Chasing the 0 - Are All Accidents Really Preventable?


A version of this blog post was originally published on Epigroup.

Zero harm, Target Zero, Zero Incident, Incident Free, Perfect Day, any of these slogans sound familiar?

There has been a push in the safety world to chase the target of 0 accidents or incidents. But is it realistic to expect that workplace accidents are 100% preventable?

Some people will argue that with the right systems and processes in place combined with adequate staff training there is no reason why a business shouldn’t be accident-free. On the other hand, some people will argue that we’re all human and humans make mistakes.

Not only that, there are circumstances beyond our control that contribute to accidents.

We look at why all accidents aren’t preventable and the reasons why organisations shouldn’t strive to make them so.

Attempts at Making Accidents Preventable

Over the years organisations across varying industries have tried to make workplace accidents history. A variety of systems have been trialled in an attempt to ‘engineer’ hazards out of the workplace.

A three-step approach is commonly used to identify the hazards, assess the risks and control the risks.

Hazards can be identified by inspecting the workplace, reporting incidents, keeping a register of injuries, consultation and feedback from employees.

Next, the risks are assessed to determine the type of hazard, the severity of a potential injury, the layout of the workplace, the skills and experience of the workers involved.

The third step involves preventing the risk by eliminating, isolating, or substituting the hazard and protective equipment.

Trying to Prevent Accidents Can Hurt Business

In an effort to eliminate all accidents, an organisation will place tight restrictions around what a worker can do in their role. The systems and processes are designed to keep the worker safe. So safe that he isn’t allowed to deviate from the system to find better ways of working because that involves risk.

Business Suffers from a Lack of Innovation

The idea of 0 incidents is a good one in theory as it is ultimately about reducing harm to people. However, it becomes an issue when the “0” becomes the measure within the business to determine safety success, and even worse when it is tied to incentives and bonuses. For example, management get scored based on how many incidents occur with in the business and receive a bonus if they achieve zero.

When zero becomes a performance measure, incidents tend to slowly become suppressed at a frontline level and don’t get reported up the line. This is because no one wants to be the employee who halted the bonus for their managers, team or department.

As a result, incidents and near misses become hidden, learnings and improvements never get shared, and the company fails to improve. Eventually something that should have been preventable occurs, and everyone is confused about how it could have happened.

The Economy Suffers

If a country wants to consider itself clever, it needs businesses and individuals to continually evolve and innovate. If companies don’t allow staff the room to innovate, new methods and inventions can’t occur.

If those businesses are unwilling to purchase new technology or equipment for fear of an increased risk to safety, then other firms won’t produce it. It doesn’t take long for the risk-averse culture of a country to impact on its ability to keep up with innovative countries.

Employees Suffer

While employees might appreciate that they are being kept physically safe, they can argue it’s at the expense of their mental health. Working to a tight set of systems and rules means there is little room for thinking. All that is required is for a worker to go through the motions of the job day after day, they don’t need to engage their brain. Some workers are happy with this way of working while others leave in search of more fulfilling work.

Finding a Balance Between Accident Prevention and Innovation

Epihub is built around the premise that people are the solution to your WHS management, compliance and improvement challenges.

This people-first approach is what fortifies the culture-transforming tools and features we’ve embedded into Epihub. Try it for free and see how they can help you enable learning and promote action, accountability and transparency.

Category: Blog

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