Health and Safety Part 2: Beyond Zero

6th October 2017

As part of the 2017 Wilson James Health and Safety Tour which took place earlier this month, several Directors have taken over the Sector Expertise Blog programme to write a series of three Health and Safety articles over the next month. 

The first, by Chief Information Officer Sean Kelly, addresses commonly held misconceptions about Health and Safety.  The second, by Peter Jacobs, Managing Director Logistics Services, will provide some thoughts on the benefits we have realised from Health and Safety generally and look to what we can expect in the future.  The third, by Darren Ward and Chas Bray, our Business Performance Director and Head of Health and Safety respectively, will consider behavioural safety and why most of our accidents are now caused by unsafe acts rather than unsafe conditions.

Last time out, Chief Information Officer Sean Kelly’s post was entitled Health and Safety – Do we need it? and in it Sean exploded some popular myths and emphasised the conclusion that, whilst it might be hard at times, the goal of healthy and safe people was undeniably a good idea.

In this post I would like to go beyond the concept of the importance of RAMs, regulations and the HSE and explore the challenges and opportunities that a behavioural safety programme can bring to individuals and organisations.

Let me start by going back quite a few years to 2002 when I was lucky enough to lead the first big behavioural safety programme in Europe by a major construction management organisation. Incident & Injury Free was ground breaking for the construction industry. It used techniques and materials developed for the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries to challenge the beliefs and practices of experienced construction professionals. Safety in construction has come a long way in the last 15 years, but if we can recapture the enthusiasm of those early years of behavioural safety then I believe we can make some step changes in the way we work now.

The first important part of behavioural safety is to challenge the beliefs of the individuals. As always you have to start by “looking in the mirror.”

Your belief has to move from:

“Life is dangerous and risky, sites are dangerous places, accidents happen, and people will be hurt……..but it won’t be me!”


“All accidents are preventable! Everybody can go home safely every day!”

When we started Incident & Injury Free, we ran a series of two day “Commitment Workshops.” At the end of the first day all the delegates were uncomfortable, ill at ease and often angry. I had many arguments in the bar with old friends. They had years of experience, they all had stories of incidents where friends had been hurt or killed at work. Accidents happen…they always have and always will.

By the end of the second day those same hardnosed professionals stood up and committed to an Incident & Injury Free future. Different things convinced different people that it was possible; for me it is simple. We have all been on sites that have been injury free yesterday, they are injury free today…so with the right practices and behaviours they can be incident free tomorrow, and the next day and forever.

As Sean said, it is hard, it takes continuous attention and great leadership at every level in an organisation. But if everybody goes home safely every day then of course it’s worth it!

But my post is entitled “Beyond Zero” and promised the possibility of step changes in the way we work now! What happens if we create a wonderful culture of behavioural safety and have “zero accidents?”

To get to that level of safety culture an organisation has to develop genuine relationships between individuals where our priority is to openly and explicitly care for each other’s wellbeing.  At Wilson James we describe our company as a family and we already have many great relationships in place.

Beyond zero lies the possibility of improved wellbeing. Of going home not only safer but better because the environment at work leads to improved mental and physical health. And with a healthier workforce comes a healthier organisation.

It’s a win/win situation for the company and the workforce. Focusing sincerely and credibly on Health, Safety and Wellbeing in a Behavioural Safety Programme improves productivity. Happy healthy workers do a better job. That is a good thing! The concept that Health and Safety reduces productivity is yesterday’s thinking!

Industry in the UK is struggling with the problem of poor productivity and traditional economics has no good answers. Very few have yet realised that the answer is better Health and Safety!