The paradox of Zero Harm


The paradox of Zero Harm


We have all heard of Zero Harm or Vision Zero. It has become imbedded into safety language and adopted by many businesses, but is it doing harm?

Research out of the UK, has examined the performance of zero harm companies to determine the benefit of having a Zero Harm Vision. It identified that a zero-harm program actually appears to slightly increase the likelihood of having a serious life-changing accident or fatality, and is being dubbed the Zero Paradox.*

Why could “Zero” be harming people?

There are a few reasons why zero many be doing harm instead of good. They can be summarized to poor communication and not having a “full program”.

Common Zero Program problems, and our suggestions to fix them:

Some companies adopt a Zero vision but fail to properly communicate that it is the vision, not a current situation. Underneath the vision must be a realistic program with achievable goals Measuring performance against thesegoals  should demonstrate a tangible progress towards reduced injuries.


Focus on the wrong things - numbers and not severity


These are companies who focus on ensuring coffee cups have lids when being carried, and ensuring everyone uses the hand rail when going up and down stairs, but still have serious injuries. It is important for the number Zero to mean less than the nature of the risks. For example, reducing the number of papercuts must always be less important than monitoring and controlling the businesses fatality and serious injury risks.

This means to have a “full program” you must reduce high severity risks.

Yes, continue to reduce your regularly occurring minor injuries too but never lose focus on the high risks. Many businesses achieve this by maintaining a key risks register that is regularly reviewed by the senior management team.


Fear of reporting

If the focus of the program is on loss statistics - zero injuries or a reduction in injuries and incentives are provided to have less injuries staff can be reluctant to report injuries or even be motivated to hide them. To avoid this, the program must encourage and possibly reward reporting of all incidents and injuries.


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