When I was the head of safety for a large factory back in 2008, if someone would have asked me whether achieving zero accidents was possible, I would have said "no." And I would have been wrong.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.” – Henry Ford

That quote has been referred to so many times, it may have lost some of its power, but it is just as true today as it was when Henry Ford first said it. Our beliefs dictate our effort. When it comes to keeping workers safe, we need a goal of zero accidents.

When I believed zero accidents was not possible, it was based on forty-one years of history with our factory. I was the safety officer for the world’s largest fluorescent light factory. It was a twenty-four-hour operation with 500 employees working with glass, high-speed equipment, and fire.

What I did not understand at the time was the power that can be harnessed when management and the workforce commit to safety. We had never in the plant’s history made a united commitment to protect each other: to establish safety as our number one priority and create a safety culture.

A “culture,” can be defined as the values and behaviors of a group. We wanted our culture to value safety first. No work goals were to jeopardize a worker’s safety.

In 2009 we had a 50% reduction in OSHA recordable accidents and 75% in lost time accidents. In 2010 we continued to improve and saw one entire shift go the full year with no OSHA recordable accidents, and then a large department did the same, and another. They had proven to all of us that a zero accident was possible. I did some digging and found we had employees with over thirty years of safe work history!

We changed our safety slogan to “The Journey to Zero.” We got a life-size cardboard cutout of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick as our new safety mascot. We wanted someone that represented taking a quick journey, and a NASCAR driver got everyone’s attention. Whenever someone got hurt, we put a band aid on Danica to show where the injury was. Most of Danica’s band aids that year were from minor accidents as our safety continued to improve.

We made race car safety t-shirts that had our safety slogan, “The Journey to Zero.” Our target each year was to reduce accidents by a set percentage over the previous year. But our goal was now: Zero Accidents!

On signs and bulletin boards throughout the factory you would see:

  • Our Safety Target for this year is less than_____ OSHA RECORDABLE ACCIDENTS
  • Our Safety Goal is ZERO OSHA RECORDABLE ACCIDENTS

The “targets” served as our incremental improvements on our journey to zero, like mile markers while running a marathon. Achieving targets gave us something to celebrate.

The Goal Must Be Zero Accidents

How many work-related injuries is an acceptable amount? When you think about it, the goal must be zero. When management and the workforce focus on making safety number one, amazing things happen. We become more aware of unsafe conditions and unsafe behavior. Like a light bulb vs. a laser, we gain intensity and a stronger desire to keep everyone safe. Zero accidents were everyone’s safety goal. We (the hourly staff and management) came up with a five-fold safety formula.

Our Five-Fold Safety Formula

We focused on identifying the five leading indicators of accidents:

  1. Short Cuts
  2. Snap Decisions
  3. Complacency
  4. Unsafe Behavior
  5. Unsafe Conditions

Our entire workforce was actively seeking them out.

When workers identified unsafe behaviors or unsafe conditions, they used our Kaizen system to create a safety project and address the safety issues. Between 2009 and 2012, we had over 2000 completed safety projects.

We trained all employees in basic hazard assessment. We wanted them to understand and recognize hazards in their work area. They needed to understand the controls in place to protect them from each hazard.

Is Zero Accidents Possible?

Now when someone asks me if zero accidents are possible, I say "yes." Henry Ford had it right. When we changed our belief and embraced safety, we saw that zero accidents was possible.

What do you think? Are zero accidents possible? What do your management team and workforce believe? Based on experience, I can now say that zero accidents are possible.

Make Zero Accidents your goal. It begins with belief. Henry Ford had it right. If we applied Henry’s belief to worker safety, it would go like this:

“If you think you can achieve zero accidents, or believe you can’t achieve zero accidents - you're right.”

What do you believe?