Attaining Zero Accidents: Is this goal achievable?

By Chuck Kelly | Nov 15, 2022
Workers stand in a lot outside a building. Image by Western Pacific Enterprises Ltd.
Can we actually attain zero accidents in our organizations, or is that just the new buzzword everyone is using to demonstrate, at least on paper, that they are committed to safety?




Can we actually attain zero accidents in our organizations, or is that just the new buzzword everyone is using to demonstrate, at least on paper, that they are committed to safety? I would argue that it’s probably a little bit of both.

Some companies out there say all the right things, use all the new lingo and project that they are committed to safety when, in actuality, their only concern is the bottom line. Meanwhile, other companies are completely committed to providing the safest and most up-to-date programs and PPE that can ensure their employees’ well-being while still positively impacting the bottom line. 

Thankfully, in 2022, I would say that the majority of companies are in the latter category, and from a financial perspective, these companies have a better ROI than their counterparts. 

Safety as a savings

How? Because safety pays! It pays in lower workers’ compensation costs, less time away from work and fewer job interruptions. It also increases positive responses from the workers. The workforce can see the company’s commitment to safety, and with effective employee engagement initiatives, they can have a hand in developing a positive safety culture. By investing in safety, you actually can improve the bottom line by reducing the money allotted to accidents in general (cost associated with medical/rehabilitation, cost of replacement workers, production interruption, etc.).

Do we have the ability?

Of course, everyone should strive to attain zero accidents. But do we have the ability within our organizations to get there? I am not referring to our individual skill to make change. Our jobs indicate that we are capable of having an impact on our organizations’ outcomes. When I say ability, I’m looking at the key factors necessary to create change—such as corporate support, adequate budgets, competent supervisors, effective training, proper PPE and, most importantly, culture. Do we have a culture that can get us to zero? 

Culture is important

Culture is a difficult issue to address. If we practice what we state in our written value statements as it relates to our safety commitment, then it is a bit easier to have a positive culture. Employees can see that commitment, and by including them in the process, they can share in the successes achieved through committing to a positive safety culture. That is a key building block in getting to zero.

However, if we only have words on paper, we need to start from the bottom, and all too often the bottom issue is trust. When we don’t commit to worker safety, we create an environment where employees believe they are just another number in the payroll system that can be replaced. This is detrimental to safety culture. 

To rebuild trust within an organization, there has to be transparency, which requires leaders to take a hard look at themselves from a self-analysis aspect and through the eyes of others—namely, the employees. Are leaders willing to face the negative issues that may come forward to rebuild a trust culture? Can we work openly with employee representatives to craft objectives that are beneficial for all, while still providing the level of safety needed to protect staff beyond the compliance of rules and regulations? If we can do that, then getting to zero becomes a reality, not just a myth. 

More importantly, we should also understand that if we don’t get to zero, we have not failed. All too often, when goals aren’t attained, feelings of failure can kill the forward momentum. If you’ve made progress and have seen the organization’s culture making positive inroads, then you are on the road to success. 

Remember, nothing good is accomplished without hard work by all parties. Working toward zero with all impacted “players” is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Header image by Western Pacific Enterprises Ltd.

About The Author

KELLY, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or [email protected]

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