Injuries are OK…as Long as We Have Fewer Than Last Year

How many times have you heard, “Safety is our #1 concern.  Safety above all else.”?  I have heard it with every company I have been a part of.  The very first thing I ask when I hear this remark is, what is your safety goal for this year?  To date, I have NEVER had anyone say zero.  In every case, it is some percentage reduction of injuries from the previous year.

If safety is so important, why can’t the stated goal be zero accidents/injuries?  I always follow up my first question with a second question asking if any accident/injury is OK.  I always get a resounding no.  So why is management afraid to state a goal of zero accidents/injuries?

I know stating it is one thing and behaviors are another.  You can state zero accidents but never do anything about it.  But, if you are serious about safety and will do whatever it takes to make sure no one gets hurt, then state that no accidents are acceptable at all.  Set the goal to zero.

I have been apart of a couple of companies that took safety very seriously.  One company had every computer boot up and display the corporate safety metrics, goals, and recent accident reports.  No one could turn this off.  It was visual and created a lot of talk about safety each and every day.  The display showed the current Year-To-Date metrics for every facility.  The company backed up this talk by spending money on safety whenever it was needed.  I can’t even recall a Return-On-Investment study ever being completed.  Also, every meeting had to start with a safety tip.  It might be a work safety tip, ergonomic tip, or a safety tip for home.  Not matter what safety was suppose to start every meeting.

Another facility I worked for won one of the worldwide safety awards after three years of improving to a near zero accident facility.  The plant manager never even hesitated to spend the money if it was truly going to help safety.  Employees were self policing their areas for near misses.  Safety was very important.

Neither company could ever some out and state a goal of zero accidents.  They might state a goal of 2 accidents for the year.  Why not just go ahead and say zero?  What is the hang up with stating this goal?

Money wasn’t just thrown at safety issues in the cases I mentioned.  There was a lot done without spending a dime.  I bring the issue of spending money because I have seen companies ask for a ROI study or payback on things that will improve safety.  Sometimes the improvement is to prevent an accident or injury that might occur.  How do you justify that?

The point is NO injury is acceptable.  Lets have the respect for the people and say that.  Let the people know we do care about their safety.

Posted on April 1, 2011, in Respect for People, Safety and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I have often wondered why a company would have a “goal” of 7 OSHA recordables – or something like that. It almost appears that we WANT that number of accidents. Of course that is not the intent, but it does give the impression that accidents are inevitable; that there is really nothing we can do that is going to prevent us from having some kind of accident. Is it because we do not have enough confidence in our associates to do the right thing that we don’t state the goal as “0”? Maybe it is because we can congradulate ourselves if we only have 5 accidents because our goal was 7 or less. Instead of doing a deep analysis of why the 5 accidents happened in order to prevent them in the future, we can celebrate that we did not have more than our company goal. I have always thought that this seems like a bit of warped logic, but as you have pointed out, that kind of warped logic is widely used.

  2. Of course the company could say “Zero Accidents” or “Zero Injuries” is the goal. I’ve never worked for a company that didn’t and yes, it can be achieved.

    I work in a lot of things including teaching safety and most of the accidents that I’ve seen have been cultural related. How? By 1) the company not realizing the amount of exposure that they have in the workplace either due to a lack of professional thought put towards safety or a reliance on the old belief that they haven’t had an accident so nothing is wrong, and 2) individuals not taking the time necessary to evaluate a task before starting it to try to figure out “safer” ways of doing it whether it’s a better method, a better tool for the job, getting help, or just not doing something that you know you shouldn’t. Outside of that, being “fit for duty” by being healthy enough to be there physically, mentally, and spiritually.

    Dr. Deming believed that 94% of error is process related and that applies to safety incidents as well but, that 6% that is human can also be avoided. You can have any policy in place that you wish and train until you drop but, as the saying goes, it’s that last 1/4 inch of skull that is the hardest to penetrate. If you’re head isn’t in the job or you are ill, stay home. If you’re about to do a task, stop and evaluate what could happen and then control it.

  3. Matt, we have a goal of 0 first aid cases, injuries, recordables. We track all incidents with a goal that near misses are >80% of all reported cases. This helps capture improvements and opportunities before they increase in danger.

    By far the worst metric is X days since an injury/incident. That encourages poor reporting of near misses or no reporting of actual accidents by employees in my experience.

    I like to watch the company actions compared to there stance on safety. Many talk a good game but nothing more than that.

    • I am glad to hear there are companies out there stating zero accidents, injuries, recordables, and first aid cases. I haven’t been apart of a company that has done that yet. Safety is one thing I watch behaviors on compared to what an organization is saying. If safety isn’t important then I don’t see how any can talk about respect for people.

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