Creating a world of work without serious and fatal accidents – that is the goal of Vision Zero. But can this goal ever be achieved? Experts from all over the world discussed this issue at the symposium “What is needed to make Vision Zero a success in OSH and road safety?”
Vision Zero – it is up to you! That was the motto of the symposium, which spanned an arc from Germany to Turkey, Nigeria to Singapore, China to Australia. It became evident that occupational safety and health and road safety are important issues throughout the world, and that preventing serious and fatal accidents is a central concern for everyone. And yet the slogan “Vision Zero” repeatedly prompts controversy: for some, it means a goal worth striving for and for others a promise that can never be met. “Is Vision Zero a realistic approach?” the Turkish television moderator Ahu Özyurt asked the audience at the beginning of the symposium. The majority took a positive view, but by far not everyone.
Initial success stories from the realm of research
There are multiple approaches taken all over the world to preventing accidents at work. Dr Siok Lin Gan of the Workplace Safety and Health Institute in Singapore reported on the experiences of the small Southeast Asian state. After a series of 15 fatal accidents within a few weeks, the government launched a programme in 2004 aimed at reducing the rate of fatal work accidents from 4.9 to 2.5 per 100,000 workers by 2015. This target was already exceeded in 2013, when the rate dropped to 2.1 fatal accidents. “Focussing on a very specific number helped us to achieve our goal,” Siok Lin Gan explained. However, the rate has stagnated since then. “Now we need to find ways to reach the hearts and minds of workers outside the usual regulations.”
In the course of the symposium, further experts presented their research work in the field of occupational safety and health and road safety. Candice Potter, for example, from the Queensland University of Technology, who spoke on the problem of fatal traffic accidents among miners in Australia. Dr Ellen Schmitz-Felten of the Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE presented the VeSafe project, a best-practice platform for the improvement of occupational safety and health in the transport sector.
“Zero Harm Policy”: examples from the business world
Not only guests from the academic field, but also experts from companies reported on their experiences with Vision Zero. One of them was Qing Hao Hawking Li of Siemens Limited China. The global corporate group launched a “Zero Harm Culture Programme” for its energy division in 2012. The groundwork is laid by three principles that all employees must observe: a belief that the goal of Vision Zero is achievable, never compromising on safety and health, and always watching out for each other.
While the Chinese have already made a great deal of progress, Africa is only just getting started. Gbolahan Kamil Abiodun from the Nigerian company DeltAfrik Engineering Limited described where the problems lie in the African construction industry: around 70 per cent of the employees there work in the informal economy, without regulated working conditions and without an awareness of the issue of safety and health at work. Nevertheless, the first company-specific approaches are showing some success, such as the Bay Atlantic Construction Project.
Taking it from the top: A realistic goal?
“Is Vision Zero a realistic approach?” moderator Ahu Özyurt asked the audience once again at the end of the symposium. More participants than at the beginning were now convinced that the vision could be achieved. But a few sceptics remained. Among them was quite a well-known figure: Errol Frank Stoové. The President of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) backed up his opinion by stating: “Risks are a part of our lives. We are moving in the right direction, but I have to warn you: Don’t expect too much.”
Text: Sanja Zec