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Stephen Ramsey, Vice President for Corporate Environmental Programs, and Kurt Krueger, Manager and Team Leader of Global Health and Safety Programs, are responsible for integrating environmental health and safety (EH&S) practices into General Electric Company (GE). Their combined experience, qualifications and management skills have helped GE to achieve many EH&S milestones, including reduced injury and illness rates, reduced air exceedances and toxic emissions and improved employee performance. In this interview, Ramsey and Krueger explain how GE continually works toward these goals, and they also outline the company’s plan to explore new areas for growth as part of its Ecomagination initiative.

One of GE’s environmental health and safety (EH&S) policy goals is to achieve 100% compliance everywhere you operate or sell products. Given that GE has operations in over 100 countries and manufacturing sites in 40 countries, how do you work toward this goal and ensure that compliance is met in all areas of the company?

We have one program, which is globally applicable. This includes one set of uniform expectations, one set of metrics, one set of management systems and tools and one set of common goals around the world.

We measure performance in more than 20 categories, and we provide a quarterly status of performance to our CEO. GE EH&S metrics are available for every GE employee to see.

To assure compliance, every plant performs a self-assessment over a two-year period, a business level audit is conducted every other year, and our operations leaders participate in Session E every year. Session E is unique to GE. It is a review of GE operations by the Vice President for Environmental Programs or a surrogate that involves operations leaders and the head of each relevant business. We hold about 25 Session Es each year at locations around the world.

Our corporate expectation is to close 90% of all compliance audit findings within 30 days of the finding and to have no finding open for more than 180 days.

To support this process, the company makes a significant investment in developing compliance checklists from local regulations in the countries in which we operate. These checklists are available online in both English and local languages.

Plant Manager Training, the GE PowerSuite, the GE EH&S Scorecard and the GE Session E process are all tools GE uses to train its EH&S plant managers and operations leaders and to gauge performance. Please further describe each of these four items and explain how they have improved training and performance since they were first implemented.

1. Plant Manager Training (PMT, also Service Manager Training called SMT)

PMT is a two-day classroom training course that all plant (and service) managers worldwide are expected to attend. It is dedicated to the EH&S responsibilities of each manager, the key tools that are available to help them and the presentation of selected best management practice approaches to EH&S. By committing each plant and service manager to participate in dedicated EH&S training, the company makes a powerful statement about the active role that our operation leaders are expected to play in providing appropriate resources and managing our EH&S programs. The program has been very successful, and many plant managers now enroll their subordinate leaders in this course to help them develop into better leaders.

2. PowerSuite (PS)

PS is a robust system of EH&S databases and support tools to help our operations manage their EH&S needs. Among the databases and tools included are:

  • Injury and illness record keeping and investigation
  • Scorecards
  • Industrial hygiene
  • Audit findings tracker
  • Near real-time “cockpits” that allow business leaders and EH&S leaders to monitor EH&S performance Air permit compliance support tools
  • Ergonomic assessment tools
  • EH&S survey tools
  • EH&S data mining tools
  • EH&S online discussion tools
  • Behavioral safety observation tools
  • Job safety analysis tools
  • Lockout/tagout equipment-specific procedure tools
  • Waste-tracking tools

PS provides two distinct advantages for the company. First, it is a common data system that facilitates data reporting and analysis. Second, it is a portal in which global tools to address common needs can be developed and made available, thus driving improved program consistency across all operations. In addition, through PowerSuite, our business and EH&S leaders have access to real-time EH&S performance dashboards for their global operations as well as quick access to data on individual operations. Today, more than 25,000 GE employees use PowerSuite.

3. EH&S Scorecard

There are actually two primary scorecards. The Health and Safety Framework and Scorecard will be discussed later in the interview. The E-Framework provides a set of common requirements for our environmental programs worldwide. All operations assess their programs against the E-Framework annually, and it is reviewed at Session E. Guidenotes and hyperlinks to best practices help the users to understand the requirements and how to efficiently meet them. This tool allows us to measure performance against a common standard and to use data to identify areas of improvement.

4. Session E

Session E (as in Environmental Health and Safety) is an annual occurrence. Each year, we review the performance of every plant in a group session that includes the global operational business leader, plant managers in that business and the head of Corporate Environmental Programs or his surrogate. The plant managers present results from a standard template. This is perhaps our most powerful tool in making clear our expectation that operational leaders are responsible for resourcing and managing EH&S as part of their overall responsibilities. We conduct about 25 Session Es each year.

GE offers both subject- and geography-specific EH&S training in multiple languages. How is communication maintained between plants and operational facilities?

We leverage technology wherever we can to improve our outreach to employees with information on hazard recognition and working safely. We deliver training in a variety of formats as appropriate for a particular subject, and we continue to build an extensive set of online courses that employees can complete at their own pace and at a convenient time. These courses are typically structured with a core company expectations section and supplemented with country-specific regulatory information. The online courses are available through a global portal called myLearning, and they are translated into a suite of languages to serve our employees in multiple countries.

