Dr. Sidney Dekker offered a provocative keynote address at Safety 2014. A university professor, a professional pilot (737s) and a noted author and speaker, had a few people get up and walk out of his presentation. But many more stayed to listen as Dekker turned many widely accepted safety practices on their heads.

Dekker started his talk with a quick discussion of the hundreds and thousands of workers killed each year in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “Get to 2014,” he pointed out, “and those numbers [workplace injuries and fatalities] are really, really low.”  

He mentioned a large construction project in Australia 80 years ago, when 120 people died building 120 kilometers of tunnels and dams. That project was considered successful because for that time, it had a low fatality rate. Skip ahead to 2013 when the same company was building a tunnel and a single worker died. That project, said Dekker, “was a failure.”

The reason it was considered a failure is that companies now have “zero injuries” as a goal. But, Dekker added, “there’s a difference between the commitment and the goal.”