Time to end The Zero Injury Argument

man and woman wearing brown leather jackets

Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels.com

by Phil La Duke

It still surprises me that we in safety engage in stupid and exhausting debates, chief among them zero-injury targets.  This might shock some of you but I believe in Zero Injuries, but not in how it is applied in many of our workplaces. Zero injuries should be a value, not a target. Values are indelibly stamped on the very core of a company they are the unbreakable laws.  When we don’t live up to our values we are ashamed of ourselves and we don’t make excuses, rather we resolve to do better. When zero injuries are a value that’s how we react. We should be emotionally devastated that someone died on our watch. We should be horrified that someone lost a limb, or an eye, or became closed-head injured on our watch.  All of us; from the CEO to the janitor should be asking what we can learn from these events. We should dig and peel back the layers until we find the system cause that set these horrible things into motion. That’s what having zero injuries as a culture looks like.

And when you do achieve your value, you should investigate why and how you were able to do so.  Apply the same rigor into finding out why no one was harmed as you do when someone is killed; that’s what makes you safer.

If zero injuries is a value you don’t celebrate every time no one dies. You don’t deserve credit for something you’re SUPPOSED to do. Do you give someone a reward for not crapping in the stairwell? NO!

In my new book, (shameless plug)  I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business I devote considerable space in the book to Deming and how his 14 Points can be applied to worker safety.  One of the most hotly contested is point ten, “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce.” Before you react in a huff, I want you to re-read that point but replace the word “defects” with “injuries” and take a moment to reflect on that. If, as Deming contends, most faults (for our purposes a defect in a manufactured part is the same as an incident) are rooted in the system and beyond the control of the workforce then we need to focus on the system.  I have often said that if nobody wants to get hurt and your system is supposed to hurt them, then fix the problem, not the blame.

If safety truly is one of our core values, both as a company and as a person, then we must stop counting bodies as a means of determining how good a job we are doing.  Instead, we need to focus on the things that cause safety:

Causing Safety

  • Competency: If people don’t know how to do their jobs, or have to fill in the gaps left by poor training they can’t do their jobs safely. Competency should be the crux of a performance evaluation, not whether or not someone makes his or her numbers or how many days absent they are.  Furthermore, the performance evaluation should be used as a coaching tool; a means to identify those who need additional training.
  • Process capability. As Deming points out it is usually a system problem, not a behavior problem. Often the system encourages or even dictates the behavior. SPC, Six Sigma, and literally dozens of other measures can tell you the health of your processes.
  • Leadership. As I have pointed out many times, it takes a relatively few people to step up to lead an organization to a sustainable change.  Leaders have to find the intestinal fortitude to actually LEAD.  Leading doesn’t happen in offices, or in boardrooms, or in meetings. Leadership happens on the front line, engaging with workers and walking the talk.  The need to exemplify the culture they want; they must BE the change they want to see. And for all you people nodding along like a bobblehead on the dashboard of a VW bus with poor suspension traveling down a cow path, I’m talking to YOU as much as anyone. Get out to the front line, roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Determining the effectiveness of your leaders can be judged through surveys that can double as engagement surveys.
  • Hazard &Risk Management. Variation creates hazards and the risk of injury.  WKnow what hurts people,.  We know how they get hurt.  We walk by these physical conditions and behaviors without even noticing, never mind actually asking the question “why does this hazard exist?” If Zero Injuries is a value we can only make it a reality by intervening and getting to root causes. We must LEARN from injuries. Instead of counting bodies, start counting how many hazards were found, contained,  and corrected on time.
  • Accountability Systems.  We’re fond of telling people that everyone has a job in safety, okay, but what IS that job and how does one know it is being performed properly? Again we need to know why something happened (or didn’t happen) before we can establish metrics for scoring accountability systems, but the turnover rate is a great place to start.
  • Engagement.  People often mistake motivation with engagement.l  Motivated people work toward a reward while engaged workers do what they do because it’s the right thing to do.  Engagement surveys are great measures, but so are the number of grievances, employee morale, absenteeism, and turnover.


Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here http://www.marriahpublishing.com/iknowmyshoesareuntied  or on Amazon.com later this week. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).


My Latest Article for HSME

By Phil La Duke

For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Health and Safety Middle East it is the Region’s Only Industrial Health and Safety Magazine Promoting holistic occupational safety across the Middle East and Africa, HSME shares best practices and cross industry knowledge to ensure safer workplaces for all.

