Since When did Zero Become a ‘Science’?

I read with amusement on the program of an innovation safety conference (, a presentation from the Innovations Safety Lab that Zero is now a ‘science’? Really??? How does a religious mantra, ideology and numeric become a ‘science’? and of course, the discussion is accompanied by the old safety preoccupation with performance and measures. How different, how innovative! Poor olde safety, always fixated on measurement, engineering and behaviourism but now doing them ‘differently’.

Let’s get a few things clear on zero:

When I think of innovation in risk, the last idea I associate with innovation is zero. Zero is the ideology of stasis and absolutes. There is no movement in zero so, there can be learning or innovation.

Innovation is about stepping outside the bounds of orthodoxy, dogma and tradition. Innovation is about a new method for doing something. Zero has no method, no methodology and is NOT something that can be done. It’s like saying one can ‘do’ safety. You can ‘do’ safety. Safety an outcome of the way we tackle risk. The method and the doing are in the ‘how’ of tackling risk, not the outcome of safety. Safety is at best a temporary outcome for fallible people.

Indeed, safety is not how we should frame the way we live ( or our motivations and meaning for ‘being’. When we make safety the way we frame living we warp the very nature of being. I don’t get up in the morning, roll out of bed and think ‘I must be safe today’.

Unless there is a breakthrough in method, there is no innovation.

I often read claims to innovation that are little more than rebranding. It’s like the way safety throws about the silly language of ‘thought leaders’ and ‘gurus’. Innovation without consideration of an ethic of innovation is just spin ( If one doesn’t consider the trade-offs and by-products of an innovation and its ethical trajectory, then claims to innovation are meaningless.

The foundation of any claim to innovation ought to be an ethical trajectory for human fallible persons. The foundation for any innovation in safety ought to be a well-articulated ethic, well before ideas start to be thrown around.

I am not interested in any claims to innovation that propose improvement in systems. This is simply the ideology of more Technique (Ellul –; For the same reason I have no interest in the nonsense language of ‘resilience engineering’. The pathway to innovation in safety is NOT through the more tweaking systems or engineering. I’m not interested in more focus on measuring human performance.

I have just finished reading a wonderful book on being by Shepherd entitled: Radical Wholeness, The Embodied Present and the Ordinary Grace of Being. This is a wonderful book that goes beyond the many light weight approaches to resilience we read about in the ‘mindfulness’ genre and in much of the nonsense we read about ‘psychosocial hazards’ ( ). Resilience and learning are the flip side of the same coin.

What we need in safety is innovation that tackles some tough questions like: by what method can we reform, reframe and improve some of the current unethical activities of safety? What can we do to eradicate the brutalism of zero from the safety industry? How can we build resilience in persons in how they tackle risk? By what methods can we humanise the safety industry? How can we foster learning, critical thinking and Transdisciplinarity in safety?

If you are interested in these questions then perhaps you might like to download our latest free book: SPoR and Semiotics, Methods for tackling Risk ( If you are looking for innovative methods to tackle risk, this is your book. Or read how a global organisation moved away from zero and adopted SPoR methods ( ) so that safety could improve. Or, why not register for the free workshops being presented by Matt Thorne in 2024:


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