One day an employee came to me because he put a knife through his finger – in one side and out the other – crazy, I know.  When I was helping him, he told me something that got me thinking.  He believed that a zero-incident rate is impossible.  That getting hurt at work is a given.

From the time we’re toddlers and learning to walk to when we have kids of our own and watching them grow, there is an understanding that bumps and bruises are going to happen.  They’re part of the learning experience.

But a zero-incident rate means that they’ll never happen.  It means that we expect by the time we’re adults and working, we stop being clumsy, careless, or get the occasional cut finger.

It sounds ridiculous because it is.

But at the same time, it’s not a far fetched goal, if you frame it right.

WHAT IS A ZERO INCIDENT RATE?

Specifically speaking, a zero-incident rate means a zero OSHA recordable rate.

Does it also mean zero first aid incidents? Zero bumps, bruises, cut fingers, or sore backs?

Many may think so, but the good news is, you get to decide.

MAKING YOUR GOALS A PROGRESSION TO ZERO

As you are improving your safety program, your goals can evolve.  When you have a high incident rate, expecting your team to get to zero quickly is unachievable.

Part of making goals is making them realistic.  So getting to zero has to be a series of continuous improvement steps.

You can start with a goal of zero serious incidents.  Then move to zero lost-time incidents. The next stage could be zero restricted time incidents. And so on.

It has to be a progression to zero.  If you try to do it any other way, your team won’t work for it because it’s not realistic.

Even going from 10 lost times to 0 is not a good progression.  Improving at small percentages over time is the best option.

DO YOU BELIEVE A ZERO INCIDENT RATE IS POSSIBLE?

This is the central question.  Many people think that a zero-incident rate is wishful thinking. Similar to my employee who thought injuries come with the job.

But when you examine the data, there are some industries and workplaces that have achieved it, including high hazard ones.  So, if they can do it, why can’t everyone?

Mindset is the most significant barrier.  When you have a mentality that zero is unrealistic, that will drive your actions.

You start to accept that the bumps, bruises, and cut fingers are a way of life.  They don’t get investigated as thoroughly, so root causes aren’t identified and corrected.

THE ACCEPTANCE OF MINOR ACCIDENTS PROLIFERATES THE PROBLEM

A scraped fender from a delivery driver rubbing against a bollard is blown off as “part of the job.”  Which leads to a small dent from backing into a pole and a response like it’s no big deal.  There becomes an expectation that the minor stuff doesn’t matter. Creating a culture of not being cautious.

Put this scenario in the context of your personal vehicle.  If you loaned it to a friend and they returned it with a rub on the fender, how would you feel? Do you see the difference in the mindsets?

One mindset is an expectation of zero incidents (your personal vehicle), and the other is a one where minor incidents are ok (the company truck).

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR CULTURE TO A ZERO INCIDENT RATE CULTURE

Once you realize that a zero-incident rate is possible and you have changed your mindset around it.  The next step is changing the culture.

Make your procedures consistent regardless of the level of severity.  Treat a cut finger the same as an amputation.

Your staff becomes more safety conscious.

Think about it. If an amputation happens on a production line, the entire line is shut down for an investigation.  Applying the same response for a laceration, everyone would be more aware of their PPE and actions.  Because a shutdown line costs the company money and the worker’s time and stress.

This is how high hazard operations keep their incident rates at zero.

DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKE OF PROMOTING A ZERO INCIDENT RATE

When you set your goal to reach zero or if you are already at zero and are trying to stay there, you can’t promote it.    

The only way to get there and stay there is to change behaviors, habits, and beliefs.  Promoting a zero-incident rate adds stress to the work.  When people are worried or stressed about messing up, they’re more likely to mess up.  It’s self-sabotage driven by our own thoughts.

Promoting a zero-incident rate also increases the likelihood of non-reporting.  If you are close to or at zero and someone is legitimately injured, they may hide it, so they don’t affect the number or the goal.  

This is the opposite of what you want.  You have to know of all injuries and hazards to prevent them from happening.

YOU CAN’T GET TO ZERO OVERNIGHT, BUT YOU CAN GET THERE.

The continuous small steps of…

  1. Responding consistently, regardless of severity.
  2. Believing that injuries at work are not acceptable and zero is possible
  3. Creating progressive goals that get you closer and closer to zero.

…will get you to zero.  Just keep moving your program and culture in a positive direction.

TAKE ACTION

Examine your own beliefs about a zero-incident rate and how that is driving your actions to varying levels of severity.  Can you change your response to be more consistent?

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN

How close have you been to zero?  Comment below and let me know.  I had a processing location with over 100 employees that went 5 years without a recordable injury. It was an incredible culture.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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