Since HSME’s launch in 2008 a lot has changed in the Middle East and Africa, but our commitment to the region’s industrial safety has remained constant. Workers’ conditions, the ever more colossal structures of the Middle East’s escalating skyline, and South Africa’s long history of mining strikes and violent disputes have certainly kept safety issues in the global spotlight. Published five times a year, HSME magazine shares insight from industry experts based across the Middle East and Africa to help ensure your workers get home safely at the end of each day.

Regional comments and in-depth articles get to the heart of the region’s industrial safety concerns, tackling issues ranging from staying safe while working in extreme heat, the Kafala system and ensuring Ramadan doesn’t impact on safety, through to the sustainable and ethical procurement of personal protective equipment. Worker safety must be seen as a priority. Businesses that invest in the well-being of workers experience improved reputation, resilience and results. Geography shouldn’t dictate safety. Workers are not disposable.” https://www.hsmemagazine.com/about 

I’ve done a really poor job updating my other contributions for other magazines so if you’re interested, Instinctual Safety  I was asked to write a piece on confined space but, as is so often the case, I couldn’t quite shake the idea that the fact that for every person killed in a confined space accident there are (on average) at least two who die trying to rescue the first worker.  I attribute this to people springing into action without thinking; in other words doing what is instinctual.

My Amazon Author Page is Officially Up

Please use this as the button is being directed to Amazon going forward.



My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business is Available Via Amazon.com

The day is finally here.  The pre-ordered books are being shipped and though we haven’t officially announced it, the book is now on Amazon.com


It’s  a quick read, I would by at least 5

If We Don’t Ensure Contractor Competency We’re Just Rolling the Dice With Safety


by Phil La Duke

Whenever I try to talk to a construction worker about safety—usually after they have done something amazingly unsafe—I get the same response “I know all that; we had to take that OSHA course.” I know the OSHA course (and many of the courses required by other governments around the world—one has to when one is a global consultant) very well, and under no circumstances would I attempt to operate heavy equipment, work in a confined space, or any of the sundry jobs in construction, at least not without substantial additional training.

Years ago I was head of training for a billion dollar construction management firm and while we did a great deal of training for our direct employees we did nothing for our contractors.  At that time law prohibited it, because it was considered a co-employment violation. Companies were hiring employees in guise of contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes, providing benefits, and even paying a higher wage.  The government stepped in and created a test as to whether someone was a contractor or an employee. I myself (not by that company but when I worked for a shady slimeball I affectionately refer to as “The Devil”) was forced under duress to say that I was a contractor not an employee (I could sign a paper that says I am ambassador to Monaco but that doesn’t make it true) eventually, however the IRS caught up with us and the entire workforce was converted to employees which started a mass exodus which ultimately unravelled the firm.  I won’t get into co-employment test except to say that whether or not you trained the individual was a determinate as to whether or not you were an employee. That particular point has been changed several decades ago and now when it comes to safety in the US (and many other countries) both the Employer of Record and the Host Company have a joint duty to protect workers. So if your contractor dies you are liable for it. No “ifs” “ands” or “buts” . This is a major problem for anyone who uses contractors or temporary workers. The Host Company (the company that hires the contracting firm) and the Employer of Record (the company who hired the actual worker) are often at cross purposes when it comes to safety training. Having worked at a Host Company I understand the mindset that when you hire a contractor you expect him or her to come to the job ready and able to perform the work and do so safely.  Having been an Employer of Record who provided contractors to companies I understand that there are hard limits to what I can teach the worker about the safety issues they might encounter.

So in a perfect world the contracting firm should train its staff (or better yet train and verify the competency of its staff) in the core duties of a trade and the Host Companies need to train

Contractors in the specific hazards that they are likely to encounter on their worksites.  Unfortunately we are still stuck in a vicious cycle where contracting companies assume that their workers are qualified and competent with no real evidence besides a card issued by a third party. There is a saying that when you ASSUME you make an Ass out of U and Me, but unfortunately when we ASSUME that someone is qualified and competent people die if we are wrong.  Training doesn’t necessarily mean competency, years of experience doesn’t equal competency, and even a Union card doesn’t prove competency.

So what happens if we don’t verify the competency of contractors.  Maybe nothing and maybe something horrific. Incompetent employees often convince themselves that they are competent because they themselves have not been hurt on the job.

So what’s the answer? 1) verify that they completed the training 2) follow up by demonstrating how you want the job done on your site, 3) provide coaching and course correct when necessary, and finally 4) enforce the safety rules.

