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Introduction

Zero Accident Vision is a philosophy which states that nobody should be injured due to an accident. Rather than a purely numerical target, it stands for a mindset focused on accident prevention. In terms of accident prevention strategies, Zero Accident Vision can be viewed as a way of thinking based on the principle that all accidents are preventable. When no accidents are allowed or approved, this provides a basis for learning from accidents and improving processes.

Definition and dimension of Zero Accident Vision

Philosophy

Vision Zero is more of a philosophy rather than a numerical goal. It is based on the notion that nobody should be injured or killed in an accident. People tend to make errors, but erroneous actions should not result in injuries. This is one reason why safety should be emphasized in planning of any human –working or living – environment. The Zero Accident Vision is based on the belief that all accidents are preventable, and therefore promoting the Zero Accident Vision is an important strategy for preventing workplace accidents.

The concept of zero accident vision in the workplace has a long tradition but over the last decade, zero accident vision has moved away from accident prevention and has been broadened to the promotion of safety, health, and well-being at work[1][2]. That is why the commonly accepted term is now Vision Zero rather than Zero Accident Vision. From that perspective, the Vision Zero for work-related health, safety and well-being is based on the assumption that all accidents, harm and work-related diseases are preventable. The implementation of Vision Zero in a workplace is a dynamic process rather than a goal, and organisations are using various approaches to support and foster this process. Vision Zero encompasses both effective measures to prevent work-related accidents and diseases and innovative practices to promote safety, health and well-being at work[2][3].

Zero Accident Vision is important in an occupational safety and health (OSH) management system. There is an overall consensus in research that OSH management should be seen as part of the overall business management structure, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and workers’ involvement, have a positive effect on OSH performance[4].

In the EU OSH Strategic Framework (2021-2027)[5], Vision Zero plays a pivotal role in the effort to eliminate work-related deaths. This entails reinforcing a culture of prevention within organisations and among individual workers. To promote a Vision Zero approach to work-related deaths, the EU Commission aims to enhance data collection on accidents at work and occupational diseases, and the root causes of work-related deaths. Lessons learnt from ‘near misses’ and critical incidents and exchange of information on these events will lead to improved prevention across the EU[5].

Safety culture of a workplace is in a key issue for the implementation of the Zero Accident Vision. A safety culture determines how safety practices actually are performed in a workplace, not how they are expressed in the guidelines and regulations. In many cases, the roots of occupational accidents lie in a poor safety culture. The commitment and safety attitude of management and all workers is important when implementing Vision Zero.

Nowadays, the importance of safety is becoming more and more valued in workplaces and in civil society as a whole. Good safety culture has a positive influence on quality, reliability, competence and the productivity of a company[6], and therefore complying with the Zero Accident Vision represents a competitive advantage for a company. The role of the management in creating good safety culture cannot be under-estimated.

Learning from accidents and near misses

According to the Zero Accident Vision all accidents are preventable. One of the leading ideas is to learn from those accidents that have occurred and to take corrective actions to prevent similar accidents occurring again. Learning from accidents and near miss situations helps people to react to similar situations in the future. When confronted with an uncertain situation, for example a situation with a major potential risk, people tend to seek a solution from their past experience, from memory. Thus accident investigation is a learning crucial tool. Workplaces with positive pro-safety attitudes carry out similar investigation to near miss cases as they do for actual accidents.

Near miss cases provide a company with powerful learning instruments and a lesson in how to implement accident prevention actions. Near miss cases are these cases where nobody was injured, but where an injury would have been possible. Finding the root causes for near miss cases helps to prevent more serious accidents happening if a similar situation were to occur later. Therefore, in all accident prevention strategies, it is essential to recognise what has happened in the past, and to apply corrective actions after recognising the dangers and risks.

The Zero Accident Vision does not accept that accidents simply happen because of bad luck. Human error or haste are often seen as the root cause of an accident, and in many cases there is probably some truth in this proposal. Factors like individual unsafe actions are hard to control, but organisational and contextual factors are present before the occurrence of an accident[7]. Finding the root causes and taking corrective actions on the basis of these findings may also increase the profitability of a company as well as improving occupational safety and well-being in the workplace[8].

Leaving room for the unexpected

Accidents do not necessarily happen where and when expected: even though it seems that all possible risks have been identified and carefully considered, something quite unpredictable may still take place. Traditionally risk assessment includes assessing several possible risk assumptions in a limited period of time. Compared to this traditional assessment style, resilience within the context of risk control concentrates on future occasions that may challenge the operations at any given time and situation. Resilience means the ability to (1) cope with unpredictable challenges, and (2) flexibility to act in a way that operations can be returned to the normal by causing minimum damage to individuals or/and property. Resilience is based on something that the organisation does, rather than something that the organisation has[9]. This means that in order to provide a safe work environment, an organisation has to have the ability to manage processes that may at times be unpredictable, as well as maintaining the capability to respond to both expected and unexpected developments.

