Sustainable Performance Isn’t About Preventing All Accidents; It’s About Managing the Ability to Adapt and Learn

AmbulanceWith an increasing awareness of the importance of safety, we are seeing a growing trend of zero accident goals. Inherently, this is a laudable moral goal and if we truly value people in organizations, then our intentions should indeed point to a goal of not harming people during operational work. Protecting people is a good thing, but one of the problems with “zero goals” is the lack of acknowledgement about how complexity makes it impossible to predict and prevent all risk in an organization.

 Acceptable Risk and Safety Margins

Two of the principles of US Marine Corps Risk Management are to “Accept No Unnecessary Risk” and to “Make Risk Decisions at the Right Level.” Although predicting all risk is impossible, risk-based approaches are preferable to chasing “zero goals” based on lagging indicators because they explicitly acknowledge the existence of risk during planning and operational execution.

Zero harm is a worthy …