Too often none of these are done and in many cases supervisors at the Host Company look the other way either because they want the work to get done, or  more frequently, because they believe that if they intercede they will somehow become liable if the person ends up injuring either themselves or another.  Still other supervisors believe that they are not allowed to direct a contractor to work more safely. Not only should they be allowed, they should be required to do so, and if your lawyer tells you differently, maybe it’s time for a new lawyer who keeps up with the law.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be ordered here http://www.marriahpublishing.com/iknowmyshoesareuntied  or on Amazon.com later this week. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted  by the publisher (expect less reprints and more new material).

Forget BBS There Is A Better Way

Causing Safety

by Phil La Duke

Let me begin by thanking one of my readers for suggesting this subject.  I made a remark about how there are far more effective, cheaper, and sustainable ways to address worker safety than BBS, and she was interested in the details.  I will apologize in advance for the length of this post but I could probably write 1000 of each of the elements.

But before we begin let me just say that BBS proponents are absolutely correct that behaviors must be addressed (mostly their own). 100% of injuries involve behavior as a causative factor because if someone isn’t doing something he or she is not likely to get hurt.  The previous statement can be deceptive. Years ago, a boiler exploded in a nearby factory killing (if my memories serves) four workers. The workers did nothing wrong; they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The boiler was well maintained, showed no sign of damage, and was well within its useful life.  Ultimately, the fault was found to be in the metal that was used to create the boiler itself. Someone at the foundry decided to go out of process and create the steel (or iron I honestly don’t know which) outside the normal operating procedure which produced material that was significantly less durable than it was supposed to be.  So the behavior here was so far up the chain of causation it is doubtful that the person who made that decision almost a decade earlier would likely be identified let alone held accountable. The point I am trying to make is that I don’t oppose addressing unsafe behaviors, I am merely pointing out that doing so is a lot more complicated than the snake oil industry would have you believe.

So what then is the answer? First let’s start with the assumption that “safety” is not the absence of injuries, rather, it is the absence of risk.  Since the absence of risk is impossible, we need to accept that absolute safety is a fairytale. Second, let’s agree that what we call “safety” doesn’t just happen, rather it is the product of the efforts of many people throughout the organization. Finally, let’s acknowledge that the organization must truly have safety as a value.  Some confuse the noun value with the verb value. The noun “value” means a deeply ingrained belief, so entrenched in who we are that it is almost impossible to act in a way that contradicts this belief. The verb, “to value” is to place worth on something. One can value safety without having safety as a value, and this distinction is critical and key.  All this means that if your leadership places a value on safety, but does not have safety as one of each and everyone of their values, the organization will always struggle with a sustainable safety because when we place value on something that value isn’t static, in fact, in some organizations it can be extremely fluid. In other words when we place value on something it becomes a priority and in so doing competes with other priorities.

So if safety is a core value then it is non-negotiable.  The safest companies in the world have this value, but what does that really mean. I have found there are two kinds of support for safety, philosophical and operational.  Philosophical support for safety is almost universal, I am yet to meet a CEO who says, “I would love to kill more workers (I even made a list) but I just can’t afford it” or a middle manager who says “we are going to make my production goals even if I have to kill have my workers to do it.”  No one in their right minds says these things though I often wonder how many leaders secretly feel this way to some extent. At the risk of repeating myself I will explain this further when I get to the section on leadership.

The business elements (in no particular order) that most profoundly influence our operating risk (what we call safety) are:

  • Competency,
  • Process Capability,
  • Leadership,
  • Hazard and Risk Management,
  • Accountability Systems, and
  • Engagement


When most people think of competency they think of a worker’s ability to do the job, and for the most part they are correct, but there’s more to it than that.  Competency touches many functions of the organization and unfortunately the Safety function has little to do with this area. Competency begins by having accurate work instructions that are kept up-to-date and are the source of truth for doing a specific job.  Sadly, jobs often change (sometimes many times and profoundly) between the time a job is conceived and when it is ultimately executed in the work area. Job descriptions need to accurately and SPECIFICALLY reflect the physical, mental, and emotional requirements of a job.  Unfortunately, in our caution to ensure that we don’t limit ourselves in our ability to freely and quickly place people in other jobs we tend to put in vague statements like “and other duties as directed” into the job descriptions, which, if you think about it means a front-line leader could easily put someone in harms way because the job description allows for it.  You can’t have flexibility without adding variance and variance increases risk.

