In the past 25 years, I have watched the safety profession grow. I remember listening to leaders speak of achieving zero disabling injuries. It seemed as impossible to some people then as achieving zero recordable injuries seems to many people today. When we talk about zero it isn’t the absolute many people assume. Zero has always been a moving target in safety and other fields of endeavor.
How do we keep moving forward so when we look back 25 years from now, we are amazed at how much has been accomplished in getting people home safely? In thinking about this, I thought of other major achievements that were once thought to be impossible.
Two that come to mind are the eradication of Polio and flying to the moon. The first has almost been accomplished and the second was completed in July of 1969.
It appears to me the process is the same for many great accomplishments. It begins with someone having the vision of achieving an ambitious outcome. In Stockton, California, an idea began because a single individual, Dr. Joe Serra, made yearly trips to the small country of Malawi. From there, the vision of eradicating polio from the world began. In 1985, Rotary International announced Polio Plus, which had the goal of eliminating this disease from the world. Even with such a great vision there were many people who did not believe it would be possible due to the complexities of mass immunizations and the polio vaccine itself. Because leaders believed in the vision solutions were found, and now today we have almost achieved eradication of this disease.
My second illustration of this concept is the journey to the moon. President Kennedy had the vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade. That vision and commitment was made before anyone knew how to accomplish it.
Common to other great outcomes, many people thought it would be impossible, but thanks to the leadership commitment to the vision, scientists and engineers were able to create the methods and materials that made the journey possible.
I have purposely avoided using goal as a word in this article as it a very loaded word. When we talk about zero as a goal it seems to get greater resistance from the people responsible for achieving the goal. Perhaps it is connected to the negative impact that missing a goal has on a supervisor's annual review. Vision goes beyond this because it doesn’t have the negative connotation attached to it.
No matter what level of zero injuries you are striving to achieve, it first takes vision and commitment, and then the way to accomplish it is discovered. I wonder what level of safety performance we will hold ourselves to in the next five, ten or twenty years. Here is to safety professionals and leaders who are willing to have visions of success that are worthy of achieving.
Until next week,
I'll be, "Watching Out For Everyone's Safety™"