Zero Harm

by George Robotham on October 2, 2013

in George Robotham,Zero Harm


Zero harm

One of the original posts by the late George Robotham

Many companies in Australia will proudly tell you they have a Zero Harm approach to OHS. My understanding, from admittedly not widespread research, is that Zero Harm approaches are not widespread in other countries. I am told the Canadians tried it and abandoned it.

A small number of companies in Australia have been doing Zero Harm for many years but it appears to have been discovered by a larger number of organisations in more recent years. In recent times I have been receiving communications from a senior operational manager in a prominent Qld organisation arguing strongly that Zero Harm is doing more harm than good. There have been papers at some major OHS conferences in recent times questioning the value of Zero Harm. There was extended discussion on the topic on the Safety Institute of Australia OHS discussion forum some months ago. I found the paper on this topic on the Intersafe web-site quite informative.

The most commonly reported problems with Zero Harm that I hear reported are-

1 It leads to covering up and under reporting of personal damage.

2 Inordinate amounts of time, effort and resources are spent on very minor issues thus making a mockery of the safety management system

Zero harm is warm, fuzzy stuff with an emotional appeal, the trouble with emotional appeal is it sometimes prevents logical analysis.

Some people say zero harm is a fallacy and the goals are impossible or unachievable and there is far too much focus on minor injuries to the detriment of the serious side of town.

I think my major objection to zero harm is it does not target attention, effort and limited resources on the serious injuries where you get the biggest bang for your buck. Of course you are also kidding yourself if you think you can actually achieve zero harm. Goals must be realistic and not only admirable.

Australian safety researcher Geoff McDonald has a system of classifying personal damage occurrences (“Accidents “) that goes something like this-

Class 1-Permanently alters the future of the individual

Class 2-Temporarily alters the future of the individual

Class 3 –Inconveniences the individual

Geoff has investigated many thousand Class 1 damage occurrences in his career and maintains the most effective way to make meaningful progress in safety is by focusing on the class 1 phenomena. .

A study into Australia’s personal damage experience by the Productivity Council said 13% of occurrences were Class 1 with 82% of the damage.

Zero Class 1 damage is the approach I would take in order to target our efforts and limited resources

in the most productive area.

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