Next we have Human Resources and hiring managers who bicker about “getting a body in here” when they need to fill vacancies.  The job description should be matched against the competencies of the candidate and the areas where the applicant lacks competency should be evaluated. The recruiter, staffing manager, and hiring manager should determine if the holes in the competency can be filled through training. There is TON wrong with how we currently do safety training. “What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How To Fix It” over 12 years ago and not much has changed.  If you want to read it, it’s in my new book, but it can also be found by Googling it. Once someone is trained, this training must be reinforced on the floor. Too often in the rush to get the new person production ready, we shortcut the reinforcement on the job. Experts suggest that as little of 20% of training is retained, and I ask you, does that sound like someone capable of making safe choices? If you don’t have time to do it right when will you find time to do it over?  Finally, competency must be evaluated periodically and interventions should be administered where necessary. The average performance evaluation is a joke. We talk about attendance, quality of the work, teamwork, and a lot of crap that is meaningless compared to “can this worker safely and accurately perform his or her job, and if so, does he or she?” For my money there isn’t much more to evaluate.

Even the most dedicated and intelligent worker is subject to behavioral drift.  Behavioral drift is when a worker subconsciously moves away from the standard. This movement happens gradually until the worker is working completely out of specification and is endangering people, process, and production.  Frequent interaction with workers (along with knowing the standard and job requirements) by leaders to nudge the workers back into specification is the most effective way of ensuring not only competence but also peak performance.  We can’t forget that competency degrades over time—people forget steps, people get older less able to meet the physical rigors of a job, and people find short cuts.

Every process in your company, from processing invoices to building widgets, or delivering packages, or extract raw material from the ground has process variability.  Every piece of equipment has upper and lower control limits and as long as the process operates at between those ranges things go wonderfully. The purpose here isn’t to teach even a rudimentary lesson in SPC, Six Sigma, or any continuous improvement,  but suffice to say, all processes (both highly automated and highly manual, and everywhere in between) operate with some variation and depending on the process that can be okay or it can be disastrous (imagine how tight the process controls must be on the manufacture of medicines for example.)

Now I want you to consider the variation of the people working in your company.  If you are like most workplaces you have a diversity of people by age, gender, height, weight, etc. You probably have a handful of very smart people and a handful of not so bright bulbs and the rest of your population is somewhere in between.  You also have a diversity of capabilities. Some people may only be able to lift 15 lbs 60 times an hour for 10 hours a day, while others can only lift 7.5 lbs at that same rate. If the person who is less physically robust than the job requires he or she will eventually wear out and suffer ergonomic injuries or simply quit.  Before that happens the worker is going to likely suffer fatigue which in turn has been linked to a variety of illnesses and impairs people’s judgement (depending on the amount of fatigue it can be as impaired as someone legally drunk on alcohol.)

Similarly, a person doing a job that requires heavy concentration (remember all those awareness campaigns and friendly reminders to pay attention?) after several hours the person is likely to suffer from attention fatigue and this has the same adverse effects as physical fatigue.  

So what can be done to improve safety by ensuring competency? Several things:

  1. Create multi-functional teams so that HR, Engineering, Training, Safety, and Operations can get the right people in the right jobs and can design jobs that are less likely to allow incompetent people to work in jobs that will hurt them or others.
  2. Periodically coach workers to acquaint them with the job standards.
  3. Ensure the Standard Work Instructions are in place and up to date.

Process Capability

It should stand to reason that a process that doesn’t return the same result on a consistent basis is likely to eventually hurt someone.  If a person has to figure out on the job how to safely do it—not the way it is supposed to work but the way things actually work on the job—they are most likely to do so through minor injuries, near misses and company folklore.  Every job, and I mean EVERY SINGLE JOB should have a Standard Work Instruction associated with it, and that SWI should be based on the safest way to do the job.  As with the case of competency, improving process capability doesn’t just make the workplace safer, it positively impacts, Quality, Delivery, Cost, Morale, and the Environment. Things run more smoothly which results in less work for everyone and a more pleasant workplace which in turn reduces the stress put on workers and eliminates some of the problems we mentioned in the section on competency.

So what can be done to improve safety by improving your process? Again, several things:

  1. Implement a Total Productive Maintenance System.
  2. Fix equipment before it completely breaks down.
  3. Integrate safety into continuous improvement programs.


