Still More Comments on the term ‘Zero Harm’

Hi all, Rob Long and Matt made a few more comments.  My response is below theirs.

Rob Long April 23, 2014 at 6:09 PM

Astounding that you have never heard of the world leader in the psychology of risk Paul Slovic, says it all really.

Matt April 24, 2014 at 8:02 AM

Your response truly shows a lack of understanding. So Zero Harm is not really Zero Harm? Your only talking about first aid and higher. But there’s still going to be harm right? So it cant be Zero, which is an absolute term!

Matt April 24, 2014 at 8:19 AM 

So Zero Harm is not really Zero Harm. Maybe you should call it , ‘Just a little bit of harm’! It cant be Zero, which is an absolute term!

Rob Long April 24, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Matt, these guys have no idea but speak the spin of ‘we are not there yet, but we will get there one day’


Rob Long and Matt,
First of all, Rob, risk is not the same as safety. Risk is connected/related to process or lack there-of. Safety is an outcome. Risk is a single piece of the safety puzzle. Paul seems to understand this! His research on decision is valuable (and that topic is also discussed in our book). He is a visionary and we would love to get him involved in construction safety.

We are interested in adding more multidisciplinary sciences to construction safety, making it more process-oriented and systematic and using technology and advanced applied sciences to address hidden causes of accidents. You both, on the other hand, seem to have gotten stuck on a term.

We are talking about saving lives; you are arguing a detail from a stagnant position based on a definition you don’t like. In our book we actually do say we are going to go even further than first aid and we are in pursuit of our stated “ideal” future condition while you seem stuck on the words “zero harm”. You would have to read the book as we talk about ideality to even get the depth of our meaning when we talk about zero harm. We are not using the words lightly; nor is it an absolute term as you claim. The fact that you said that shows you are working from the old paradigm.

I’ll say this again. We suggest using a parado principle; each company goes after their most important issues first – like deaths from falls. Then they may solve for death and injuries from pinch/moving equipment; then language-related problems; and so on until they are eliminating bruises and cuts or beyond. Some companies might be interested in solving for violence on the job first or begin with fraud (for example, the person who hurts himself on purpose to collect benefits). I very much doubt anyone will begin with bruises and cuts as you suggest. But just because they begin in one place and continue on their own custom path until they hit the ideal goal of no harm, does not mean you dismiss outright the whole body of work or resort to name-calling.

Although your comments have degraded and are no longer even an attempt at a professional discussion, it is a pattern I’ve seen before. When there is a major paradigm shift beginning, there are those who see the value immediately. Those are the ‘early adopters’. Based on a quick review of his work, Paul Slovic fits this description exactly. He was doing this kind of work in the early 70’s in other industries. This is obviously not you, however, as you are not even interested in reading the book before dismissing it and that is a very common entrenched position.

Once a lot of other people have begun to create the change we speak about, you will feel comfortable enough to find where you fit in and can add value. In the language of diffusion of innovation/ technology/etc., this is called ‘early majority’ (or maybe even ‘late majority’) as opposed to ‘early adopters’.

Our work is a safety breakthrough and can be uncomfortable for people who have carved a niche for themselves and don’t want things to change too much. Although we have compassion for the angst it is causing you, we are really more interested in speaking to people who are serious about defining and solving the problems rather than people who don’t want to change. One of our favorite quotes is by Robert J. Mathews, “If you don’t think something can be done, at least get out of the way of the person doing it.”

Ditch the name-calling. Keep sending names like Paul Slovic. Get more precise with your negativity so we can problem-solve together. Then there is a lot for us to do to save lives.

For Paul Slovic’s name, I really thank you. We chose to study different, equally preeminent experts in several multidisciplinary sciences, but would love to have people of his caliber work on this problem. In fact, we are dancing in his neighborhood. We are looking for just these kind of experts to add to the conversation and advance the goal. We have only proved it is possible and given one path to the goal, but we don’t have all the answers that are out in the world or those yet to be discovered. It may be too big a problem for any single person, but it is a problem worthy of solving. We’ve started the ball rolling. We can get there with the correct people. Come on; take a reasonable risk. Step out of the comfort of the current paradigm and see that there is more possible than is currently being done.

Answer to Matt

Hello everyone, especially Dave Collins, at Safety and Risk Management website (link to a book review) by Dave Collins. I’m having trouble getting back to the website right now. Seems your server is especially busy. I will try to answer some of the comments here and link back to them later. Thank goodness I asked for emails when we received a comment on your site. This is a very exciting conversation. Thank you.

Let’s get started.

Matt commented on New Book–Safety Under Construction in response to riskex. He said, “What absolute garbage!!! How do we innovate, become better people, improve processes, improve technology etc? It all comes from learning from mistakes! I am sure you Dayna have made a mistakes and learned from it! This how we move forward! Once you remove risk you stifle leaning. Would love to see how many mistakes and risks you take in your life outside of work, I’m sure there is plenty, and hey I guess you probably learnt from it!”

First, let me thank you, Matt, for your comment. I love the passion and your point is exactly right on. In fact, it is one of the foundational contradictions with trying to “solve all safety issues and get rid of risk”. That is one of the things we also discovered. Or should I say “rediscovered” because there are people in the industry who already knew this. In the book for engineers we have a sub section called “Safety vs. Risk – A Major Contradiction to Manage”. This is how we introduce the subject.

Some people are hard-wired to take risks. This is a fundamental paradigm that many people hold. Safety and Risk are sometimes at odds with each other and thus represents an important contradiction to manage.
First we need to explore our assumptions. Are we sure our objective in safety is to reduce risk? Let’s examine the whole notion of risk as undesirable. What are the positive sides of risk? What would it look like if risk was not an issue? Risk has some positive things to give to our workers, the project, and our company. When we take a risk and succeed we gain a benefit. So if risk is not necessarily a problem, then what is a more precise statement of the problem?
What we really want to avoid are the negative consequences of risk and danger. For  example, we don’t want someone to take a risk and get injured or die. But we also want the benefits (or positive consequences of risk). We want to find a new way that is faster, safer, provides better quality, requires fewer resources, etc.
Hey, if we are perfectly honest, we also sometimes want the positive consequences of danger. That thrill of beating the odds is exciting. It is why we ride roller coasters or gamble or work high in the sky or with explosives. Some people need that adrenaline rush in their lives. 
It is typical in innovation that a more precise definition leads to better understanding. And once you have better understanding of the reality of the situation, you are better able to address the underlying issues. What we need to do in order to continue in this vein is to break down ‘risk’ in general and each specific risk.
We must break down risk into more basic components of benefits and costs depending on the risky activity we would like to address (height, falling objects, over extension, committing an unsafe act, penalty caused by missed milestones that puts pressure on people, and other financials, etc.). You may recall that the ratio of  benefits versus costs is called “ideality” and so risk is deeply and fundamentally related to problem-solving and the solutions to any type of risk are available through inventive thinking. In other words:
Risk is an inventive opportunity to reach new levels of performance and safety…

Your comment, Matt, shows an important level of sophistication in your thinking. How are we going to solve the problems of accidents when it is so important to keep the benefits of risk?

That is the problem to solve!! During the writing and researching phases of this book series we spend quite a bit of time discussing this exact issue. Who should solve this problem? How does a person solve this problem? It seems impossible. And that is exactly when we realized that we would have to break a new trail, go pioneering, head off into the uncharted frontier because this solution is not already known.

What most people do at this point is compromise. They think, well, we will have to just accept some “collateral damage” (death!) to reach new levels of performance. At that point, instead of solving the problem, the person decides to think that the issue is too entrenched, that you can’t have both more positive consequences (more of becoming better people, improving processes, improving technology and learning from mistakes!) and simultaneously achieve lower negative consequences (more safety). And that is a cop-out.  We must have both. And that is when we kept moving on with our innovation process.

We were going to title our book based on the idea of “removing risk to improve safety”. Once we rediscovered this contradiction, well, you can see why we had to change the title.

Now I understand that you may be concerned that this topic is not in this particular book for workers. But we received a lot of feedback that workers would not read a 400 page book on safety so we took out some of the foundational thoughts and presented it more as solutions and quick overviews of ideas. We kept the whole foundational innovation process in the book for visionary leaders and engineers, though. (This is the category that I think you fall into).

In your opinion, do you think this was a mistake to remove it from the worker’s book? In your opinion, do you think we should add it back into the second edition (which will not be even begun for a few years)? Thank you again for your insightful comment. I believe it adds a lot to the safety community.