What is zero harm? It’s an approach to occupational safety and health that we have adopted. Our goal of this approach is to operate without exposing any individual to hazards through the implementation of safety management systems.
Zero falls, zero crashes, zero injuries, the list goes on. It applies to every industry – from finance and information technology to utility vegetation management. We don’t want penalties, missing goals, or losing productivity.
In terms of health and safety, a zero harm culture is a shift in focus from injuries to an exposure focus as a trigger for action and a measure of change. This focus means we’re ready to act when exposure is present or increases, not when an injury has occurred or is happening. At ACRT Pacific, we call this shift in focus “stop work,” or put it in the acronym of STAR – stop, think, act, and review/report a near-miss.
In a video defining zero harm culture, Siemens, an automation company, notes, “Occupational health and safety usually start with rules and regulations, but it’s far more than that — the basis is our behavior. Safe behavior is not determined by processes and procedures alone. It’s influenced by the personal values, attitudes, and commitment of everyone.”
Until we move forward, the focus on injury management and hazard management will continue to be surprising. Seemingly, out of the blue events will continue to occur and we’ll keep coming across events we can’t control.
If safety goals aren’t set at zero, we’re sending a message that severe and disabling injuries are acceptable and safety failures will be tolerated.
We cannot tolerate injuries. Tolerance of failure is a lack of excellence. We achieve zero-harm not by luck, but by thoughtful, excellent performance – every time. It’s time to manage behavior that is the root cause of many safety incidents.
In my line of work, I identify whether an injury or incident was caused by a condition or behavior. Most times, the reported injury was, in fact, the result of unsafe behavior.
Shifting an organization’s focus to embrace a zero harm culture of safety may pose its challenges, but can be achieved with three elements.
Management Commitment and General Policy Statement, management/leadership expectations, and employee expectations — these three elements will help guide organizations and their employees to a zero harm culture of safety. These elements serve as a road map to addressing what zero harm means for employees, how to achieve zero harm performance, and so on.
Our quest for zero-harm will only make our industries, companies, and employees, grow safer and stronger. Set the expectation.
Management Commitment and General Policy Statement
This is a written statement of a company’s commitment to a safe and healthy workplace. The document essentially details a company’s commitment to providing all employees a workplace free of hazards. Responsibility for a safe workplace starts at the very top – it rests upon our CEOs, senior leaders, executives, managers, and so on. I believe that 100% of the time.
It can be easy to navigate through training by reading prompts and presentations. While the information being presented is often of importance, moving from slide to slide can quickly lose an audience’s interest. Adding a hands-on activity or showing the employees yourself is a great way to set an example through your actions — and capture their attention.
As leaders, we should tell our team, “Watch me do this.” Instead of telling them to put on PPE, say, “Watch me put on my safety glasses, etc.” Show them with your actions that you’re committed to a zero harm culture of safety, and that you expect them to be, too.
Feeling empowered to hold each other accountable and be able to call a safety time out are critical parts of participation as employees when unsafe behaviors and conditions are recognized. This can be accomplished by involving employees in establishing a company’s safety best practices, evaluation, and mitigation of hazards, along with improving health and safety programs.
Remember to acknowledge and provide positive reinforcement. A simple “thank you” goes a long way when identifying someone doing the right thing or taking the initiative. Gratitude that comes from management will not only continue to encourage employees’ safe behavior, but it will also encourage the rest of the group who may be around. It’s important to build the morale of your team.
Making the change
Transitioning to an exposure focus is not a deep paradigm shift. It’s asking people to act – despite their belief that an injury will not occur to halt work, stop work, or stop the crew when an unsafe behavior or a hazard is recognized. This transition won’t be easy — it will take time, energy, and perseverance, but with persistent attention from leadership, I believe such change is possible and richly rewarding.
The quest for a zero harm culture of safety will only make us, our companies, and employees much safer. We can continue to set safety expectations in the industry.
Take each day and prepare your teams — review your company’s Management Commitment and General Policy Statement, review roles and responsibilities to health and safety, and a commitment to zero harm in 2021. Let us all strive to take on the new year with a renewed enthusiasm not only for our safety but also for our fellow team members.