HSE Excellence is not in the absence of failure!

Almost universally we all hear of tremendous progress being achieved in reducing the frequency of fatalities & serious injuries within our workplaces. This is undoubtedly due to the combined efforts of all of the key stakeholders and we should allow ourselves a moment to reflect on this fantastic achievement. However we are yet to achieve the ever elusive goal of “zero harm” (HSE excellence) & I believe that this will not be achieved using the same approach that we have used to date.

This is because we have become obsessed with a deficit-based approach which requires us to focus on failure instead of designing an architecture of HSE excellence.

When looking for answers to this problem we must start using mirrors and put away the microscopes. For example, if we consider the two most common approaches to improvement utilised, we will find that:

  • Risk management principles require the identification, assessment, control and review of hazards &
  • Continuous improvement principles require the measurement, analysis, testing and implementation of change.

Both of these approaches require us to look for actual or potential failure & mitigate it, these processes will lead us to the opposite of failure which is success. However success is not the same as excellence.

I would propose that it is time to completely change the way we approach our mission, looking backwards at what has or could go wrong & focusing on what we can do better definitely has its place in our maturity journey, however at some point this approach will start to deliver diminishing returns. When this occurs, we must start to look at how we can create excellence with questions such as “What does zero harm look like?” or “What would be the ideal way” and then probe this further with “What do we need to get there?” & or “How will be get there”.

I envisage that the solution(s) will not be found in what we have done before & therefore could involve disruptive technologies or ideas that have never been considered in our field (or beyond it). But we can’t be right unless we are willing to be wrong, so let’s not stop trying just because our performance figures are improving. Doing something until we get it right is great but doing it until we can’t get it wrong is true resilience to failure.

It will be possible that one day in the near future HSE culture will be so ingrained, so well-tuned, so well-practiced and perfected, that zero harm – genuine zero harm – will become the normal mode of operation.

This is my definition & vision for HSE excellence.

Nabil Battal

Director, Global Health, Safety & Environment