The perverse incentives of zero injury culture

Zero injury goals, also known as "zero harm", "zero accidents" or "zero incidents," are a popular safety target in many industries. The idea is simple: set a goal of zero injuries or accidents, and work towards achieving it through improved safety practices and training.

On the surface, zero injury goals seem like a noble and admirable goal. After all, who wouldn't want to work in a safe environment where nobody gets hurt on the job? However, there are some serious problems with zero injury goals that can actually create perverse incentives that undermine safety rather than improving it.

What you measure is what you get

One of the main problems with zero injury goals is that they can create a culture of fear and blame. If the goal is to achieve zero injuries, then any injury that does occur is seen as a failure and may be met with punishment or blame. This can create a culture where employees are afraid to report injuries or near misses, or where they are afraid to speak up about unsafe conditions. As a result, actual safety risks may not be identified and addressed, and the risk of future injuries may increase rather than decrease.
Employees may fear retribution from their boss or colleagues if they report an injury, or they may worry about being seen as a "liability" if they report an injury. As a result, employees may be more likely to work through their injuries or not report them at all, leading to a false sense of safety within the company.
This creates a dangerous dynamic, as it means that the true number of injuries within the company is likely being underreported. What you measure is what you get.

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Focus on the short term fixes 

Another issue with zero injury goals is that they can create a focus on short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions. In order to achieve a zero injury goal, it may be tempting to focus on quick fixes that address immediate hazards rather than addressing the root causes of accidents and injuries. This can lead to a cycle of constantly putting out fires rather than implementing more effective and sustainable safety measures.

False sense of security 

Additionally, zero injury goals can create a false sense of security. If a company has achieved a zero injury goal, it may feel like the safety risks have been fully addressed and that no further action is needed. However, safety risks are always present in any workplace, and it's important to continue monitoring and addressing them even if the goal has been achieved.


In summary, while zero injury goals may seem like a good idea, they can actually create incentives that undermine safety rather than improving it. Instead of setting zero injury goals, it's important to focus on creating a culture of safety where employees feel comfortable speaking up about safety concerns and where root causes of accidents and injuries are addressed.

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