Zero accident vision

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Pia Perttula, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health


Zero Accident Vision is a philosophy which states that nobody should be injured due to an accident. It is more a way of thinking rather than a numerical goal; In terms of accident prevention strategies, Zero Accident Vision can be viewed as a way of thinking; this proposes that all accidents can be prevented. When no accidents are allowed or approved, this provides a basis for learning from accidents and improving processes.

Definition and dimension of Zero Accident Vision


Vision Zero is more of a philosophy rather than a numerical goal: according to its way of thinking that nobody should be injured or killed in an accident. People tend to make errors, but erroneous actions should not result in injuries. This is one reason why safety should be emphasized in planning of any human –working or living – environment. The Zero Accident Vision is based on the belief that all accidents are preventable, and therefore promoting the Zero Accident Vision is an important strategy for preventing workplace accidents.

Zero Accident Vision is important in an occupational safety and health (OSH) management system. There is an overall consensus in research that OSH management should be seen as part of the overall business management structure, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and workers’ involvement, have a positive effect on OSH performance [1].

Safety culture of a workplace is in a key issue for the implementation of the Zero Accident Vision. A safety culture determines how safety practices actually are performed in a workplace, not how they are expressed in the guidelines and regulations. In many cases, the roots of occupational accidents lie in a poor safety culture. The commitment and safety attitude of the whole personnel is important when the goal is zero accidents.

Nowadays, the importance of safety is becoming more and more valued in workplaces and in civil society as a whole. Good safety culture has a positive influence on quality, reliability, competence and the productivity of a company [2], and therefore complying with the Zero Accident Vision represents a competitive advantage for a company. The role of the management in creating good safety culture cannot be under-estimated.

Learning from accidents and near misses

According to the Zero Accident Vision all accidents are preventable. One of the leading ideas is to learn from those accidents that have occurred and to take corrective actions to prevent similar accidents occurring again. Learning from accidents and near miss situations helps people to react to similar situations in the future. When confronted with an uncertain situation, for example a situation with a major potential risk, people tend to seek a solution from their past experience, from memory. Thus accident investigation is a learning crucial tool. Workplaces with positive pro-safety attitudes carry out similar investigation to near miss cases as they do for actual accidents.

Near miss cases provide a company with powerful learning instruments and a lesson in how to implement accident prevention actions. Near miss cases are these cases where nobody was injured, but where an injury would have been possible. Finding the root causes for near miss cases helps to prevent more serious accidents happening if a similar situation were to occur later. Therefore, in all accident prevention strategies, it is essential to recognise what has happened in the past, and to apply corrective actions after recognising the dangers and risks.

The Zero Accident Vision does not accept that accidents simply happen because of bad luck. Human error or haste are often seen as the root cause of an accident, and in many cases there is probably some truth in this proposal. Factors like individual unsafe actions are hard to control, but organisational and contextual factors are present before the occurrence of an accident [3]. Finding the root causes and taking corrective actions on the basis of these findings may also increase the profitability of a company as well as improving occupational safety and well-being in the workplace [4].

Leaving room for the unexpected

Accidents do not necessarily happen where and when expected: even though it seems that all possible risks have been identified and carefully considered, something quite unpredictable may still take place. Traditionally risk assessment includes assessing several possible risk assumptions in a limited period of time. Compared to this traditional assessment style, resilience within the context of risk control concentrates on future occasions that may challenge the operations at any given time and situation. Resilience means the ability to (1) cope with unpredictable challenges, and (2) flexibility to act in a way that operations can be returned to the normal by causing minimum damage to individuals or/and property. Resilience is based on something that the organisation does, rather than something that the organisation has [5]. This means that in order to provide a safe work environment, an organisation has to have the ability to manage processes that may at times be unpredictable, as well as maintaining the capability to respond to both expected and unexpected developments.

Driving a car is an example of resilience thinking: Even in very light traffic, the driver should be able to look ahead and to observe any kind of movement or change in the traffic environment, however, the driver can never be quite certain of what lies ahead on the road and what unexpected actions might be taken by other drivers. There is the same trend in safety management: Organisations must be able to function and survive in environments that are dynamic, both partly unknown and partly predictable. In order to be effective, it is necessary for organisations to look forward and to prepare for the problems that may lie ahead, but might not yet have been foreseen. [6]

Leaving room for the unexpected is important if one is striving for zero accidents. Even though much may have been done to prevent accidents, some risks will always still exist. One of the greatest recurrent risks is to be lulled into thinking that everything is covered after having followed safety strategies and plans. However there is a possibility that new risks have not been identified and they may lead to serious accidents. Regular safety assessments and a pro-safety attitude are essential for preventing accidents.

