Zero injuries: a noble objective or false hope? Competing agendas, resource demands, poor decision-making, and the variable skills and abilities of those assigned to reach this goal can interfere with the successful execution to reach a zero injury status. Although U.S. work-related fatality and injury rates show declines in recent years, many companies use the phrases such as "zero injury" as the building blocks of their safety initiatives. How do these firms reconcile this with their workforce realities, since occupational injuries do occur?

This paper will offer readers background on the science behind the illusive yet desirable goal of "zero injuries". This paradox will be reviewed along with tactics safety professionals can use when balancing the needs of corporate budgets, initiatives, and front-line employee safety. In addition, the paper will offer real-world examples of how a balanced approach is successfully executed.

Zero Injuries and Statistical Probability

For the past several years, safety professionals have begun to embrace the concept of "Zero Injuries", a goal that suggests that zero injuries/accidents in the workplace is possible to obtain. On the surface this concept appears to be noble and worthy of praise. If doable, the processes, tools and strategies developed to implement and maintain this achievement must be shared, and specifically, adopted by all organizations seeking to be "best in class" from a safety perspective.

Zero injuries are used to promote workplace safety initiatives, so it makes sense that many safety professionals have jumped on the bandwagon. However, others are puzzled by this concept because the definition of zero injuries leans toward ambiguity. While most organizations have no compunctions with regards to striving for such an achievement, these organizations also recognize that a zero injury goal is no more than an appealing slogan and not mathematically possible.

Edwards Deming and other quality experts have warned against the use of slogans, pledges and campaigns. When such pledges and campaigns are implemented in the workplace organizational leadership is required to seek "buy-in" from employees, requiring endorsements in the form of pledges and/or campaigns. Employee buy-in is then assumed and acknowledged by employees to work safely and to also become their brother's keeper - watching out for each other's safety. These experts argue that the slogans such as "zero defects/accidents" may lead to unintended consequences and could have a negative impact on the culture of an organization. They could also impede real effort to drive continuous improvement.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.