Vision Zero or Zero Desire?

Recently I attended the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health 2017 in Singapore, where the International Campaign “Vision Zero” was launched.

XXI World Congress on Safety and Health 2017 in Singapore launch

Zero Harm, or by any other name that is know is one on the taboos in Safety. Is it actually possible?, to achieve the target of Zero Injuries and fatalities in a modern workplace?

Statistically, just over the last nine months, in Australia some 120 workers have lost their lives in workplace incidents, and between 2003 and 2015 a staggering 3207 Australian workers have lost their lives, which indicates that a Zero Harm culture is somewhat nowhere near happening in Australia anytime soon.

Compare this to the Island Nation of Singapore who, in H1 of 2017 reported 19 workplace fatalities appear to be doing a lot more towards the “Vision Zero” Concept than Australia.

As a note, Singapore had 66 workplace fatalities in all of 2016 vs 178 workplace fatalities in Australia during the same period of time.

Now the natural defense for Australian businesses and regulators alike will be the size and volume of works being undertaken however, the MoM in Singapore recently announced that statistics showed Singapore was tracking just as good if not better than Australia with 1.8 workplace deaths per 100,000 workers, and our friends in the Lion City (led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) have outlined a bold move to reduce this even further to under 1 workplace fatality per 100,000 workers over the coming years.

Mr. Lee Hsien Loong - Singapore Prime Minister at XXI World Congress on Safety and Health 2017 in Singapore

So what is Vision Zero?

Since my return from Singapore, I have seen a number of posts, often with a very sceptical look at the “Vision Zero” concept, and whilst some may think this is pie in the sky, the vast majority of safety professional that I spoke with in Singapore had the same opinion as I did, “Better to try and fail, than fail to try”

Vision Zero is summed up on their website as, “The belief that all accidents, diseases and harm at work are preventable” (sounds straight forward enough and looking at the evidence which has been presented by James Reason & Sidney Dekker completely agreeable as a statement)

So why Vision Zero, well this is put simply as “Accidents at work and occupational diseases are neither predetermined nor unavoidable – they always have causes. By building a strong prevention culture, these causes can be eliminated and work related accidents, harm and occupational diseases be prevented.

Vision Zero” is a transformational approach to prevention that integrates the three dimensions of safety, health and well-being at all levels of work.

Safe and healthy working conditions are not only a legal and moral obligation – they also pay off economically. International research on the return on investments in prevention proves that every dollar invested in safety and health generates a potential benefit of more than two dollars in positive economic effects. Healthy working conditions contribute to healthy business.”

Zero Harm (or call it what you will) is not a new thing, and has caused man safety professionals to under report and or incorrectly report in the drive to show that the targets that have been set are achievable. However, the big thing for me is in the title of the mission, it’s a “Vision” a statement of intent, a call to action so to speak.

Is “Vision Zero” achievable?

Who knows! Is it something that strikes a chord of fear in in some skeptical safety professional like a “Zero Harm” target, that is often blown out of the water within a few hours of a business announcing the intuitive and then a worker heading to the first aid box to remove a band-aid for a paper cut or alike? Probably. But, without a Vision we would never mastered powered flight, would have never went to the moon or never had an international space station. It was a Vision of an individual, that formed a collective, that achieved all those things, so why can’t we achieve it? Or is “Vision Zero”, the latest buzzword, banded around by a few academics hoping to build a portfolio of evidence to argue a PhD thesis, then placed in the “Too Hard Basket”? We can only decide to be part of the movement, that pushes the boundaries when people say it can’t be done, that challenge a new generation of Safety Professional and decision makers and strive to achieve what people say is “impossible” who knows, but maybe the biggest risk to “Vision Zero” is not to risk it at all!

Micheal Lopez Algeria - Former Commander of the International Space Station talks safety at XXI World Congress on Safety and Health 2017 in Singapore

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