What lies beyond zero? A new approach to health & safety

by External25 Feb 2015
Embracing the zero harm approach within the workplace has resulted in a transformation to the way we understand and manage safety in professional environments. The concept of zero harm has encouraged industries to move away from simply minimising engineering hazards, towards actively engaging people and leadership for an overall improvement to workplace health and safety outcomes. But, however positive this advancement, it is important to consider what comes next.

When we think about zero harm and its conceptual foundations, it is easy to determine that the ultimate goal is risk minimisation. Globally, many organisations have been successful in reducing their injury frequency to low levels, but unfortunately, very few have managed to reach a level of zero harm.

Even fewer have succeeded in sustaining such positive performances for extended periods of time.

What this indicates is a need to change our approach. What if we were to shift our point of reference, so that zero harm was no longer the ultimate goal, but rather simply the beginning of sustained workplace health and safety? With this mindset, we may benefit from the valuable work being done in the field of positive psychology.

Leading psychologist and prominent figure in the area of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, has articulated important notions regarding the benefits of shifting our strategic thinking towards positive enrichment.

Seligman challenged psychologists to stop seeking to reduce their patients’ depression, and start aiming to increase their happiness. He introduced the idea of a happiness scale, as opposed to a depression scale, a seemingly simple suggestion, but one that has transformed our approach towards psychological strategy and outcomes.

While the depression scale focuses on harm minimisation, the happiness scale values promoting health and improving wellness. In posing this challenge to psychologists, Seligman revolutionised thinking towards harm minimisation in the field of psychology. He reminded us that there is in fact an alternative approach to improvement, one that is driven by the promotion of health. This is indeed the foundation of positive psychology.

By reconfiguring the scale that we apply to workplace health and safety, by no longer considering zero as a final objective but rather as a starting point, a minimum standard, we allow for the opportunity to initiate comprehensive and meaningful outcomes.

Zero is inevitably followed by a positive one, two, three, four, and so on. By shifting our scale, we employ an alternative paradigm, and hence open ourselves up to the prospect of people entering a workplace and not just simply avoiding injury, but actually improving their wellbeing.
Changing the process from one of injury prevention, to one of health promotion, will allow for organisations to move away from a method that is inevitably limiting the scope of positive outcomes with respect to workplace health and safety.

When we acknowledge that beyond zero there are opportunities to increase the physical and mental health and wellbeing of workers, then we open ourselves up to the possibility of experiencing meaningful safety improvement that is both achievable and sustainable.

About the author
Dr Rod Gutierrez is Global Leader – Culture and Change Management, DuPont Sustainable Solutions
DuPont Sustainable Solutions is one of 12 DuPont businesses. Bringing customers the benefits of integrated global consulting services and process technology enterprise, it applies DuPont’s experience, history of innovation, problem-solving success, and strong brands to help organisations transform their workplaces and work cultures to become safer, more efficient and more environmentally sustainable.  Additional information is available at: www.sustainablesolutions.dupont.com.