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UK construction safety: a zero paradox?

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journal contribution
posted on 27.03.2017, 13:15 authored 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.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Published in

Policy and Practice in Health and Safety


SHERRATT, F. and DAINTY, A.R.J., 2017. UK construction safety: a zero paradox? Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 15 (2), pp. 108-116.


© Taylor & Francis


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Policy and Practice in Health and Safety on 22 March 2017, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/14773996.2017.1305040.