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.

5 thoughts on “Are you “anti zero harm” language?

  1. So you can achieve zero harm. Have you created a new definition for ‘injury’. How are you going to eliminate cuts, scratches, bruises etc from construction work? Do you exlude these when talking about ‘injury’? Would love to hear a realistic response. Most construction workers know zero harm is not feasible in contruction considering the nature of work.

    • Another sterling question from Matt. That would indeed be a nasty little trick to solving this problem. But the answer is “No, we did not change the definition for injury.” We use an industry standard definition. The title of Chapter 1 is “Safety Defined”. In that chapter, one of the sub-headings is “The Current Definition of a Construction Accident”
      and we state, “For the purpose of this book, we will define a construction accident as ‘any work-related (external) incident, illness, process, condition or environment that results in medical treatment beyond first aid [4], days away from work, restricted work activity, job transfer, loss of consciousness, or death. This includes drug or alcohol abuse and workplace violence.’
      And we should probably time-bound this statement since the results of accidents sometimes appear later; for example, soft tissue damage or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). So ‘accident-free’ means none of the above occurs for one year after any incident.

      [4] Medical treatment beyond first aid includes: observation or counseling, diagnostic procedures, including X-ray, blood tests, over-the-counter medicine, Tetanus, cleaning, flushing or soaking wounds, wound coverings, including suture substitutes such as butterfly bandages and Steri-strips, hot/cold treatment, non-rigid support such as ace, non-rigid back belts, etc., temporary immobilization for transport purposes, drilling of nail to relieve sub-ungual hematoma, eye patches, foreign body (FB) removal from eye using only irrigation or swab, simple skin FB removal, finger guards.”

      Does this answer your question?

    • Oh, I realized I only answered half your question. Sorry, Matt. We were going for injuries beyond first aid and that is what we defined. This book does not address a cut, scratch, or bruise (etc.) unless it requires something more than first aid. But, I gotta say, I like your thinking. How about this? Let’s begin with our definition of no accidents as laid out in the book. Then, once we are on the path to that and have made some progress, let’s revisit your challenge.

      I want to mark this day in both of our heads as the day you “dared” us to eliminate cuts, scratches, bruises, etc. If you are still up for it and once we begin your challenge, you will have to make an extensive definition so we know exactly what we are solving for.

      Once again, you are adding some subtle precision to the discussion.

  2. I also implore you to read Why We Make Mistakes by Hallinan. Might be any eye opener for you and make you re-evaluate your entire approach to this subject. Motorised clothing that talks to each other to stop people falling over if fatigued (from interview). Are you insane?

    • Hi Matt,
      Great recommendation for Joseph T. Hallinan’s book. We have read many of the studies that he draws from as source materials for his book but at least I have never read his book. (I cannot speak for Scott Burr or Brion K. Hanks, the other two authors.) For example, Hallinan asks “why it is that we look but don’t always see?” and we also discuss this in our book. It is in the ‘Why people do weird stuff section (Part 3)’. Hallinan brought up an issue in that chapter that we don’t discuss in out book. Hallinan writes about the “blame the wrong cause” issue and that is a very interesting discussion. This is exactly the kind of “filling in the details we are asking people to do”. So once again, thank you.

      Now, just because we didn’t put it into the book we do know some of the reasons why that happen. (My gosh, if we put in all of the information we collected to write the book into the book it would have been thousands of pages and too technical to be useful for most people. We had to severely edit the information we collected to get the main breakthrough ideas across and begin the work. We never said that everyone should just shut up and do as we say. Instead we invite everyone to wake up to the reality that zero harm is possible and must begin. We ask everyone to start adding to the knowledge that it will take to achieve the goal. Hallinan’s work will certainly be useful and so will others’.) For example, did you know that there is a part of the brain that explains things? It has to explain why we believe what we believe. In people with brain injuries that have severed the two halves of the brain, they can see something (which takes one half) but cannot transfer the knowledge to communicate it. Therefore, a part of the brain (on the other side) makes up its own reason for what it thinks is over there. Now, we can all see how this natural human process can go awry. And we can all imagine the safety consequences that could happen. But it would be a mistake for an innovator to stop there! Instead, you make note of the issue and start to ask better questions. “How do we prepare in advance so this doesn’t happen or, even better, so these kinds of issues cannot happen?” Now that is a worthy question.

      Well, Matt, there are scientists exploring this information right now. There are published papers discussing issues like this. If we are truly serious about no accidents, then this is something we will have to follow as it develops. And there are thousands of issues exactly like this. It’s a lot to follow. But, it is not impossible. It is a lack of will and/or lack of process rather than a true impossibility. I know you can see that.

      Hey, motorized clothing is pretty far off into the future. We know this is true and we do NOT start there as the first solutions. But once the vision is out there, the path to it (or to something better) has begun. Do you know how deep sea gear was developed? They began in the early 18th century. Perhaps DiVinci had some submersible ideas that were even earlier. Back then, people probably called those people insane to dare imagine such a thing would be possible. In the 1930s work began on space suit development. Do you know how many secondary (hidden problems) had to be solved once those projects were underway? “Basically, the spacesuit is a wearable spacecraft protecting astronauts from airless conditions, temperature extremes (plus 240 Fahrenheit degrees in sunlight to minus 280 in shadow), deadly radiation, and micrometeorites hurtling through the void at 10 miles per second. Each suit was hand-built by seamstresses who had to be extraordinarily precise because a stitching error as small as 1/32 inch could mean the difference between a space-worthy or death. ‘Its true beauty, however,’ said Armstrong, ‘was that it worked.’ ” [1] Were these people insane because they dared to believe in gathering the current technologies together for a new application? Were they insane to believe that they could invent new products and materials that would help solve the thousands of issues of working on the moon?

      Well, they were not insane. The problems were not too big, complex, “impossible” to solve. They began and they persisted until they succeeded. And, and this is really important, they continue to up the stakes all the time. Wearable clothes that will help prevent accidents, this is nowhere near as tough of a problem. We will get there eventually or we will get somewhere safer. Of this, there is no doubt. In my opinion, it would be insane NOT to think about this if we are serious about zero harm.

      [1] According to the (

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