Success factors for Zero Accident Vision

Management commitment and workers participation

Top management plays a key role when improving occupational safety, because preventing accidents and creating a better safety culture requires resources – both work time and financial input. Those leaders who value safety highly, also value their employees' well-being [7]. The information that management values safety is important to the workers. This shows that the workers and their wellbeing at work is valued. Managers should follow safety rules themselves and ensure that all workers are adhering to them as well. The real commitment and safety attitude of managers can be seen through their actions: Managers can show their commitment to safety by following the workplace's own safety procedures, and by not approving any unsafe behaviour from workers. For instance it should not be acceptable to ask workers to perform their work faster if this haste will pose a risk to safety.

Though top management provides the resources for working according to Vision Zero, the commitment of each worker is equally important in order to obtain the goal. The workers' involvement and participation can be boosted by training and a thorough orientation in the work processes. Supervision and control are also important tools, as well as the management's clear message that unsafe actions are not acceptable.

Atmosphere for open co-operation

Working towards Zero Accident requires co-operation at all levels within the organisation. Achieving a safe workplace entails much work, because workers have different opinions and attitudes towards safety, and individuals behave very differently in different situations. However, the way that people behave can be influenced, and sharing the Zero Accident Vision presumes that the members of an organisation share a positive safety attitude.

Informing all workers is the first step in motivating and increasing workers' commitment to safety. The information should be extended also to those workers who temporarily visit or perform some task in the workplace. The idea of sharing the concept that safety is important and highly valued in the workplace increases safety knowledge and understanding among workers.

Transparency in information sharing is an important tool in co-operation towards better safety within an organisation. When the goal is an accident-free workplace, a worker might feel shame for having been hurt in a work accident, and he/she might try to hide the accident, this might even result in underreporting of accidents. This is not the aim of Zero Accident Vision. Every single accident, even minor accidents, needs to be reported. The transparency can be achieved by thorough safety communication which helps the workers to understand that the reason for reporting accidents is not to identify the person who is guilty or who has done something wrong. All accidents and near miss cases should be used for learning and for further prevention.

Reminders of the commitment to safety should be issued every now and then: For example, these can be delivered through safety campaigns which concentrate on a certain theme of safety (such as tidiness in the workplace or reporting near misses).


Working towards Zero Accident Vision needs resources for adequate training (both vocational training and workplace specific safety training). and workplace orientation, appropriate working equipment and methods, enough time to perform work safety processes, and adequate PPE (personal protective equipment).

In order to work safely, workers should be aware of the risks and the correct, safe ways to work in each particular work environment and workplace. This can be achieved by safety training and orientation at the company level. Orientation is not only for new workers, but also essential when workers' tasks (1) change, and (2) new machines or equipment are introduced, or (3) after long absence from work (maternity leave, sick leaves, etc.). The principle behind safe working is adequate resources, i.e. use of appropriate working equipment and the possibility to adhere to safe working processes should be available to all workers at all times. When the working environment or machines change, the equipment and methods need to be checked and readjusted to the current situation.

Safety processes and pro-safety attitude should be visible in the workplace: This means that personal protective equipment should be available and used whenever required. A safe way of working should be the rule, i.e. haste is not a reason to ignore safe working. Safety should also be included in the agendas of team meetings and adequate training must be provided to ensure safe working.

Haste increases the risk of accidents: Zero Accident Vision thinking requires that there must always be enough time to perform the task safely. Workers should be encouraged to follow safety rules and not to make "quick but risky" solutions in order to save time.

There is no standard solution

Every workplace is different and faces different risks and has different workers – all work environments are unique combinations of many actors and situations. Therefore no standard solution exists for achieving the goal of Zero Accidents, what really matters is that there is a resilient pro-safety attitude. Workplace specific risk assessment and risk management are crucial in achieving the goal of accident-free workplace. In addition, as important as learning from the past, is the need to be alert to new risks. Improving safety is a never-ending task: even when performed well, it is never finished.


Networking and sharing good practice information can help companies promote occupational safety.

