Five Top Executives Address Corporate Safety Culture, Safety Values at 100th Anniversary Conference in Chicago
Five top executives from different industries discussed corporate safety culture and the importance of instilling safety as a core value during the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) 100th Anniversary Professional Development Conference (PDC) in Chicago, IL, June 12-15. The Executive Summit session on Tuesday, June 14, provided an informative look at how executives from Boeing, CITGO, ComEd, Dow Chemical, and Limbach Facility Services view safety as a key element of business success.
When asked about how leaders can ensure safety is important to every employee, it was clear that the panelists all play an active role in making sure safety is not only a core value, but a necessity to performing every task.
“My role as President and COO of a company is to set the tone for safety and the safety culture throughout the company,” said Anne Pramaggiore, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Commonwealth Edison, a company serving approximately 3.8 million customers across Northern Illinois. “I need to make sure the framework is there to support a safety culture and I have to be a part of the dialogue of safety. I always stress that if you haven’t done a job safely, it hasn’t been done well. I demonstrate what I want to see, which is practicing safety as a core value for every activity.”
Jim Cristman, Vice President and General Manager of CITGO’s Lemont Refinery noted, “ Safety is a core value that never changes. At CITGO, we focus on safety in all facets of our work. Safety has to be part of something that is not up for discussion and no matter what you do you have to be safe. We care about individual employees and want everyone to be concerned about safety at work.”
“The commercial airline business relies on safety as a fundamental part of what we do. If you don’t have safety, you don’t have a product,” said Atsuo Miyake, Corporate Director of EHS for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The business runs on being able to have absolute confidence in the safety of the workers and the safety of the product we produce. Holding high expectations and talking about safety is the way we think about our business as a whole.”
Susan Lewis, Corporate Director of EH&S Operations at Dow Chemical said, “Safety at Dow started 114 years ago. We were one of the first companies to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for our workers. Safety is part of our corporate DNA at all levels and the key is having a safety mindset and having it embedded in our company’s strategy. There is an inseparability between business and safety and everyone needs to be accountable.”
All panelists expressed the importance of safety as a core value in their companies. Though their industries are different, these executives stressed the necessity of ensuring safety is a fundamental part of the way each employee thinks about his or her job, ensuring a broad understanding and appreciation for how safety contributes to doing good business.
Panelists also discussed operations and how to ensure employees focus on the task at hand, as well as completing that task safely to return home to their families injury and illness free each day.
Cristman noted, “We definitely run across situations where employees find themselves asking how to balance getting the job done and doing it safely. We had a defining moment in our plant in the early ‘90’s when we had an incident that made it clear to us people were not really understanding the hazards associated with their work. We realized that many of our employees were working jobs that required them to read twenty or thirty page long descriptions of the work and the hazards associated, which isn’t practical for every employee. We created a mandatory process called the ‘pre-job work review’, which describes the task, all hazards associated with the task and gives key solutions for how to prevent these hazards. Supervisors and every worker signs this page after a thorough review. “
Pramaggiore said, “Our business is to get power to customers as quickly as possible in the event of an outage. Productivity and safety are constant issues, but so is pressure to get the work done. On the field, customers watch our employees work and they feel the pressure associated with the needs of the job. We help our teams focus on safety by relieving as much of that pressure as possible. We have safety experts that go to the field with our workers and we have an external affairs department that is solely responsible for dealing with customers so our workers don’t feel pressured to work faster at the expense of safety. “
Panelists also shared their expectations of safety professionals in the workplace.
Charlie Bacon, Chairman and CEO of Limbach Facility Services, said, “ Early on in my career, a safety professional taught me about safety when I worked at a pharmaceutical company. That individual taught me about safety, taught me how to interface with people and how to respond effectively. Safety professionals should be teachers in their organizations, helping people understand the bigger picture of how safety affects business. Being a teacher of safety is key for success.”
“The safety professional has a special role in an organization. Safety pro’s have the power to influence and drive change about safety. They need to be a teacher and share their knowledge. The thought that a safety professional is a teacher is a concept that makes a lot of sense in the business world, “ Pramaggiore noted.
Miyake stated, “Our expectations are that safety professionals are just that…professional. Walking around this conference I have been extremely impressed by how invested everyone is in workplace safety. It is also important that safety professionals understand the business as a whole, what the business is about and why it exists. Understanding the business as a whole helps provide inspiration and knowledge to help influence employees to get them to think about safety and the bigger picture of how safety is important to everyone in a company.”
When asked about what safety professionals can do to become more well-rounded, Cristman commented, “If a person has ownership and understanding of the business as a whole and the importance of safety, from there, the possibilities are endless. In my company, we have taken safety pro’s up through the chain of command and they’ve achieved high-level positions like vice president because of their dedication to employees, safety and the business. Safety has to be part of every operation in your organization and when you can approach every challenge with safety as a core value, then your value as an employee is great.”
Lewis added, “It is very important for our plant managers to have different assignments to learn different elements of the business, we integrate between manufacturing and H&S frequently. I always let my group know that it’s important to be a ‘solution provider.’ It’s about providing solutions and ways to carry out those solutions. Look at the broader picture and ask yourself where the areas you can expand and grow are, and how you can help your organization on a larger scale.”
It is important that safety professionals also learn from one another as they explore new ways to address hazards and task issues in the workplace.
Bacon stated, “As you can see, I’m holding a notebook. I’m here taking notes on the recommendations of my fellow panelists because we can all learn from one another about the value of safety and ways to make our companies safer for all.”
Founded in 1911 and celebrating its centennial, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 33,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members lead, manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor, healthcare and education. For more information, please go to www.asse.org and to view the new ASSE – A Century of Safety film go to www.asse.org/assecenturyofsafety .