2 min read

Zero harm: Is it achievable?

By Michael Selinger

While it is important to have a safety creed in your workplace, it is essential that it has meaning to your workers – that is the danger with having zero harm as your safety slogan.

If your workers do not understand, believe or know how to action what you are saying about safety in your workplace, your safety management systems will become meaningless.

Today, Michael Selinger discusses the concept of zero harm, where you need to be cautious about this idea, and suggests that as long as you, your workplace leaders and your business’s safety systems work towards every worker going home safely at the end of the day, that is what matters most.

Is focusing on zero harm the safest way to manage health and safety?

There is often a push to achieve a goal of zero harm in the workplace. But is this possible? And should we be seeking to set the standard to this high level?

Zero harm is the concept that a workplace can operate without exposing any person to any injury. The view is taken that the majority of workers today go through their working life without suffering any injury and so it should be possible to design and implement safe systems of work that will have the effect that no worker suffers an injury. The position is often coupled with the view that zero harm is achievable if leaders and managers embrace the concept, otherwise it cannot succeed.

It is important to qualify the term zero harm though. Not all injuries are included in this concept so it is not intended to mean that people won’t suffer minor injuries like paper cuts but the purpose is to remove anyone suffering serious injury or death.

But if zero harm does not mean preventing all injuries, does it just confuse people about what the goal is for the workplace? Or exist as a catchy slogan rather than an attainable goal?

For example, will zero harm mean the same in the construction industry as it does in the tourism industry? How do you set the parameters so that you can measure your success or failure?

The other criticism directed at zero harm is that without a clear set of processes and steps in place to try to achieve the goal, it provides little more than a lofty unachievable goal with emotional underpinnings.

Wherever you sit on the debate, I think ‘zero harm’ has to be recognised as well-intentioned and a worthwhile aspirational goal. Whether you use the language of zero harm in your workplace or adopt another phrase to address the same point – every worker going home safely at the end of the day – it may matter little.

The most important aspect of any health and safety policy designed to achieve the safety of its workers and others in the workplace is to have:

  • clear, practical processes and policies in place based on risk-based assessments;
  • leadership on safety in promoting a culture of zero harm; and
  • a commitment to supervision and training.
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