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Safety First! Zero Accidents! Are you serious?

Few companies would survive if 'Safety first' and 'Zero accidents' were their motto and goal. Why?

  • No organization's mission is to be 'safe'.

  • Safety is not a reason, but a precondition for survival.

  • Fact of life: making mistakes leads to progress.

  • Pretending to be perfect leads to drama.

  • It allows no room for error and nips learning in the bud.

  • Trial and error (after a good risk assessment!), can cause pain and grief for those involved, but as unpleasant as this may sound, it is essential to learn to improve. Zero accidents will not allow that.

"Failure is the mother of success" - Chinese proverb

Coincidence is part of life

How can we approach safety absolutely in a world where things happen over which we have little or no control? The coincidence factor has a huge influence. #Coincidence is part of life. We distinguish the 'near misses' from the '#accidents requiring medical attention' and the 'absenteeism accidents' but the difference between no accident and a significant accident can be a matter of millimetres or milliseconds and such minimal margins have a huge impact as a result from coincidence.

“As a trainee I was involved in the start-up of a converted plant for extracting oil from soybeans in the US. There was a hectic atmosphere. There was a lot of pressure on the whole team and the plant had to start producing. I was working with an experienced operator. A screw conveyor that transported the soy flakes to the extruder would no longer start up after a short standstill, because the trough of the screw was overfilled. Reset, then block the isolation switch and then with a mega-sized pipe wrench empty the screw a bit by hand and then remove the pipe wrench, so that the screw could be started up 'normally' again. I had seen that a few times, but that problem kept repeating itself with some regularity. Because I knew that 'trick' by now, I was sent to it independently because the 'experienced' operator also had to deal with other problems. I took the same action a few times (proudly!). After a few times, however, I forgot to remove the pipe wrench (also known as a 'killer'!) before restarting the screw. At start-up, that pipe wrench spun about 5 cm at full force and speed in front of my eyes. So if I had been five centimeters further forward, the wrench would have knocked me unconscious, or worse. I managed to stop the machine without accident. Then I was able to convince my supervisor that if this happened to me, it could also happen to others. The problem of unnecessary stoppage of the propeller was solved, but the approach to unblocking such an operation was also tackled differently. That was a typical case of the minimal difference between a near miss and a major accident. But in the meantime, the sign at the gate remained at zero. Were we safe? … "

Likewise, unexpected combinations of events are actually 'coincidences' and often lead to accidents. Safety is not a static phenomenon. Safety is achieved in a complex and dynamic reality.

'Zero accidents' is a nonsensical approach for people who work with dangers and risks. An objective that is not achievable has no motivational value. The entire staff listens, once again we perform a BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again!), Everyone knows that it is not feasible and the day is resumed as if nothing has happened…


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