The Finnish Zero Accident Forum is an example of a voluntary-based network of workplaces which are committed to the Zero Accident Vision. The companies have a genuine desire to improve safety and are striving towards zero accidents. The Forum consists of companies and organisations of various sizes representing various industries. Being a member of the Finnish Zero Accident Forum means that the management and staff of the organisation are committed to improving their own occupational safety and carrying out all the work that this entails. The main principle of the forum is to learn from each other, even across industries and from different business sectors.[8]

The Zero Accident Vision has also expanded to the European Context in order to promote the dissemination and implementation of the zero accident vision in companies throughout the Members States. This networking will help companies to exchange knowledge in the field of safety culture and learning, and help to promote the Zero Accident Vision.[9]

Implementation of Zero Accident Vision

The importance and benefits of implementing Zero Accident Vision are undeniable. Injuries cause pain and suffering to individuals and their families, as well as mental distress and probably life changes. In addition to needless human suffering, injuries result in direct expenses for workplaces, and sometimes accidents may hurt the organisation's reputation and public image, and this leads to long term financial losses. Thus accident prevention is important from every point of view.

In addition to workplaces, Zero Accident Vision is widely recognized in the area of road safety in many European countries. Sweden [10] and Norway [11] are examples of countries having a long-term road safety goal stating that there should be no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. The Vision Zero states that road safety is a common responsibility of both road users and system designers. The means of implementing Zero Accident Vision in road safety involve measures for speed management, improving vehicles (i.e. technical safety solutions), and promoting the safe use of the roads. The improvements to the traffic environment could be performed by increasing space and barriers and the provision of separate routes for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In addition, the Zero Accident Vision is a useful way of thinking when numerical goals for accidents are set, because it considers that all accidents to be preventable. To give an example, it is still fairly common that an employer accepts that a certain number of accidents will be the norm and in this way the employer creates a kind of "accident budget". As long you are within the budget, no warning bells ring. If the "budget" is for example ten accidents within a half-year period, then only when the eleventh accident has occurred, does the system receive a wake up call. In this situation, one can say that the ten previous accidents occurred without triggering any notice or actions. However, although quantitative targets may help in the reduction of accidents at work, the real the warning bells should ring immediately if any accident does occur.

There are different ways of implementing Zero Accident Vision, for example, campaigns are a visible way of promoting Vision Zero. Safety oriented, so called advanced workplaces already know the principles of Zero Accident Vision (such as learning from accidents, commitment to safety, continuous risk assessment, regular training and instruction, reporting all accidents and near misses, and safety communication),


  1. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into business management, 2010. Available at: [1]
  2. Cooper, D., Improving Safety Culture, A Practical Guide, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1998.
  3. Reason, J. 2005. Safety in the operating theatre – Part 2: Human error and organisational failure*. Qual Saf Health Care (14), 56–61.
  4. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, The business benefits of good occupational safety and health, Fact Sheet 77. Available at: [2]
  5. Hollnagel, E., Nemeth, C. P., Dekker, S., Remaining Sensitive to the Possibility of Failure, Resilience Engineering Perspectives, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2008.
  6. Hollnagel, E., Nemeth, C. P., Dekker, S., Remaining Sensitive to the Possibility of Failure, Resilience Engineering Perspectives, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2008.
  7. Barling, J., Frone, M.R., The Psychology of Workplace Safety, Washington, American Psychological Association, 2004.
  8. FIOH – Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (2011). Finnish Zero Accident Forum. Retrieved 11 January 2012, from: [3]
  9. PEROSH – Partnership for European Research in Occupational Safety and Health (2010). Safety culture and accidents: promotion of zero accident vision. Retrieved 16 April 2012, from: [4]
  10. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Delivering the message - Programmes, initiatives and opportunities to reach drivers and SMEs in the road transport sector, 2011. Available at: [5]
  11. Elvebakk, B. & Steiro, T., 'First principles, second hand: Perceptions and interpretations of vision zero in Norway', Safety Science, no. 47, 2009, pp. 958-966.

Links for further reading

Corben, B., Logan, D., Fanciulli, L., Farley, R., Cameron, I., Strengthening road safety strategy development "Towards Zero" 2008-2020 - Western Australia's experience scientific research on road safety management SWOV workshop 16 and 17 November 2009. Safety Science 48, 2010, pp. 1085-1097.

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2001). Preventing accidents at work. Retrieved 12 March 2012, from: [6]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2002). New trends in accident prevention due to the changing world of work. Retrieved 13 March 2012, from: [7]

Traffic safety by Sweden (2012). Vision Zero Initiative. Retrieved 11 January 2012, from: [8]