Much of ZERO remains a mystery - Where did it come from? Has it been beneficial? Has it been harmful? Little (if any) research has been conducted into this. What we do know is that there are many side effects. The unintended consequences of ZERO vision: Poor reactions to events, suppression of reporting, excessive quantification and an over reliance on big data, general bureaucratization, and wasted investigative resources & initiatives to name a few.
Some companies directly promote "Total ZERO" programs; openly stating that anything other than ZERO is strictly forbidden. A more common example of the manifestation of ZERO culture is the "ZERO Recordable" and "Limited Recordable" models. These rely on heavy metricization of injuries and events based off of classification - in these cases we often spend more time trying to case manage injuries, in order to manage metrics, than we do trying to learn about and fix real issues. In these cases, we seek and promote ZERO through our systems and actions rather than just outright saying: "We demand ZERO!" These organizations often have heavy handed metrics; usually maintaining various measurements and instruments of measurement in an attempt to drive betterment by measuring harder. Clocks, counts, and spreadsheet after spreadsheet summarizing safety into neat little red, yellow and green boxes.
Safety in these environments is regularly "managed" through sticks and carrots; pizza parties and bar-b-ques occur under banners that say something like "200,000,000 Hours Since Someone Last Did Something Stupid!" When the metric is inevitably not met, when the green box turns that feared shade of red, we turn to the stick. We sanction, we punish, incentives are stripped away, we meet hurt with more hurt - we whip the horse to try to make it run harder, faster and better so that we may one day cross that finish line into the zero promised land. This ineffective cycle seems endless. The sticks get bigger and bigger - the carrots get juicer and juicer. This drives these organizations to manage injuries and metrics harder and harder.
“Metric fixation leads to a diversion of resources away from frontline producers toward managers, administrators, and those who gather and manipulate data.”
― Jerry Z. Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics
The result often remains the same between Total Zero, Zero Recordable, and Limited Recordable organizations: They report less and less, they respond poorly to the events that are reported, they control stories to limit the organizations reaction, events get managed to limit or eliminate their impact on the metrics, their opportunities to learn decrease, and they squander the limited learning opportunities they do have. At peak maturity, a ZERO culture leaves an organization operating blindly. The quest for zero will eventually lead to zero. Zero learning, zero betterment, and Zero impact on serious injuries and fatalities.