Are Zero Accidents Really What You Want?

We have seen the banners on job sites, the splash pages on websites, and the slogans during safety talks, “we are a zero accidents company/job site.” However, is that what we want to be preaching?  Would a job site or a company with zero accidents have a strong safety culture or even be a safe working environment? 

First off, let’s agree that an accident can also be defined as an incident.  A robust incident reporting culture has many near misses and first aid only incidents when it comes to reporting.  Yes, you read that right.  I said that it’s expected to have a lot of near misses and first aid only incidents.  Humans do the work, and by nature, humans make errors.  Error is anticipated in any day-to-day activity.  Think back to the last day that you did not make a single error.  It is estimated that the average human makes between 4-6 errors per hour.  So let’s say five errors to make the math easier.  How many people are on a typical job site, again to make the math easier, let’s say 100.  So there’s a chance for 500 errors per hour or 4,000 errors throughout the 8 hr workday on that job site.  If there are many chances for errors to be made, why don’t we see incident rates off the charts?

That’s a good question, and the reason is that an error could be a mismeasurement, a mistake in work, a dropped tool, or any other number of harmless things that could go wrong.  There are also safety policies and procedures in place to help prevent people from injuries and incidents.  With any number of those harmless errors that occur throughout the workday, some in a strong incident reporting culture would show up as a near miss or first aid only incident.  You forgot your gloves and decided to work anyway and cut your finger.  The injury required only a simple bandage, and you went back to work.  Another one of those incidents would be you get yourself set up to work at height, you go to grab a tool out of your tool belt, and it slips out of your hand, falling to the ground below.  Nothing happens except your tool bounces around, and you have to retrieve it.  Those are two easy examples of everyday incidents that would be reported as a first-aid only incident and a near-miss incident.  When a near miss or first aid only incident is reported, the next question is how do you deal with them?  In short, you should investigate and handle any incident that is reported the same. 

We must view these incidents as gifts.  As I stated earlier, we want to have many near miss or first aid only incidents.  That sounds counterproductive at first, but it is not.  When a mistake happens, and that’s what occurs when a near miss or first aid only incident occurs, then there are two things that it can lead to.  It is the role of everyone to take those incidents and learn from them.  It’s been said that a smart person learns from their mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.  If we take these lesser incidents and use them as teaching tools to prevent them from reoccurrence, we work to prevent a more serious incident that could result in injury.

Construction is hazardous by default.  Incidents will happen on a job site.  Suppose you promote a zero-incident/accident culture. In that case, you will be missing out on opportunities to adjust procedures, policies, and methods to prevent serious injury or damage in the future.  If a near miss or first aid only incident occurs and nothing happens as a result of it, then it is bound to occur again, and maybe the next time it won’t be a near miss or first aid only; it could be worse.  If we ditch the Zero Accidents/Incidents way of thinking.  Change the thought process to Zero Injury by promoting a report anything culture and redefining an incident as anything that happens outside of the ordinary.  After all, isn’t that what we all mean when we say zero accidents anyway? 

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