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Investing in SH&E to Build Company Culture

Scott L. Turner is the President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of HMHTTC Response, Inc. and is based out of their Global Headquarters in Mount Arlington, New Jersey. HMHTTC Response, Inc. currently has 16 region offices throughout North America, one in Bristol, England and one in Balboa, Panama. In his eighteen years of experience, Turner has overseen the response to some of the nation’s worst hazardous materials disasters.

In this interview, he describes his responsibilities as CEO of HMHTTC, and he shares his views on the importance of building a company culture that values ethics and safety, health and environmental investment.

Please provide a brief overview of HMHTTC Response, Inc. and of your position as President and CEO.

HMHTTC is the first and only company of its type in all of North America and possibly the world. We are dedicated to the response to hazardous materials emergencies and disasters and to the aftermath of natural disasters. HMHTTC responds to incidents such as freight train derailments, jet crashes, chemical plant explosions and fires as well as to smaller incidents such as truck accidents and leaking packages in trailers or warehouses. In addition, HMHTTC is a leading private sector company in the effective response to the aftermath of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

My discipline as CEO is not much different than that of a CEO in any mid-sized corporation. You focus on the vision of tomorrow and ensure that all reports and their subordinates strive for the same goal. I continually strive for excellence in culture building. If you combine the “right people” with a winning culture and with ethics, safety and a sound innovative business plan, you cannot lose, provided that you have a cooperative macroeconomics scenario.

In addition to the vision, culture building, ethics and safety demonstrated in a “top-down” philosophy, there are financial strategies. With the constant intervention of the CEO’s financial team, the Chief Financial Officer must constantly feed the CEO financial strategies, and the buck does stop here. Success belongs to the team, failure belongs to the CEO, and the CEO has exclusive ownership if the plan fails. This is leading by example. Demonstrate to your team that you are willing to look at the company’s shortfalls or failed projects and rest them square on your shoulders, just as you expect them to do if their department falls short.

As an emergency response service for hazardous materials incidents within the private sector, HMHTTC must have staff, supplies and equipment on standby at all times. How does HMHTTC handle the challenge of operating on a 24/7 schedule?

A 24/7 environment is always a challenge and a constant work in progress. This is a delegated task mostly for the HMHTTC field management team. Although there is a model for managers to follow, ultimately they are empowered to manage the schedule for their region as they see fit. The top-down culture in HMHTTC has always been, “If I need to do your job for you, then I do not need you.” Furthermore, even though a CEO technically works in a management discipline, I do not expect to manage my direct reports. Coach, yes, manage, absolutely not. I am also a firm believer in “accountable delegation.” This will allow you to do what you do best, empower your direct reports, give them a project and turn them loose, while monitoring their progress with an accountability mechanism in place.

HMHTTC’s clients include hazardous materials transporters, fixed facilities and city, state and local governments. In what ways does HMHTTC tailor its response techniques to meet the specific needs of its clients?

Many of our clients have very specific needs or require special attention regarding their shipments or manufacturing of hazardous materials. Some move very sensitive chemicals, others move extremely toxic or reactive chemicals, some tanker companies transport modified custom-spec tankers and some even have special or restricted routes of travel. All of this information is stored in our 24-hour Dispatch Center located at our Global Headquarters. When one of these clients calls in with an incident, we have information on file to aid in a safe response.

For fixed facilities, HMHTTC will send a Forward Team to review the facility layout and probable command post locations in the event of an incident. In addition, we review the contingency plan and maintain the same on file at our Dispatch Center.

In quality assurance goals, we constantly strive for “Excellence in Response.” We rarely fall short of that goal, and on those rare occasions, we are made aware through our quality control measures such as ISO 9001:2000 and the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care Partnership initiatives. Upon testing our systems, corrective measures are collectively agreed upon and immediately implemented.

What methods are used to train HMHTTC staff?

