employees above their profits. Because if the company doesn’t make money, there are no employees.

    The fines, (although quite sad) that they need to be given to help ‘management’ realise that not harming people, has a cost-benefit to the organisation. Companies still to this day, think no-one has hurt themselves on top of a container (insert any hazard here), why should I spend $10k on providing a safe solution.

    Caselaw is now changing that statement to; do I spend $10K now or risk a $200K fine. And now 'managment' can see the cost benefit.

  • Andrew
    "In a capitalist society, we would be remiss to believe any organisation places their employees above their profits. Because if the company doesn’t make money, there are no employees"

    Actually its the capitalist societies that are likely to do much better.

    In a 2014 report had approximate fatality rates per 100,000 people in the labour force of:
    Oceania 5.5
    Europe 3.2
    America 5.1

    Lets call capitalism with an average rate of 4.6 per 100,000 workers.

    Now compare with:
    Africa 17.4
    Asia 13

    With capitalism, it could be argued we actually value the worker. We understand if there are no employees there are no profits.
  • Michael Wilson

    Hello Andrew,

    As far as you the terms you define as silly. Might I offer to translate them for you to remove some silliness.

    "Diversity" - Looking at your organsation and seeing if the are conscious or unconscious barriers to people joining or staying with the organization.

    "Equal pay/Gender Pay Gaps" - Looking at your organisation and seeing if jobs are sized based on tasks undertaken or if the role was traditionally undertaken by males or females.

    "Rainbow Tick" - Taking a look at your organization and seeing if there are conscious or unconscious barriers to people joining or staying with the organization based on sexual or gender identity.

    "Climate Emergency" - Taking a look at your organization and seeing if you can reduce the amount of damage being done to the environment

    "Zero Harm" - Taking a look at your organization and see what can be done to stop your people getting injured.

    Don't get hung up on labels. Look at the objectives. Are there any of these objectives that are things you would not like your organisation to do?
  • Andrew
    Your definitions (at the risk of breaching the new Guidelines), to me provide ample opportunity for job creation - that is hiring people to do lots of "looking" and as a consequence of that, lots of report writing , then lots of policy writing, then lots of auditing of policy and then review of the numbers to assess the effectiveness of the policy and so the cycle goes on. And that's just silly.

    Take the first three things. Diversity / Equalpay / Gender pay gaps/Rainbow tick can very simply described as a two sided coin. On one side you have "merit" (hired on the basis of talent, achievements and efffort. And then rewarded accordingly) and on the other side you have "law" - because all those things are ultimately covered by one law or another if a person can't figure out what merit means.

    Your fourth example "climate emergency" is why corporate mumbo jumbo is silly - it provides people with opportunities to take one thing and apply something quite different to it. In this case climate - which can be broadly taken as a subset of environment. And then there is the opportunity to conflate "emergency" which only creates irrational thought and action. Which is silly.

    Then we get to "zero harm" If we are going to have a label why don't we just call it something simple, like say "safety".

    Because to some extent Labels should be taken literally. The label should do what the label says.
  • Andrew
    When the smoke has settled it really is time for companies to look at this "Zero Harm" issue.

    How on earth is it possible with all the forums and commitments to safety, and process and policies and high viz vests and contractor pre-selection and yah da yah da that firstly an event like a fire can be allowed to happen on a construction site. And in the event a fire does occur why there are not systems in place to put it out quickly.

    It totally beggars belief that an organisation apparently committed to Zero Harm can oversee the potential destruction of a $1b international convention centre.

    First Pike, now Fletchers. I am stunned!
  • Rob Carroll
    Getting back to the point of Zero Harm, the ethos of the statement is that we aspire not to harm anyone. Zero harm (as well as zero defect) is is not about thinking that we do not have risks - we all face risks every day, we need to manage those risks to prevent the unintended outcome. No company sets out to harm anyone, so saying we aspire not to harm people is true. No company (with or without a Zero Harm commitment) intends for any hazard to be realised.
  • Chris Hyndman
    The biggest barrier to a successful Zero Harm concept is how it is communicated and perceived by the workforce.

    Is Zero Harm a target that only measures failure when actual harm does occur?
    Is Zero Harm an ethos that everyone strives towards and resets after a setback?

    Its not pessimistic / defeatist to accept a certain level of harm WILL occur when carrying out our business. Our Risk Matrix will reflect what level of harm is acceptable to the business before we stop treating a risk (e.g. Lost time < 3 days, 1st Aid). Its at this point where a Zero (level) Harm target should be set.

    This allows us to still strive for perfection (I've seen Number Of Perfect Days This Month used as a measure!) but have enough slack in the metric to not throw the baby out with the bathwater when a minor injury/environmental event occurs.
  • Michael Wilson
    I do like the concept of "making things go right as often as possible". There will always be those who react poorly to terms like Zero Harm (and then conflate them with other strawman arguments) but goals need to be aspirational and inspirational. No one crosses the street for a 2% sale and no one is going to get excited about from the LTIFR by 3 points in a financial year.
  • Andrew

    Back in the old days (and I still do it now) we used to set SMART goals.

    That is, goals needed to be
    Realistic and

    The thing I like about SMART is that it is pretty much unemotional. None of this 'inspirational" or "inspirational" waffle. Just focus on your business and get on with it.

    One thing that gets people motivated to achieve is experience of prior success. Thats what SMART goals helps achieve. You can only live off "aspirational" fairy dust for so long.
  • Sarah Bond
    I think the concept of Zero Harm is redundant and I cringe every time our 'Business Leaders' throw the phrase out there.

    I've seen this mindset drive event reporting underground, especially when contractual penalties are tied to the 'zeroness'.

    The phrase also leads to assumptions that humans can 'control' their environment and only bad/stupid get themselves hurt. This inevitably ties people into a vicious cycle of victim/ persecutor/ enabler or the great name - blame - shame game.

    Work is complex, human's are complex and trying to prevent events with aspirational slogans like 'zero harm' doesn't seem to help much.
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