You know safety is a priority when the CEO begins his conversations with employees and managers the subject of safety.
By Michael A. Verespej
Francis Petro - an electrical engineer by trade who began his manufacturing career working in maintenance departments in factories - learned early that often the difference between a near miss and an injury or fatality is one-eighth of an inch, one-tenth of a second or just "God''s grace."
That''s why the 63-year-old Petro, president and CEO of Haynes International Inc. since 1999, has made safety the No. 1 operating priority and achieved a dramatic improvement in safety at every company that he''s run.
At Haynes - a manufacturer of high performance nickel and cobalt-based alloys which has plants in Kokomo, Ind., Arcadia, La., and Openshaw, England - incident and frequency rates of injuries have declined by 50 percent since 2000 and the number of recordable injuries per 200,000 hours worked has shrunk by more than 60 percent.
Equally remarkable, its Louisiana plant has worked 2,474 days, which translates to 1,869,788 hours - nearly seven years - without a lost workday case.
What''s Petro''s magic? It''s simple. "We tell people safety is not a policy. That you have to behave it, think it, breathe it and act safely all the time," says Petro. "It has to be in every aspect of what you do. You have to be tenacious. Every place I go, everything I do, I start the conversation with safety."
And so does everything else at Haynes where employees work with hot metal and use heavy equipment.
Every supervisor starts the day by talking about safety. At weekly management meetings, safety is the first topic. Every single month of the year, a different department gives a safety audit presentation for all of management. All new employees receive three full days of safety training and all employees, including supervisors, attend a monthly safety meeting after which they are quizzed. The joint (union-management) safety and health committee has monthly meetings, quarterly safety and environmental audits.
But meetings are just one part of the focus on safety. Petro''s also built in accountability and discipline. "Every single manager is evaluated first on safety before anything else, and that is written and documented," says Petro. "When there''s an accident, a spill, or an environmental release, managers must call my office immediately and provide written documentation within 24 hours."
Petro also reinforces that accountability through discipline. He has placed managers on probation or given them time off without pay and disciplined foreman and supervisors for not following safety procedures. "If you ever, ever, ever put production before safety here, you won''t be employed here," says Petro.
Still, it is Petro''s personal passion for safety - "you are never going to have excellence in safety unless top management is unequivocally committed to it every day 1,000 percent"-and his message that "all accidents ... happen today" which have had the most impact on making safety awareness part of the culture at Haynes.
"You must be focused on safety each day," says Petro, because "whenever you die, whenever you get hurt, it is today. The day that someone got hurt two weeks ago was today" (for them). And everybody must be clearly focused on safety today because tomorrow gets here today."
Besides, as he points out, "you don''t look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and say today is the day that I''m going to get hurt at work or that I don''t care whether my people get hurt.
"It is your attitude, your sense of awareness and how you focus yourself that makes the difference," says Petro. "It is not just talking about safety, how whether you perform safely and how you act that counts. It is whether you are willing to make the commitment to ensure that no one gets hurt. If you get your employees focused on working safer, you will attain levels of safety you never dreamed of."