The big debate in safety circles is always about zero. That debate surfaced again last week with the passing of Paul O’Neil. You may remember him as the Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush. Safety Professionals remember him as the CEO of Alcoa in the late 90’s and early 2000’s who lead with safety and accomplished great things organizationally. Can we achieve zero injuries? I’ve been on both sides of that debate more than once in my work career. As a line supervisor, there was no way I could prevent every injury. People were just too stupid and we all know you can’t fix stupid. So, why bother trying.
Today, I realize that debate misses the point. I believe we can achieve zero injuries. I believe it not just because I’m in the safety profession, but because I understand that there is a direct correlation between possibility thinking and our effort level. If we believe zero is possible, then we are more likely to make the extra effort. If we don’t, then we have a built-in excuse. We are more likely to accept injuries, more likely to accept more cases of COVID19, more likely to accept at-risk behaviors.
I see it in our grocery stores where we believe we can prevent the spread of COVID19. We test workers before they begin work and require face masks. Visual references on the floor help to ensure we keep 6 feet apart. Plexiglass barriers protect the cashier and customer. Stores are taking these measures because they believe they can prevent the next case of COVID19. If we believe we can prevent the next case, shouldn’t we believe we can prevent the next occupational injury?
The issue is not whether zero is possible or not. The issue is whether we believe it is possible or not. The best leaders inspire us to believe it is possible and that our efforts are meaningful.
This is Pat Karol with Karol Safety Consulting and I believe zero is possible!