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Much ado about zero

By Terry Mathis

The furor about “zero accidents” would have inspired Shakespeare to write a play. It is, indeed, a tempest in a teapot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Of course, every organization should desire to be accident free and, of course, they should not set goals that develop a tolerance for a certain level of accidents. On the other hand, goals of perfection can be demotivating when they are consistently not reached, and preaching “zero accidents” while practicing “hurry and get it done” will usually backfire.

The bottom line is, whatever you set as a goal, if you don’t have a systematic strategy for reaching success, and if your strategy is impractical, misunderstood, or not believed to be real, your goal is meaningless. Zero accidents is not a direct product you can manufacture; it is the by-product of excellent strategy and excellent execution. Setting goals for the process and monitoring the value derived from the efforts, rather than simply measuring lagging indicators, is a clearer and cleaner path to success.

Terry Mathis

Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioural and cultural safety, leadership and operational performance. For more information, visit
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