Perhaps I should have started here. Leadership might not be most important in creating a safer worksite but poor leadership is the best way to destroy a safety culture.  Leadership is more than telling people what to do, it’s about inspiring people to trust and respect you. Your executive suite to your frontline leaders MUST spend time with the people on the frontline both to set an example and to understand why people so frequently violate rules.  Spending quality time talking to workers and hearing to their challenges (and more important DOING something about those challenges) and getting back to the people who voiced them is essential. If you don’t think you’re leaders are willing or capable of this start looking for another job because you won’t be successful at a company led by such people.

There is much more I could say on leadership but I will finish with this leaders either have safety as a deeply ingrained value or it’s so much lip service, and the people on the front line have a pretty accurate bullshit meter.

So what can be done to improve safety leadership?

  1. Re Educate them. We have been feeding this psychobabble for so long we have to reprogram to see safety as a crucial business element.  
  2. Provide meaningful leading and lagging indicators and teach them what the data is telling them.
  3. Teach them that leading safety is no different than leading any of their other core values.

Hazard and Risk Management

Hazard management is not nearly as difficult as it is made out to be.  The first line supervisor owns the responsibility for the safety of the workplace.  It’s fine to say that everyone owns safety in the workplace but I can be the safest worker in the world but if someone is drunk on a fork truck and runs me down there isn’t much I can do about it.  Supervisors should conduct a walk through of their areas once a week at a minimum, recording hazards (I’ve developed a database that was tablet based and automatically routed hazards to the person responsible for correcting the issue.) It established timelines for correction depending on the risk level of the hazard.) The system doesn’t need to be that sophisticated, however, pencil and paper work just fine as long people are held accountable and containment actions are properly tracked.

So what can be done to improve safety by managing our risk and eliminating hazards?

  1. This is something of a no-brainer, injuries require three things: a hazard, and interaction, and a catalysts. By eliminating any one of these elements you reduce the risk of injuries.

Accountability Systems

I’ve found that the best system for accountability is Just Culture.  Just Culture recognizes that there are different approaches to different behaviors.  Under Just Culture there are three recognized behaviors: human error, at risk behavior, and recklessness (some will argue carelessness but it’s not an issue I want to get into right now.) Human Error is unintentional and subconscious and therefore it would not be just to punish people for something they never intended; these types of behaviors tend to be directly related to a system flaw. At risk behavior can range from simple actions taken because a process doesn’t cover the situation to actions that skirt the line of recklessness.  These types of behaviors tend to be relative to people thinking that they have decision rights that they really don’t possess, the proper course of action is to coach the employee in the appropriate way to have handled the situation. Of course recklessness, defined as a behavior so risky that the risk was completely disproportionate with any possible reward. There is no excuse for recklessness and the offender should be dismissed from the company. Under Just Culture the outcome doesn’t matter—a human error that kills someone is treated in the same way a human error that has little consequences.  This is hard for people to accept, but absent other extenuating circumstances simple human error is the same irrespective of the outcome. The only truly subjective area of Just Culture is in risk taking and that can be addressed during training.

So how do we benefit from increased accountability?

  1. Accountability systems increase morale and reduce the perception of favoritism or of double standards.


Engagement is far different than motivation. A motivated employee will work toward a reward but quickly loses interest after the goal has been reached.  Engagement is the tendency is to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Engaged workers have a strong work ethic that is more intrinsic. Dr. Paul Marciano’s book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work is a great hand book for engaging working.


  1. Engaged employees are easier to manage, are self-directed, and participate in making things better all the way around.


I said at the onset that there was a better, easier, cheaper and alternative to BBS.  This may at first blush seem to be none of those. But consider, most of the work will be done by others in the organization and the benefits end up improving the range of business performance across the spectrum it really is easier, faster, cheaper, and more effective, but more than that, it’s YOURS, you decide how to make adjustments to your business needs and environment. You aren’t beholding to an overly bureaucratic system with copyrighted materials.  What’s more, it’s scalable. If you just improve ONE of these areas you will improve your business and your safety more than ten years of BBS.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be ordered here http://www.marriahpublishing.com/iknowmyshoesareuntied  or on Amazon.com later this week. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted  by the publisher (expect less reprints and more new material).


This Is the Last Week To Order My Book Postage Free

The final changes to my book are being made at the publisher right now.  After these are done the pre-orders will be fulfilled and then it will be available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel etc.  Here’s the thing, once the book is out of the pre-order stage you will have to pay postage, no big deal if you are ordering from the U.S. but it can be up to $8.00 USD (or more) for those overseas.  (We ate the postage as a thank you to those who pre-ordered.) So this is the LAST week for free postage so if that’s important to you. Order away.