At HMHTTC, safety and training are connected, and the results reflect the same. Annually, our response personnel respond to in excess of 2,500 hazardous materials incidents nationwide, many of which involve very nasty substances. As a result of comprehensive training programs and protocol, those incidents are handled with remarkably safe results. In our history, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has never cited HMHTTC. This is in spite of the fact that they are present at many of the incidents to which HMHTTC responds.

In addition to the minimum level of training required at entry-level hazmat emergency response, HMHTTC far exceeds the annual level of training OSHA requires. While OSHA requires an eight-hour annual refresher course, HMHTTC requires that all regional field offices participate in four hours of pertinent monthly safety training. It is then documented and kept on file for 20 years. Chris Harrington, our Director of Health and Safety, selects the training topic(s).

How are safety, health and environmental (SH&E) practices promoted within HMHTTC and during emergency response efforts?

Safe practices are promoted in various ways. In addition to the above, HMHTTC requires all of our responses to be pre-managed with a tailgate safety meeting as well as a debriefing that addresses what we did right and wrong and how we can improve.

One very important component of our safety program is the Near-Miss Program. Whenever HMHTTC experiences any near misses, our Health and Safety Committee dissects the cause and effect. The findings are then documented and disseminated throughout the Region Offices within HMHTTC.

As President and CEO of HMHTTC, what is your view of SH&E investment, and how is it incorporated into the strategic goals and objectives of your company?

My safety background includes work as an instructor of hazardous materials emergency response in addition to many years of experience in the field, therefore, safety has always been of paramount concern to me. In fact, safety is so important to me that in our Global Headquarters we have etched in glass on our Board Room wall the Latin phrase “Salus Populi Suprema Lex,” which translates to “The People’s Safety is The Highest Law.” Furthermore, it is the responsibility of every corporate employee to know what that Latin phrase means. It is all about the culture.

I have a fiduciary obligation to HMHTTC and a vested interest in the life, safety and health of all of my staff, including those who work in other states or countries whom I have not yet had the privilege of meeting. With that said, I am very supportive of my safety and health department. They have never been told that something is too expensive, nor are they restricted to a budget.

I believe that safety and profits are inseparable. A CEO who views this any other way is sadly mistaken. In our line of work, or in any line of work for that matter, if you have frequent accidents, morale will inevitably tank. If our 350 people view safety as the number one concern, trumping profits, injuries will be at a minimum. Obviously, our clients use the key indicator of the Experience Modification Rating (EMR) to assess our commitment to safety—high numbers tell them all they need to know. Our EMR ratings are historically in the .80 to .90 range. Our safety-savvy Fortune 100 and 500 companies do not want to be associated with a reckless, strictly profit-driven company. Safety must come first.

At HMHTTC, our Corporate Development Department openly exploits the fact that our safety record is what it is. We have earned it, we have the right to exploit it. We are proud of the fact that we have no OSHA citations, low EMRs and no chemical exposure injuries. Safety costs money, but injuries cost more. However, that is not the reason that I strive for that goal—it is a human thing. I would not want bad news coming to my doorstep about my son, so I will do everything in my power to prevent having to knock on someone’s door and say, “I’m sorry but...,” knowing full well that it could have been prevented.

In the organizational structure, it is vital for the SH&E director to report directly to the CEO and not to the Vice President of Operations, or the like. Although our VP of Operations is always safety-conscious and practices and preaches the same, there would be a conflict. One is revenue-driven (operations), and one is overhead (safety and health). The wrong placement of these departments on the organizational chart would stink of impropriety, and I guarantee that a plaintiff attorney will exploit that fact in your Org Chart.

Last but not least, each employee undergoes a background check. We have weeded out a lot of potential troublemakers, and there seems to be a direct link. Drunk driving offenders or habitual speeders do not always make the safest employees. We will not hire them. Our aggressive training and safety protocols make our safety programs work, and our clients appreciate that.

How does HMHTTC ensure that its quality management system complies with the criteria of the ISO 9001:2000 standard?

