The Language of Safety

The Language of Safety

Language of Safety

Safety leaders are beginning to see the potential harm focusing on maintaining zero can have.

Zero-injury goals are a common part of occupational health and safety strategies. Over the past few years, there is growing concern that the language of “zero” has created a shift in how workers view safety culture.

Critics who call for the retirement of zero-injury goals warn that focus on maintaining an incident rate of zero hurts more than it helps. The argument is that it develops a culture of fear and anxiety rather than a positive environment where workers learn from close calls and mistakes.

From the other end of the spectrum, the proponents of zero-injury argue that anything above zero is unethical and removing such goals shows your workers that profits outweigh safety.

The Cause for Concern

Much of the concern stems from the industry-wide under reporting of near-misses and incidents to keep the record at zero. OSHA has warned multiple times against safety programs that offer incentives to workers who achieve a set number of injury-free hours. No worker wants to be the one who is responsible for their team missing out on an incentive, which is why some incidents go unreported. While OSHA has yet to officially call for an end to zero-injury programs, their ultimate desire is to move away from cultures of fear to cultures of reinforcement.

A More Progressive Solution

Your workforce should be motivated to make safe decisions, become engaged with safety training, and report any near-miss no matter how minor. Let every mistake be a learning opportunity and use it to improve your training strategy.

The language an organization uses to communicate its safety goals has a direct impact on worker motivation and engagement. As more companies move away from the concept of zero-injury, safety leader will need to be mindful that they are replaced with programs that encourage positive reinforcement and a strong learning culture.