We also offer courses that use Internet meeting and voice tools to create a virtual classroom in which an instructor presents the subject and responds to questions on a real-time basis. We still make use of traditional classroom training in which the subject requires extensive interaction with the instructor or equipment. We use instructors who are fluent in the language of the students as well as simultaneous translation services so that all employees can understand the material presented. All instructor-led courses are posted on a global training portal to help employees find offerings close to their location and register for classes. All students register with an e-mail address so that a course coordinator can send them preparatory information for the course.

How does GE evaluate EH&S risks when considering an acquisition?

GE evaluates the EH&S issues in every transaction, from leasing office space in Hong Kong to acquiring a manufacturing company in Maine. The depth of the evaluation depends upon the EH&S risk the transaction presents. When making an acquisition of a manufacturing business, GE looks at the EH&S compliance of the target while often performing full compliance audits of the facilities. We also look at the risk of remedial issues such as soil and groundwater contamination. We develop an analysis that presents the gap that must come into compliance with local laws as well as the gap to achieve GE’s standards that implement our programs and processes. Although GE has experts in-house, we also hire local experts from law firms and EH&S consulting firms to assist us in our assessments of the EH&S status of the target. We use our digitized systems to track to closure the compliance issues identified as part of due diligence and also to develop and track integration plans.

Since 1996, GE has achieved a 76% reduction in workplace injury and illness rates and a 74% reduction in lost-time case rates. How did you accomplish this?

First of all, we make performance visible in every aspect of the company. We also establish yearly reduction targets, and we hold operations leaders accountable for performance.

In addition, our operations leaders have increasingly seen the correlation between improved H&S performance (via injury rate reduction, VPP and Global Star recognition) and improved employee morale, productivity and teamwork. The combination of these benefits has helped provide self-reinforcing feedback to continued improvement.

We developed a tool known as the Health & Safety Framework (HSF) as the global basis for our health and safety management system. The HSF is heavily influenced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) VPP program, and it is an extensive system of company requirements that must be met by all operations worldwide. The HSF also contains guidenotes that provide guidance on how to comply with the requirements, and it contains hyperlinks to support tools and best practices. It is important to note that the HSF provides each business and operation with the flexibility to address these company requirements in a manner that is practical for their specific operations. It does not require businesses with very different production or service operations to do everything in exactly the same manner. A critical aspect of the HSF is the annual assessment by each operation against the company requirements. The implementation of metrics was instrumental in driving improvements.

The HSF drives our injury and illness prevention program in another significant way. We develop a very large database of program evaluation data that is compared to other health and safety performance data each year. This allows us to take very targeted actions to improve areas of our programs in which the data show a potential weakness. The key is to be data-driven when deciding how to approach improvements instead of using a “gut feeling” approach that may well miss the target while incurring significant cost.

The HSF gives us a great tool to drive health and safety excellence, but there are some sites that struggle to become high performers. We developed the Focus Program to help these sites. The Focus Program targets sites with high numbers of injuries and illnesses, and it provides support to help them identify, improve and implement the needed changes. Needless to say, it also provides greater visibility for their performance.

Please describe GE’s current EH&S staffing and resources.

We currently have more than 1,000 EH&S resources in the company globally. The majority of our EH&S resources are at sites or are assigned to service organizations. In addition, our 11 businesses each have an EH&S leader and most have significant central business headquarter teams. We also have regional and country EH&S resources both at the business and corporate levels. For example, GE has a China EH&S team and EH&S country leaders in India, Japan and Canada as well as regional leaders in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

What motivates EH&S within GE?

It is a core competency of GE, which we have instilled into the fabric of everything we do. It is part of our overall commitment to compliance and to good corporate citizenship, and it is a value that we believe separates us from our competitors.

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt has made it clear that good corporate citizenship in the communities in which we operate and sound business practices both mandate proactive, effective management of EH&S. This includes employee and community well-being as well as how we design our products. Performance evaluation criteria include EH&S, and they are tiered down throughout the organization.

GE’s wastewater and air exceedances, toxic emissions and advanced materials emissions continue to decrease significantly. Please provide some specific examples of how these exceedance and emission reductions have improved environmental health and safety.

Examples of how reductions in emissions and exceedances have improved environmental health and safety would include TRI reductions, volatile organic compound reductions, improved air quality and reduced risk.

What advances has GE made in terms of renewable energy sources?

GE is a leading manufacturer of wind-energy turbines. GE Energy has received orders and commitments for 2005 that total 2,400 megawatts of new wind-power capacity worldwide. These projects represent an anticipated increase in revenue of 300% over its first-year wind operations in 2002.

Leading government and business dignitaries recently dedicated the Arklow Bank Offshore Wind Park, a milestone project for both the global wind industry and Ireland. Built, owned and operated by GE Energy, the plant is the first large-scale offshore wind energy facility developed solely as a technology demonstration and learning platform for offshore wind power.

GE Energy’s technologically advanced solar electric power products offer high quality and customer value. They are all based on crystalline silicon, the material of choice for efficiency and reliability for more than 25 years. Our single-crystal solar cells are among the most efficient that are commercially available today. We offer a full line of photovoltaic cells, solar modules, which utilize a series of cells wired together, and complete packages for residential, commercial and industrial systems

GE is the #1 participant in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). How did you achieve this ranking?

GE participation in the VPP program dates back to 1987, and it has been a key part of our efforts to build world-class programs for over a decade. Proven performance results, including injury prevention and stronger relations between employees and management, resulted in the company establishing the expectation that our U.S. operations develop and implement action plans to prepare for VPP application. Our business teams and individual sites are measured against progress toward this goal.

The development of the global HSF relied heavily upon the OSHA VPP program and then added specific requirements that the company felt would strengthen our overall approach to health and safety. The HSF has been so successful that we now base our preparation for VPP applications on it. We also created an internal excellence program known as Global Star based on VPP. The intent of Global Star is to achieve the same type of performance improvements that we have seen in VPP on a global basis. The program has been a huge success, but the watershed event in its maturity was the first site to have an unsuccessful Global Star assessment. This occurred early in the program, and it sent a clear message that the program was rigorous.

Robust support systems have been developed to assist sites in evaluating their programs and in making necessary improvements to achieve VPP Star quality. Scorecards and tools that guide our operations through an assessment of their programs versus VPP requirements are included in this tool kit. We also require that sites that are preparing to apply for VPP must complete a pre-assessment conducted by Special Government Employees (SGEs) or a qualified third party. The SGEs are GE employees who have completed special training conducted by OSHA to prepare them to support OSHA at audits of facilities in other companies. This process is part of VPP’s participant “payback” to help support the program. Training our employees as SGEs to support OSHA has a terrific return on investment (ROI) because we end up with an employee with stronger H&S skills.

We are also proud to have been asked by OSHA as well as Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Mexico to work with them on developing VPP-type programs.

What is your view of OSHA compliance? Is compliance important when addressing ROI and business of safety issues within the EH&S department?

Compliance with all applicable regulations is the minimum requirement, which must be met by all operations regardless of where they operate in the world. Additionally, GE has established a set of internal standards that must also be met worldwide. If there are differences between company and local regulatory requirements, our operations use the more protective criteria. ROI is not a factor in the decision of whether or not to comply with a regulatory requirement.

In May 2005, GE launched the Ecomagination initiative, which represents GE’s commitment to creating innovative solutions that benefit its customers and the public. What are the key components of this commitment and what role will the EH&S department play in ensuring that this commitment is met?

GE already builds among the world’s most energy-efficient aircraft engines, is a leading provider of wind energy systems, produces some of the world’s most efficient household products and is expanding its offerings of cleaner technologies, such as water treatment systems and cleaner-coal power generation. These products generate $10 billion in annual revenue for GE today, which is equal to that of a Fortune 200 company.

With Ecomagination, GE will significantly expand these offerings—imagining and building innovative solutions that help customers meet environmental challenges and improve their operating performance, while also benefiting the company and the world. As a global leader in energy, technology, manufacturing and infrastructure, GE is uniquely suited to help solve environmental dilemmas today and for generations to come. Ecomagination, which is based on GE’s belief that solving environmental problems is good business, constitutes a significant growth strategy for the company.

In addition to public commitments regarding GE’s products and research, the company also committed to reducing its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 1% from a 2004 baseline by 2012—a significant challenge for a high-growth company. GE EH&S developed and runs GE’s annual GHG inventory, and it is part of the team that developed the company goal and will oversee progress over the next seven years.

GE’s global EH&S performance today and in the future is a key supporting element of our Ecomagination initiative.

Stephen Ramsey

Stephen Ramsey has served as Vice President for Corporate Environmental Programs at General Electric Company (GE) since 1990. In this capacity, he manages the development and implementation of GE’s environmental health and safety policies, management systems and programs. He oversees all environmental litigation for the company and manages the company’s program for dealing with legacy issues such as the Hudson River.

Prior to joining GE, Ramsey practiced environmental law at Sidley & Austin, and he was the first Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from 1980 to 1985, during which time he supervised more than 75 lawyers who handled civil and criminal prosecutions under federal environmental laws.

He was awarded the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for the creation of the Environmental Crimes Unit at the DOJ.

Ramsey has written about and lectured on all aspects of environmental law and management systems, and he has served on the Boards of Directors of a variety of non-governmental organizations.

Kurt Krueger

Since 1997, Kurt Krueger has served as the Manager and Team Leader of Global Health and Safety Programs, Corporate Environmental Programs, at General Electric Company (GE). Prior to his position at GE, he worked at IT Corporation for 18 years in environmental health and safety, operations and emergency response management.

Krueger has extensive training in safety, management and leadership, and he is green-belt certified in Six Sigma. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist, a Certified Professional Environmental Auditor in Health and Safety and an OSHA-certified construction safety trainer. He is also a professional member of both the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the American Society of Safety Engineers.

Krueger holds a master of business administration degree from Pepperdine University, a master degree in environmental health and safety and a bachelor degree in biology both from California State University.