This is partially proprietary, however, I will discuss public information. We use our “HMHTTC Quality Control Questionnaire,” which is mailed out with every invoice package. This questionnaire takes just a few minutes for clients to complete, and then they mail it to HMHTTC. Every QA/QC is directed to my attention, once I receive the questionnaires, I review and sign off on them. They are then acted upon (if warranted), scored, distributed to the designated persons involved in the incident and filed. At the end of the year, the scores are tabulated and averaged, and we seek improvement from that information or confirm that action has already taken place. All related studies and actions are documented to comply with our ISO 9001:2000 registration. HMHTTC is the only hazardous materials emergency response company in the world that is both ISO 9001:2000-registered and an ACC Responsible Care Partner, and we are very proud of that.

HMHTTC’s newest unit, the North American Strike Team, responds to large-scale emergencies and disasters and works from a specially equipped trailer that can operate for long periods of time with minimal support. How successful has the unit been thus far, and how do you predict it will influence future emergency response procedures, especially in light of such recent natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina?

HMHTTC has four Major Disaster Response Tractor Trailers that are deployed with our North American Strike Team. Each trailer is valued at a minimum of $250,000.00 a piece and is strategically positioned throughout the United States based on the probability of the region. Since the inception of these disaster units, HMHTTC has deployed them to such incidents as the:

  • 1.2 million-gallon sulfuric acid disaster in Delaware City, Delaware (2001)
  • Hart Senate Building anthrax release in Washington, DC (2001)
  • Airline Disaster, Queens, NY (2001)
  • Oleum tank car explosion in Freeport, Texas (2002)
  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast (2005)

Each disaster unit is designed for specific tasks; two for general disaster response, one for train derailments and one constructed as a mobile canteen to feed our people at a major disaster. This unit is our latest design, and it is capable of feeding 500 people three meals a day indefinitely. It is a 48-foot, fully insulated trailer with a 65 KW generator, an eight-foot walk-in freezer, a six-foot walk-in refrigerator and an 18-foot galley complete with hot and cold water; a 16-burner, gas-fired cooking range with three ovens, stainless steel cook surfaces, a meat slicer with accessories, heating and air conditioning, a six-foot pantry and an eight-foot bunkhouse for the cook and prep cook. It comes complete with 20 tables, 200 chairs and a 60’ x 24’ tent area that serves as a portable dining facility.

Do you believe that emergency response procedures for hazardous materials incidents in the United States have changed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Why or why not?

Procedures for emergency response in the public sector have changed immensely since September 11, however, there has been very little change in the private sector. We respond to incidents very much like we did before September 11, although we do keep a watchful eye for terrorism-related issues, and we train accordingly to weapons-of-mass-destruction potential.

Based on your extensive experience, what recommendations can you make to companies within the transportation industry that want to prevent or reduce hazardous materials incidents?

To reduce hazardous materials incidents, I recommend training, training, training. Training combined with good driving, an effective employee screening program and a very low tolerance for near misses will inevitably reduce accidents and injuries.

Biography

Scott L. Turner, President, Chief Executive Officer and founder of HMHTTC Response, Inc. and S.L. Turner and Son Waste Transport, Inc. based out of the Global Headquarters in Mount Arlington, New Jersey, has been actively involved in hazardous materials emergency response since 1988. He has significant experience in cargo tank truck emergency response and recovery and a diverse background in response to all modes of transportation, including railroad and air. Turner has presided over some of North America’s worst hazardous material disasters such as the air disaster at Newark Airport in New Jersey (1997), the air disaster in Queens, New York (2001), the Baltimore Tunnel train derailment (2001), hazmat disaster response to both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005) and the recent air disaster in Teterboro, New Jersey.

Turner has been recognized as a leading figure in hazardous materials emergency response and in the business community as a whole. He has been invited to serve on CHEMTREC’s Board of Advisors and has served on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ (NIEHS) Board of Advisors. He has also contributed to the development of hazardous materials emergency response videos and has been featured and published in several fire services and transportation magazines.