That Zero Harm goal on all the posters may seem insurmountable. A more fruitful path is to get to the numbers behind the number… a path to get you below zero. Let’s learn how some companies achieve “Below Zero.”

Best-in-practice behavioral safety programs

One of the cool things I get to do is work with the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (CCBS).  CCBS is a not-for-profit organization whose mission  is to reduce human suffering through the application of behavioral science. Check us out (

CCBS accredits the best-in-practice behavioral safety programs around the world. It’s cool to visit these programs (currently numbering 23) and learn what makes them great. Go to and check out companies whose applications show their data and describe their behavioral safety programs in detail.

Most of these companies experienced the two S-Curves. The first drop in injuries was achieved grabbing the low-hanging fruit by implementing sound safety management systems like processes and rules, guarding and LOTO, discipline and reward programs, training, safety meetings and the like. They then experienced a “plateau” and needed to involve their employees to start the next S-Curve. They studied, learned, and ultimately adopted behavioral safety.  The second S-Curve got them substantially below industry standards and near zero.

Consider all the forces trying to increase injuries: aging equipment, aging workforces and new workers, cost-cutting and production pressures, new leadership, etc. The further you pull toward zero injuries, the more pressure you’ll feel trying to force that number back up. 

So staying near zero is an achievement by itself. But it’s not very satisfying or reassuring. Let’s discuss how to get Below Zero – even if you’re not near zero, this may be a path to consider.

Look to your improvement in reporting as your

beacon of success (or area for improvement).

Reporting – measuring communication

Communication is the key to a positive safety culture: Peers giving feedback about risk to peers, supervisors sharing safety tips with their team, managers looking at data and asking questions. The more everyone talks about safety the better.

One type of communication that is critical to reducing injuries is when employees communicate where hazards are, what risks are being taken, and when they have a close call or minor injuries.

Reporting is a behavior we can promote among our employees. Reporting helps discover where injuries lurk. Reporting allows us to intervene proactively to make the workplace safer before injuries happen. Reporting is a measure of communication and a really good one. 

Every CCBS-accredited site measures reporting. It’s easy to see the relationship between increases in reporting and decreases in injuries.

Marathon Petroleum’s Illinois Refining Division’s reporting increased in the number of behavioral safety observations turned in by their staff and contractor workforce.

Eastman Chemical’s Acetate Fiber Division’s reporting increased two ways. The number of at-risk behaviors reported by their workforce in their behavioral safety program increased as did their near-miss reports in the same time period.

Injuries tend to decrease as if pulled down by reporting; all those employees reporting are pulling it down together.

Injuries cannot go below zero and it’s rare and improbable to achieve zero injuries.  But you can achieve Below Zero with a strong reporting culture helping you fight the forces trying to increase your injury rate. More reporting allows you to proactively mitigate hazards and risks catching these forces in the act, before they injure. It’s as if all of your employees are helping you hold that rubber band down.

Look to your improvement in reporting as your beacon of success (or area for improvement). Your focus should be on increasing reporting and getting more sophisticated on how you use reporting to create a safer workplace.

Here is how you get Below Zero

Costain, Ltd., a large CCBS-accredited construction company in England, has a sustained reduction in injury rate during the past 14 years corresponding to various manifestations of successful behavioral safety programs. Their reporting system and scorecard are exceptional.

Costain’s reporting system is a simple card designed to be easily used on construction sites and can be easily customized for each project, business segment or joint venture. Typically supervisors write cards for employees. These cards offer the opportunity to report hazards, behavioral risks, and close class on an anonymous, no-name/no blame basis.

What makes their system work is that reporting turns into actions. Reporting data is reviewed and analyzed, using ABC Analysis, for environmental and behavioral causes.  Interventions are designed to make the workplace safer. But the company doesn’t stop there; it makes the employees know their reporting resulted in these actions. For example, some of their projects have adopted a “You Said, We Did” program where Costain managers take reports, act on them, and then advertise improvements back to the workforce citing the original observation. Most reports are responded to even if they cannot be acted upon immediately.

This is a critical component. If reporting results in nothing, then reporting dies out (we call this “extinction”). When reporting results in overt actions for a safer workforce, then reporting will increase (we call this “reinforcement”).

Costain has a corporate scorecard containing many categories of important types of reporting such as high-potential near misses, close calls, hazards identified, and safety observations that are tracked in time across business segments and individual projects for trends.

They create an overall ratio based on the “Safety Triangle.” Numerical goals are set based on the theory that incidents should be a low percentage of close calls, which should be a low percentage of hazards, which is a still lower percentage of behavioral observations. Goals specific to each project man-hours are set based on these percentages.  The ratios are defined so that any ratio above 100 is meeting the goal. On one spreadsheet you can tell which projects of this large complex organization need improvement and which ones are “Below Zero.”  Costain’s “Engagement” ratio is to be put on the top-level executives’ corporate dashboard as one of their seven key performance indicators.  How about that? A leading indicator of safety performance has become a corporate KPI.

As a result, Costain’s reporting has risen 75% in the past three years to more than 30,000 close call/hazard reporting and observations in 2014.