Over the last 20 years or so, the vision of how to help organizations improve safety has been changing from a focus on 'stamping out errors' to a focus on 'managing the quality of work.'
This change reflects a similar evolution in how the Forestry service manages fire safety. There was a period when the focus was on 'stamping out forrest fires,' and the poster child for these efforts was Smokey the Bear (Only you can prevent forrest fires). However, the forestry service has learned that a side-effect of an approach that focusses exclusively on preventing fires is the build up of fuel on the forest floors. Because of this build up, when a fire inevitably occurs it can burn at levels that can be catastrophic for forest health. The forest will not naturally recover from the burn.
The forestry service now understands that low intensity fires can be integral to the long term health of a forrest. These low intensity fires help to prevent the build up of fuel and also can promote germination of seeds and new growth.
The alternative to 'stamping out fires' is to manage forrest health. This sometimes involves introducing controlled burns or letting low intensity fires burn themselves out.
The general implication of this is that safety programs should be guided by a vision of health or quality, rather than be simply a reaction to errors. With respect to improving safety, programs focused on health/quality will have greater impacts, than programs designed to 'stamp out errors.' Programs designed to stamp out errors, tend to also end up stamping out the information (e.g., feedback) that is essential for systems to learn from mistakes and to tune to complex, dynamic situations. Like low intensity fires, learning from mistakes and near misses actually contributes to the overall health of a high reliability organization.
This new perspective is beautifully illustrated in Sidney Dekker's new movie that can be viewed on YouTube: