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.

Are you “anti zero harm” language?

Been getting a bit of feedback from people who are sick of the term “zero harm”.
In fact, I am with them – if we are talking about the old way of doing things. It really irritates me when folks talk about zero harm and they plan on getting there by fudging the definitions of incidents and accidents or by ignoring the reality of the situation. I also get annoyed when people are just cheerleading and I find it really maddening when people use terms like “Safety First” and it is imprecise, misleading or “fuzzy”.
I recognize that my most fervent allies are eventually going to be people who are against this kind of fuzzy language. They have passion for keeping people safe and a low tolerance for bull and that is what it is going to take to move this new mindset forward into the mainstream.  
There is a is a basic contradiction between production, schedule, and profits (get ‘er done fast) and get ‘er done safe. That’s the truth. Anyone not directly facing that issue is not going to solve the problem. That’s the real bottom line. Fast and Safe are both are valid positions if you want to be competitive (personally, I think Quality should be in there, too). In fact, that basic trade-off between production efficiencies and safety has been happening for thousands of years.
What we found is: the best way to resolve that “compromise” mindset is to figure out how to make safety the leverage point into increased profits. If it is actually more profitable and easier to work safely, then we can make progress on this issue. No one wants to leave money on the table and no one wants people to die on their projects. It is a natural pairing – if we could only find the solutions. The solutions we found are like building blocks. We did not find a magic bullet to cure all the problems at one time. But there is a way, a path, a series of steps. It will take time and work, but it is possible.
But to get started, we have to do away with the rotten foundation that underlies the current belief system. It really boils my blood when I hear excuses for trading off safety for schedule. Those rationalizations are based on false information. But this new information is not false. It is not “fuzzy”. It is stark, transparent, and no-holds-barred. We can get to zero harm. We just have to begin now.