UK construction safety: a zero paradox?

2017-03-27T13:15:07Z (GMT) by F. Sherratt Andrew Dainty
The zero accident mantra has become embedded within the safety discourse of large UK construction organisations. A critique has emerged around this phenomenon and its alignment with outmoded ‘Safety I’ thinking, a consequence of the dominant focus on accident causality. But the extent to which zero-focused approaches yield reductions in accident frequency is yet to be empirically investigated. By way of an evidence-based critique, we examine the relationship between major accidents and zero approaches by drawing on Health and Safety Executive accident data over a 4 year period, together with an analysis of major contractors’ safety approaches. This reveals that working on a project subject to a zero safety policy or programme actually appears to slightly increase the likelihood of having a serious life-changing accident or fatality; a possible ‘zero paradox’. Although these findings should be treated with caution, they suggest that the apparent trend towards abandoning zero amongst some large organisations is well-founded. More pointedly, if zero policies are closing down opportunities to learn and innovate while simultaneously failing to yield reductions in serious accident rates, then this suggests a need to discard this discourse in favour of more contingent perspectives on safe working.