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Target zero incidents or accidents – is it achievable?

Dec. 5, 2018 – A university student from the UK once asked me on LinkedIn what my take was on target zero incidents or accidents at the workplace, and whether this is achievable. To be honest, I was thinking that she (the student) had been asked this question as an assignment, but then I realized this was a great opportunity to spread the safety message to a different part of the world.

December 7, 2018  By Christian Fournier

Christian Fournier

The main reason why you have to aim for target zero incidents or accidents is quite simple. Can you go to your co-workers and say, “I hope that only five of you get injured this year”? Can you face your children or your neighbours and say, “I hope that only a couple of you get hurt”?  Even though there are probably some neighbours who you wouldn’t mind getting hurt, it doesn’t send the right message. It doesn’t feel right. Therefore, you always have to strive for zero incidents or accidents.  

Even for the most experienced safety professionals, this goal of zero incidents or accidents can become an overwhelming challenge. In my opinion, the word “accidents,” should be avoided in occupational health and safety. When people think about accidents, the first thing they think is, “Oh, it’s an accident. You cannot avoid an accident.” So, people have this pre-conceived notion that workplace accidents can’t be prevented. That’s why you hear the term “incidents,” more and more in occupational health and safety.  

A good safety program is similar to an iceberg. Everybody can see the result but not all of the hard work that was put into it. What does it take to have a good safety program? There is no secret ingredient or formula – or, as one of my colleagues would say, “There is no silver bullet.”   

For me, it’s like being a chef. The ingredients and the way you mix them together are crucial to success. If you have the wrong ingredients and/or don’t mix them well, you might not have the results you wish your safety program to have.


But what ingredients are we talking about?

Corporate values
Safety should be part of the organization’s corporate values. It demonstrates your organization’s commitment to safety, from senior management down to all employees, to the world.

Commitment from management
Commitment from senior management is crucial to the success of a safety program. Companies accomplish this in different ways, including through top-down safety programs or senior management site visits to specifically talk to employees about safety.

Policies and procedures
Employees must know an organization’s rules. That’s where policies and procedures come into play. Without them, serious injuries will occur.

Near-miss reporting system
The goal of this system is to identify near-miss incidents. This is an imperative tool in accident prevention and many companies have their own version, such as a MAP (Major Accident Prevention) program.

Behaviour-based safety
This is part of employee involvement in the safety program. Employees should help management supervise other employees to ensure that everybody is working in a safe manner. Again, several companies have taken this idea and modified it for them.

EHS training
But you cannot have safe employees if you don’t show them how to work safely. You can easily implement safety training into you monthly safety meetings, covering different training topics every month.

Good communication within an organization is especially important for safety. Some companies use the following:

  • Pre-shift meetings
  • Phone apps
  • Safety moments
  • Communication monitors
  • Safety memos

Safety improvement program
Like anything else in business, being able to improve as an organization is important for growth. Same thing when it comes to safety.  Organizations must always look to improve. Implementing a five-year strategic safety plan is one way to do this.

Safety audit program
Safety audits are always useful to help determine if there are any gaps – or what I like to call improvement opportunities – in the organization’s program and to see how the safety program is performing. There are a number of safety audit programs, such as:

  • Leadership safety audits
  • Internal safety audits
  • Third-party safety audits
  • OHSAS (Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series) 18001 audits
  • COR (Certificate of Recognition) audits

Risk assessments
How do we determine if there is a chance of someone being injured doing a certain task? By conducting a risk assessment. Several companies took this and made it their own. There are a number of risk assessments, such as:

  • Take Five
  • JSA (job safety analysis)
  • Pre-shift meetings

Employee Involvement
As I said earlier, employees must be involved in order to be successful in safety. Employees can be involved in several different ways:

  • Behaviour-based safety
  • Joint health and safety committees
  • Accident investigations
  • Health and wellness committees
  • Internal safety audits
  • Workplace inspections
  • Hazard reporting

Joint health and safety committees
Health and safety committees are the driving force in an organization’s safety culture. They also play a crucial role in the safety program. Depending on their involvement within the safety program, they can help positively influence employees.

Self-assessment questionnaire to suppliers
Organizations are not only responsible for their employees’ safety, but also for that of everyone who conducts business there. The assessment helps your organization evaluate contractors’ safety programs. In order to improve your organization’s safety program, you must have contractors with good safety records and programs.

While everyone can use these ingredients, you have to keep in mind that every organization is different. Consequently, you will have to modify or add ingredients to have the maximum results for your organization.   

Safety is continuous – never completed, never done. And we should always strive to improve safety.

Christian Fournier is the safety and training co-ordinator for Fornebu Lumber in New Brunswick, as well as a first responder instructor trainer for Saint John Ambulance. Christian is also a member of CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineering) and a director on the board of the New Brunswick chapter. He was recently selected for the Outstanding Service to the Safety Profession award for the New Brunswick Chapter. christian.Fournier@fornebulumber.com

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