Zero is NOT the Only Acceptable Number

I read a thesis the other day on zero messaging, premised on the silly idea that ‘ “zero” is the only acceptable number of injuries or fatalities in the workplace. This is the kind of simplistic stuff we come to accept from business and safety.

At no place in the thesis was there any questioning of the assumptions of this statement or the philosophy behind zero as an ideology. There was no interrogation of the ideology that drives this statement or a semiotic understanding of zero.

It is incredible that so few in safety don’t actually understand or know what Zero is.

Very few look at how zero is used in the risk and safety industry, even in its messaging.

Many think zero is a number, which it is not and can never be. Just do a little bit of research. Zero is nothing and infinity, it is a philosophical idea, not a number:

  • Reid, C., (2006) From Zero to Infinity. A. K. Peters Press, Mass.
  • Rotman, B., (1987) Signifying Nothing, The Semiotics of Zero. Macmillan, London.
  • Kaplan, R., (1999) The Nothing That Is, A Natural History of Zero. Oxford, London.
  • Seife, C., (2000) Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. Penguin, New York.

In the risk and safety industry, zero is most clearly an ideology ( It is a philosophy/methodology that has no method even though many talk about zero strategies (

  • There is no such thing as a zero method/strategy.
  • You can’t do zero! Doing zero means you do nothing.

And, all those who claim there is such a thing as a ‘zero strategy’ ( ), just talk about traditional safety: counting injury rates, policing regulation and auditing hazards. The only outcome that can ever come from the application of zero to fallible people is brutalism.

You only have to look at global safety industry marketing, to understand what zero is ( In the ‘Spirit of Zero’, ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ ( we observe the most profound religious apocalyptic semiotics one could imagine. Just have a look at this video and tell me that this is NOT a religious apologetic for zero. Didn’t you know Zero restores arms that are missing and legs torn off. It restores sight to the blind and makes the lame to walk (Matt 11.15).

One can’t expose the messaging of zero without tackling the medium of the message ( or, what messaging is (conscious and unconscious). Understanding zero as a semiotic is the starting point for understanding messaging about zero (Rotman, B., (1987) Signifying Nothing, The Semiotics of Zero. Macmillan, London.)

Similarly, understanding the nature of Archetypes and the power of Archetypes is critical to understand the ‘force’, ‘power’, auto-poeisis and mimesis of zero. Unless one critiques the: pitch, framing, priming ( ), anchoring, assumptions and re-framing of the message to the unconscious, one is not investigating messaging.

Most of what is destructive about zero is not in organisational reports. Zero operates in the unseen, in the by-products it creates in psychosocial space. This is where the real harm is done.

And, the best way to ignore this is to bring out standards about psychosocial ‘hazards’ to distract from the fact that many things Safety does, harm people ( ).

This is where the dynamic of anti-learning operates. And here is the recipe: make a lot of noise about what doesn’t matter so that, the real harm and risks are never noticed. And, Safety does this so well.

There can be no learning in zero. Zero is the symbol for stasis, no risk, no movement, no e-motion. Without these there is no learning. Zero is anti-learning.

If you actually map the many ways zero is used in the risk and safety industry it looks like Figure 1. Zero Map.

Figure 1. Zero Map.

This is presented in my free book: Zero, The Great Safety Delusion.

and so, this brings us to the ‘zero event’ ( approaching soon in Sydney. Don’t be deluded, when you call a safety event a ‘zero event’ you really know just how much zero dominates the industry. And once you bring zero into any organisation, it becomes nearly impossible to get rid of it. This is how Archetypes work. They have a power and energy unto themselves.

Just look at the messaging of the ‘zero event’ ( and you will observe so much ideological drivel, and you might wonder why.

Roll up, roll up and get your dose of negativity and fear, get injected with the mythology of that charlatan Heinrich, and repeat the mantra ‘injury rates are safety’. Make sure you go to all the sponsors of zero ( and remember who all the lovers of zero are. Make sure you forget the golden rule ‘do unto others as they would do unto you’ ( and make sure your gobbledygook speak only applies to other people, not you.

The opening line for this Congress should start with a question: ’can the perfect person please stand up’.

The truth and reality is: if you live a human life you WILL be injured. If you take a risk, you WILL be harmed and without risk there is no living or learning. So, stop talking about ‘acceptable numbers’. This is moronic language based on the ignorance of binary opposition. It is neither mature or intelligent.

And stop talking about zero. Just be silent about it and instead focus on much more important things like the resilience of people and how to tackle harm. Mature and intelligent people know how to be silent about many things that are offensive and stupid. And stop contributing to mental illness:

· Denial of reality is the first sign of mental illness (

· Telling people to be obsessed with safety is mental illness (

· Demanding perfection from fallible people is mental illness.

· Setting goals for perfection then counting every time you don’t achieve it is nothing short of sheer stupidity.

Learning to accept harm and to know how to deal with it is the beginning of wisdom.

So, if you want a little dose of wisdom in the face of this avalanche of zero nonsense approaching in November then, save some money, we have two free courses on Intro to SPoR and Due Diligence:

We also have many free downloads so that you can jettison zero so that safety improves ( ).

And, organisations that get rid of zero soon discover that it works ( ).

In SPoR, we don’t talk about low level numbers and low-level goals, such stuff has nothing to do with risk and safety. In SPoR. offer positive, constructive, practical methods to help people tackle risk and we offer them for free. We don’t speak gimmicks or nonsense to people ( or use the language of ‘performance’ or ‘harnessing people’. We focus on living and being in the real world and how to best tackle risk.


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