Driving a car is an example of resilience thinking. Even in very light traffic, the driver should be able to look ahead and to observe any kind of movement or change in the traffic environment. However, the driver can never be quite certain of what lies ahead on the road and what unexpected actions might be taken by other drivers. The same goes for OSH management. Organisations must be able to function and survive in environments that are dynamic, both partly unknown and partly predictable. In order to be effective, it is necessary for organisations to look forward and to prepare for the problems that may lie ahead, but might not yet have been foreseen[9].

Leaving room for the unexpected is important if one is striving for zero accidents. Even though much may have been done to prevent accidents, some risks will remain. One of the biggest recurring risks is assuming that everyone is protected if safety strategies and plans are followed. However there is a possibility that new risks have not been identified and they may lead to serious accidents. Regular safety assessments and a pro-active attitude are essential for preventing accidents.

Success factors for Zero Accident Vision

Management commitment and workers participation

Top management plays a key role when improving occupational safety, because preventing accidents and creating a better safety culture requires resources – both work time and financial input. Those leaders who value safety highly, also value their employees' well-being[10]. The information that management values safety is important to the workers. This shows that the workers and their well-being at work is valued. Managers should follow safety rules themselves and ensure that all workers are adhering to them as well. The real commitment and safety attitude of managers can be seen through their actions: Managers can show their commitment to safety by following the workplace's own safety procedures, and by not approving any unsafe behaviour from workers. For instance, it should not be acceptable to ask workers to perform their work faster if this haste will pose a risk to safety.

Though top management provides the resources for working according to Vision Zero, the commitment of each worker is equally important in order to obtain the goal. The workers' involvement and participation can be boosted by training and a thorough orientation in the work processes. Supervision and control are also important tools, as well as the management's clear message that unsafe actions are not acceptable.

Atmosphere for open co-operation

Working towards Zero Accident requires co-operation at all levels within the organisation. Achieving a safe workplace entails much work, because workers have different opinions and attitudes towards safety, and individuals behave very differently in different situations. However, the way that people behave can be influenced, and sharing the Zero Accident Vision presumes that the members of an organisation share a positive safety attitude.

Informing all workers is the first step in motivating and increasing workers' commitment to safety. The information should be extended also to temporary workers and workers from contractors. The idea of sharing the concept that safety is important and highly valued in the workplace increases safety knowledge and understanding among workers.

Transparency in information sharing is an important tool in co-operation towards better safety within an organisation. When the goal is an accident-free workplace, a worker might feel shame for having been hurt in a work accident, and he/she might try to hide the accident, this might even result in underreporting of accidents. This is not the aim of Zero Accident Vision. Every single accident, even minor accidents, needs to be reported. The transparency can be achieved by thorough safety communication which helps the workers to understand that the reason for reporting accidents is not to blame anyone. All accidents and near miss cases should be used for learning and for further prevention.

Reminders of the commitment to safety should be issued on a regular basis. For example, these can be delivered through safety campaigns focussing on a specific theme (such as tidiness in the workplace or reporting near misses).

Resources

Working towards Zero Accident Vision needs resources for adequate training (both vocational training and workplace specific safety training) and workplace orientation, appropriate working equipment and methods, enough time to perform work safety processes, and adequate PPE (personal protective equipment).

In order to work safely, workers should be aware of the risks and the correct, safe ways to work in each particular work environment and workplace. This can be achieved by safety training and orientation at the company level. Orientation is not only for new workers, but also essential when workers' tasks (1) change, and (2) new machines or equipment are introduced, or (3) after long absence from work (maternity leave, sick leaves, etc.). The principle behind safe working are adequate resources, i.e. use of appropriate working equipment and the possibility to adhere to safe working processes at all times. When the working environment or machines change, the equipment and methods need to be checked and readjusted to the current situation.

Safety processes and pro-safety attitude should be visible in the workplace. This means that personal protective equipment should be available and used whenever required. A safe way of working should be the rule, i.e. time pressure is not a reason to ignore safe working. Safety should also be part of the agenda of team meetings and adequate training must be provided to ensure safe working.

Haste increases the risk of accidents: Zero Accident Vision thinking requires that there must always be enough time to perform the task safely. Workers should be encouraged to follow safety rules and not to choose "quick but risky" solutions in order to save time.

There is no standard solution

Every workplace is different and faces different risks and has different workers. All work environments are unique combinations of many actors and situations. Therefore, no standard solution exists for achieving the goal of Zero Accidents. What really matters is that there is a resilient pro-safety attitude. Workplace specific risk assessment and risk management are crucial in achieving the goal of an accident-free workplace. In addition, as important as learning from the past, is to be alert to new risks. Improving safety is a never-ending task: even when performed well, it is never finished.

