The second book by Rob Long is mainly dedicated to dismantling the “Zero Harm Cult”, its language, its way of thinking and possibly negative effects. The book has a lesser degree of “hopping through” than the first and (I think that) it’s rather meant to read from start to end. While the book is divided in three sections, there are two main parts, the first concentrating on the “zero” phenomenon while the second part (chapters 7 onwards) deals with alternative strategies.

The book opens with a discussion of the fascination with ‘zero’ in general. One may dispute the relevance of several examples, but at least it’s amusing. The second chapter discusses some of the arguments pro and contra ‘zero harm’ and also shows some of the more extreme forms of use of ‘zero harm’ language, where ‘zero harm’ has begun to replace central and essential safety terminology like ‘risk’. A dubious trend, to say the least.

An interesting twist to some already known arguments against ‘zero harm’ is that Rob Long discusses it in relation to psychological disorders and fundamentalism. The entire chapter 6 is dedicated to the latter and one may criticize Rob mildly for the fact that he goes slightly overboard here and provokes a comment that he’s a bit of a fundamentalist himself (an anti-fundamentalist-fundamentalist, so to speak). Rob also spends ample time on the (negative) consequences of ‘zero harm’ language.

While the discussion of ‘zero harm’ is very thorough, other themes are treated a bit shallow, like Rasmussen/Reason’s SRK-model of human error and Heinrich’s pyramid (and in that case entirely missing the value of that metaphor, i.c. learning from weak signals). The discussion of HRO and Risk and Safety Maturity on the other hand is most interesting.

Very worthwhile are pages 48 and 49 with the essentials of motivation that elaborate on themes discussed in “Risk Makes Sense”. Most valuable in my opinion are the parts on good goal setting which are found in chapter 5, 7 and 8, especially underlining the importance of positive goals.

One drawback of the book is that there is a certain degree of repetition from “Risk Makes Sense”, some parts are even literally copied. So I wouldn’t recommend reading them too closely after each other (unless you want to save some time and are able to skip/skim some sections).

A third book in the series, “Real Risk”, is in the making. Regarding the contents of the first two books that should be one to watch out for!

ISBN 978-0-646-58765-3

Available from Rob Long's website