The 2003 American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference offered an interesting and timely roundtable discussion on this very topic. While the participants' answers to the question varied, they agreed upon several companies that in their estimation, defined world-class safety.
Three of those companies mentioned - Bechtel Group Inc., DuPont and Johnson & Johnson - were chosen as America's Safest Companies by Occupational Hazards this year. Some of the people quoted in the following articles - and who work at some of America's Safest Companies - attended that session, perhaps to see if their safety process measured up to the 'big boys" of safety, or perhaps to discover ways to improve already stellar safety programs.
From tiny Quincy Compressor of Bay Minette, Ala., with its 141 employees, to mighty Johnson & Johnson, with 108,000 employees in 54 countries, what do America's Safest Companies 2003 have in common? They all treat safety as a business value. Not a priority. Not a process. Not a program. A value.
"When you prioritize something, that means it's not always going to be at the top of your list. A core value is woven into everything you do, every business decision you make," says Kevin S. Berg, principal vice president and manager of Environmental, Safety and Health Services at Bechtel.
"Safety is considered a very essential part of our business functions," reveals Chris Andrews, safety and training coordinator at Bon L Manufacturing of Newnan, Ga.
In addition, many of the 2003 class of America's Safest Companies use safety as a measure of business success. "Safety is a key indicator of organizational excellence. A safe plant typically has high employee morale, high productivity and minimal product defects," says Joseph Van Houten, Ph.D., CSP, worldwide director of Planning, Process Design and Delivery, Johnson & Johnson Safety & Industrial Hygiene.
Others acknowledge that business success would not be possible without a safe workplace and safe workers. James A. Buzzard, the president of MeadWestvaco, calls employees "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."
Chosen by our editors based on input from industry and professional associations, EHS and industry insiders, OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program and our research, the 16 companies honored this year as America's Safest Companies share another commonality: None of them intend to rest on their laurels.
Because, says Keith Shumacher, plant manager at Quincy Compressor, safety "is a race with no finish."
America's Safest Companies: World-Class Safety
What is world-class safety? Ask 10 people and you could receive 10 different answers, and probably all of them would be right on target.