Networking

Networking and sharing good practice information can help companies promote occupational safety.

The Finnish Vision Zero Forum is an example of a voluntary-based network of workplaces which are committed to Vision Zero. The Forum consists of companies and organisations of various sizes representing various industries. Being a member of the Finnish Vision Zero Forum means that the management and staff of the organisation are committed to improving their own occupational safety and carrying out all the work that this entails. The main principle of the forum is to learn from each other, even across industries and from different business sectors.

Other examples of Vision Zero Forums are the German Zero Accident Forum[11] , the Dutch Zero Accidents Network[12] and the global Vision Zero, an initiative from the International Social Security Association (ISSA)[13]. In 2021, more than 80 countries and 11,000 organisations are participating in the ISSA’s Vision Zero strategy and campaign[1].

Implementation of Zero Accident Vision

The importance and benefits of implementing Zero Accident Vision are undeniable. Injuries cause pain and suffering to individuals and their families, as well as mental distress and probably life changes. In addition to needless human suffering, injuries result in direct expenses for workplaces, and sometimes accidents may hurt the organisation's reputation and public image, and this leads to long term financial losses. Thus accident prevention is important from every point of view.

There are different ways of implementing Zero Accident Vision, for example, campaigns are a visible way of promoting Vision Zero. Safety oriented, so-called advanced workplaces already know the principles of Zero Accident Vision (such as learning from accidents, commitment to safety, continuous risk assessment, regular training and instruction, reporting all accidents and near misses, and safety communication).

The ISSA Vision Zero project puts forward 7 golden rules for the implementation of a Vision Zero on safety, health and well-being at work based on practical management concepts. These rules are:

  1. Take leadership – demonstrate commitment
  2. Identify hazards – control risks
  3. Define targets – develop programmes
  4. Ensure a safe and healthy system – be well-organized
  5. Ensure safety and health in machines, equipment and workplaces
  6. Improve qualifications – develop competence
  7. Invest in people – motivate by participation

To support employers and managers to continuously improve the safety, health, and well-being at workplaces, the ISSA has developed a guide for employers and managers[14] based on the Seven Golden Rules. This guide is complemented by numerous other guides that address specific sectors, such as agriculture, construction, electricity or mining, as well as small businesses.

References

[1] Zwetsloot, G. I., Kines, P. Vision Zero in workplaces. In The Vision Zero Handbook: Theory, Technology and Management for a Zero Casualty Policy, 2022, pp. 1-28. Available at: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/978-3-030-23176-7_41-1.pdf

[2] Zwetsloot, G., Leka, S., & Kines, P. Vision zero: from accident prevention to the promotion of health, safety and well-being at work. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 2017, 15(2), 88-100. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14773996.2017.1308701

[3] Alanko, T., & Ruotsala, R. A Multi-Perspective Framework of Vision Zero: Toward Collaborative Promotion of Safety, Health and Well-Being at Work. Safety and Health at Work, 2022, 13(3), 372-375. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791122000592

[4] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into business management, Report, 2010. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/mainstreaming-osh-business-management

[5] Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work 2021-2027. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/safety-and-health-legislation/eu-strategic-framework-health-and-safety-work-2021-2027

[6] Cooper, D., Improving Safety Culture, A Practical Guide, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1998.

[7] Reason, J. 2005. Safety in the operating theatre – Part 2: Human error and organisational failure*. Qual Saf Health Care (14), 56–61.

[8] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, The business benefits of good occupational safety and health, Factsheet 77, 2008. Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/factsheet-77-business-benefits-good-occupational-safety-and-health

[9] Hollnagel, E., Nemeth, C. P., Dekker, S., Remaining Sensitive to the Possibility of Failure, Resilience Engineering Perspectives, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2008.

[10] Barling, J., Frone, M.R., The Psychology of Workplace Safety, Washington, American Psychological Association, 2004.

[12] Zero Accidents Network https://www.zeroaccidents.nl

[13] ISSA. Vision Zero https://visionzero.global 

[14] ISSA. Vision Zero. Resources https://visionzero.global/guides

Further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2002). New trends in accident prevention due to the changing world of work. Report, 2002. Available at: http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/reports/208 

ISSA - International Social Security Association. https://visionzero.global

ISSA - International Social Security Association 7 Golden Rules – for zero accidents and healthy work: A guide for employers and managers. Available at: https://visionzero.global/guides

ILO – International Labour Organisation. Global Vision Zero Fund aimed at supporting low-income-producing countries. Available at: https://vzf.ilo.org 

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Contributor

Richard Graveling

Pia Perttula

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

Taina Paakkonen

Karla Van den Broek

Prevent, Belgium