Are zero incident safety cultures possible, or are they figments of our imagination like Sasquatch, mermaids and unicorns? Some safety experts believe the idea of a zero incident culture is so unrealistic that pursuing such a strategy actually does more harm than good, namely by demoralizing employees and eroding management credibility (Behavioral-safety 1993).
Other safety experts say that any safety goal other than zero incidents gives the impression that management is not serious about employee safety and signals a lack of leadership. These safety experts point to examples of companies achieving and sustaining zero incidents as proof the goal is realistic and doable (US Army Corps of Engineers 2002).
How does OSHA weigh in? It can be argued that OSHA's Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2) initiative is proof of the agency's support of a systematic and proactive approach to eliminating workplace hazards, not unlike a zero incident approach. To that end, OSHA recently issued a white paper on I2P2 that serves as a good starting point for anyone considering such a method.
The debate over zero incident cultures is not a new one, and today, the global debate continues, online in LinkedIn safety groups, on safety blogs, at conferences, and perhaps most importantly, in the offices of safety managers around the world. As with most difficult topics, there is likely no singular "right" answer, which is why the aim of this discussion is not to persuade the reader to join one side of the argument over the other.
Instead, this discussion will focus on providing a tangible blueprint for adopting I2P2 (with a nod to the zero incident approach). It is done with the understanding that each reader will decide for themselves the best application of the ideas presented. Even if you do not agree with a zero incident approach, you will likely concede that many of the ideas inherent in OSHA's I2P2 and the zero incident approach are beneficial to every workplace looking to improve employee safety, reduce costs and gain efficiencies.