There is more than one school of thought on how to achieve – or even how to envision “zero accidents”. Whether you start by looking what goes wrong or building upon what goes right, this three-part loop can act as a guide to get your company closer to that challenging goal.

The 3-part loop comes down to: 

  • Part 1: Prevent, avoid and reduce
  • Part 2: React and respond
  • Part 3: Investigate, study and adapt

1. Prevent, avoid and reduce

In part, working towards zero accidents involves putting up a fence to prevent incidents and (potentially) hazardous causes of close-calls, injuries and fatalities. Most components of this ‘fence’ are well known. Some bear reminding and for a few, the repercussions of getting it wrong, might surprise you. 

  • Make sure machines, tools and other equipment are used for their intended purpose and used properly. 
  • Inspect, repair, service and maintain these machines, tools and equipment. 
  • Provide overall safety training
  • Educate workers in workplace ergonomics so they use the correct posture. Know that musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)-related injuries represent the largest category of workplace injuries. Also: they amount to roughly 30% of all worker’s compensation expenses.
  • Have access to, provide for, and enforce the use of safety equipment
  • Prevent trips and slips, as they are the second most common cause of workplace injuries.
  • Make it so that there is no risk of objects falling
  • Practice forklift safety through operator training, pedestrian awareness and look into proximity monitoring.
  • Prevent fire hazards and the tracking of hazardous materials
  • Phase out human presence in high risk tasks and work environments.
  • Upgrade site layout and design tot mitigate safety threats – anti-slip flooring, propper ventilation, railing and toe boards, pedestrian and vehicle no-go zones, …

2. React and respond

The second part of the loop needs to be observed from two distinct angles.

The first is the reaction or response that avoids an incident actually becoming one, or that mitigates the seriousness when it does. For instance keeping a vehicle from inadvertently entering a no-vehicle zone, or intervening to ‘downgrade’ a minor accident to a near miss. 

The second angle is where there is a system and protocols in place for when an accident does occur. A swift and proper response ‘after the facts’ can save lives, prevent worse and convey a thorough sense of commitment towards worker safety. This can for example involve individual accidents of frontline workers or a wider calamity requiring adequate evacuation management.

A prompt, proper and effective reaction/response is best built upon a site-wide (company-wide) safety culture. Safety measures and rules need to be understood and supported by all, staff as well as workers.

Monitoring systems can alert workers, supervisors and/or safety systems to potentially dangerous situations, be it a decline in air quality or the proximity of a moving vehicle.

3. Investigate, study and adapt

In part this segment of the loop translates as: “learn from your mistake”. Investigate every incident, near misses and concerns voiced by workers included. Analyze what went wrong and how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. A well-known, widespread standard policy. 

On top of this reactive reflex, you should allocate time and resources in proactive measures by way of continuously updating and upgrading the workplace safety. Taking into account changes in the production process, equipment, site layout, …, but also in keeping up to speed with new technologies.

Those new technologies in work place safety can help gather and process more data so you track a lot more than actual safety incidents. It may provide an insight in previously overlooked risk hotspots. 

All this knowledge translates into adapted safety policies, training and perspectives – which should feed organically into that first – prevent, avoid and reduce – part of the loop.