Networking the Way to Safety Excellence At MeadWestvaco

At this paper and packaging manufacturer, a network of internal occupational safety, health and environmental professionals is one of the company''s most valuable assets

By Sandy Smith

At MeadWestvaco Corp., the company''s safety philosophy requires 100 percent compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and company policies. And that''s just the beginning

James A. Buzzard, president of MeadWestvaco, explains: "The vision for MeadWestvaco includes a commitment to stewardship - for all of our resources. Our employees are the most important resource we have and we depend on them for the success of MeadWestvaco. Implementing the processes and systems for safety excellence, and integrating them into our everyday activities develops safe behavior and a safe workplace for our employees."

One of the key drivers of MeadWestvaco''s safety process, and of its success, is the company''s Safety, Health & Environment Resource Network, says Finn P. Schefstad III, director of Safety Management. ""The network allows for a sharing of information, knowledge and best practices ...all with the intention of excelling in occupational safety and health." The SH&E Resource network is the medium, according to Schefstad, MeadWestvaco uses to implement the Safety Excellence Process.

SH&E Resource Network

"In business," says Schefstad, "some people have the opinion safety and health programs are a big bucket units throw money into without seeing much result."

"At MeadWestvaco, we believe that achieving excellence in safety, health and environment brings value to the company," says Neal Leonhard, Manager of Safety Systems.

Schefstad says the company has created an economic model that shows it''s more cost-effective to use internal resources. In these days of downsizing and outsourcing, Schefstad''s words come like a breath of fresh air. He says there are several reasons why it makes economic sense to internalize occupational health and safety resources:

  • Your people are acclimated to your process. You don''t have to educate outside people coming in. The learning curve is eliminated.
  • You already have established relationships with departments and people to help facilitate the improvement process.
  • Developing and promoting people from within is good for morale, and their experiences can be shared with other facilities to maximize their knowledge.

"We found we save about 30 percent by using internal resources versus external resources. You can''t place a dollar value on the value of developing our own professionals. The key is proper organization of the SH&E Resource Network," says Schefstad.

The corporate safety department, helmed by Schefstad and Leonhard, maintains a database of names, locations and levels of expertise for the SH&E professionals who work for the company. For example, the company is in the process of implementing behavior based safety programs at all of its business units. According to Schefstad, "By using an internal model we developed, we''re able to provide the training and support needed at a fraction of the cost of using outside resources.

"The network works," he continues, "because managers are willing to share their employees and resources. It''s a team effort."

Schefstad points to one example: Recently, the Mahrt mill, located in Cottonton, Ala., donated an internal resource to conduct site specific safety training at the company''s Evadale mill, which is located in Evadale, Texas. The cost of this effort saved the operation, thus the company, a considerable amount of money, he said.

Another advantage of the resource network, adds Leonhard, is that it provides internal professionals the opportunity to develop their skills. "The process allows for cross-pollination and the opportunity to share best practices," he says. Both men say the SH&E Resource Network would not work if it wasn''t for support from all levels of the company. They both note the support of upper management for the safety process and the SH&E Resource Network.

Management Support

At MeadWestvaco, management actions reflect the company''s conviction that all injuries and illnesses are preventable and that accident prevention is a responsibility shared by all employees. Safety leadership at the company starts at the top, with the MeadWestvaco Leadership Team, comprised of the CEO and chairman, president, CFO, senior vice presidents and senior-level managers, including the Richard N. Burton, vice president, Corporte Safety, Health and Environment. "MeadWestvaco is committed to being the industry leader in Safety & Health," he says. "Leadership at MeadWestvaco will be demonstrated by achieving safety and health excellence through the identification and application of best practices, managing our business with the belief that all injuries and illnesses are preventable, and that accident prevention is a responsibility shared by all employees. It''s vitally important that we continuously strive to strengthen our safety and health culture and to stress its importance as a core value."

At the next level, the SH&E Leadership Council - which includes corporate and facility heads of SH&E departments as well as other corporate departments, and representatives from each division of the company. This team establishes policies and provides general oversight over SH&E matters.

It is during this group''s monthly teleconference meetings that requests for information and requests for assistance from other divisions are made. Lastly, sub-network teams include safety, health and environmental professionals from throughout the company who work to implement changes within their function and to engage in information sharing with the company''s employees.

"The results bubble back up to the SH&E Leadership Council, then go to the Leadership Team. The process allows us to align SH&E goals with company goals," says Schefstad, thereby making SH&E an integral part of the business.

Measuring Success

Schefstad has an interesting way to measure the success of the Safety/Health process at MeadWestvaco, and it doesn''t involve injury and illness statistics.

"I hate to use a reactive measure like the total case incident rate as the primary measure of the safety process," Schefstad admits.

Instead, safety excellence process reviews are performed at business units and focus on proactive and preventive safety measures. The objective of the reviews are to: determine where a site is relative to implementing the safety excellence process; evaluate the level of understanding and application of the principles associated with the program''s key elements; identify opportunities for performance improvement; and leave the business unit with a blueprint that will move them to the next level of safety excellence and produce sustainable results. During reviews like these, Schefstad often talks to employees. He wants to know one thing in particular: Do they do anything at home in a safer manner as a result of what they learned at work?

"If they tell me yes, then I know safety has become part of the mindset, part of a unit or operation''s culture. If the employee tells me they not only practice but teach their families the safety principles they exhibit at work, then I''m confident it''s become a core value," he says.

Sidebar 1

  • MeadWestvaco Corp., Stamford, Ct.
  • Industry/Product(s): MeadWestvaco is a leading global producer of packaging, coated and specialty papers, consumer and office products and specialty chemicals.
  • More than 150 operating and office locations in 29 countries.
  • Approximately 30,000 employees
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