DuPont's CEO Takes the Leadership Role in Safety

Sept. 12, 2003
'At DuPont, which began as a gunpowder manufacturer in 1802 and began diversifying into other products in 1880, safety has always had paramount importance.

At DuPont, which began as a gunpowder manufacturer in 1802 and began diversifying into other products in 1880, safety has always had paramount importance.

By Michael A. Verespej

There''s no question as to the importance of safety to the way that $25 billion life sciences giant DuPont operates. All employees need to do is look at who the company''s chief safety, health and environmental officer is - CEO and chairman Charles O. Holliday Jr.

"The message [his title] sends is that safety is more than a priority - that it is a value. He is the chief environment officer. He''s not just writing a memo," says Michael S. Deak, corporate director of safety and health at the Wilmington, Del., company that has 79,000 employees in 367 locations worldwide. "Priorities change. To really have a good strong safety culture, you have to have safety, health and environmental as a value, not a priority. We try to weave it into everything - performance evaluations, pay progression and career promotions."

That continued commitment to safety was reflected in DuPont''s 2002 safety performance, which was its best since 1997. Acute and chronic work-related injuries were down almost 30 percent. Over 80 percent of its location sites completed 2002 with zero lost time injuries and 50 percent had zero total recordable injuries.

What''s more, after an overall increase in recordable injuries between 1997 and 2000 because of DuPont''s efforts to educate employees about ergonomic-related injuries, the number of recordable injuries/illnesses per 200,000 hours worked has declined by 33 percent to a level that is one-half the chemical industry average and one-fourth the manufacturing average.

"We have an internal ergonomic standards that is similar to the federal ergonomics safety standard that was repealed at the end of the Clinton presidency," says Deak. "We videotape employees to look for what''s causing stress on knees, shoulders and wrists and have established zones of caution (similar to those used in the state of Washington) for repetitive motion and overhead movements.

But DuPont''s safety efforts aren''t just confined to the workplace. Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions are down 68 percent and energy consumption is 6 percent lower, offsetting all growth over the past 12 years. Toxic waste generated is down 24 percent since 1999 and there have been just five significant environmental incidents in the last six years.

DuPont also credits its safety success to a philosophy that makes line management - not the 750 environmental, health and safety professionals - personally accountable and responsible for safety, health and environmental.

"That is a cornerstone of our efforts," says Deak. Line managers are responsible for the incident investigation process, for making employees clear what is expected in terms of safety performance, for conducting safety training and for integrating safety, health and environmental expectations into the fabric of how work is carried out daily.

In addition, since 1990, DuPont has created competency networks (teams of individuals) to continuously look at safety performance in seven key areas: general safety, occupational health, ergonomics, fire safety, process safety, product stewardship and contractor safety.

"The networks have been the glue that has kept us together and kept us improving," says Deak. "They look at training, safety performance gaps and analyze incidents and equipment issues to drive improvement. It gives us solid core knowledge of safety issues and gives employees a group of mentors to learn from."

Sidebar: Safety from the Start

Safety at DuPont began with the founding of the company. Eleuthère Irénée du Pont (E.I.) broke ground on July 19, 1802, for the company that bears his name.

He studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier. He used this knowledge and his intense interest in scientific exploration to continually enhance product quality and manufacturing sophistication and efficiency. He earned a reputation for high quality, fairness and concern for workers'' safety.

E.I. du Pont paid Wilmington, Del., businessman Jacob Broom $6,740 for a site on the Brandywine River on which to build his first powder mill. The falling water on the lower Brandywine could drive the machinery of a large mill and ensure nearly year-round production. Willow trees on the riverbanks would make excellent charcoal, a key ingredient in black powder. The site also was close to wharves for shipping, yet far enough from the city for safety in case of explosion.

The DuPont family lived on the site, so they had a vested interest in running and maintaining a safe facility. Since its founding, DuPont established a global reputation for excellence in safety management. In 1805, DuPont was one of a few companies to hire a physician for employees. In 1935, it established one of the world''s first industrial medicine facilities.

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