America's Safest Companies - Part One

Oct. 21, 2002
17 Award Winners Share Best Practices

There are companies across the United States that, day in and day out, protect their employees and their bottom line through effective, well-defined safety programs, innovative solutions to challenges, a belief that safety is the "right thing to do," mutual respect between management and employees, and management commitment.

They are America's Safest Companies.

In this issue, Occupational Hazards takes a look at some of the best of the best. Despite disparities in size or industry, the companies recognized on this list of America's Safest Companies have several things in common:

  • The unflagging support of management for safety.
  • The commitment of employees, supervisors and managers to safe operations.
  • The willingness to benchmark with other companies to provide a safe work environment not only for their employees, but for all employees in their industries.
  • The enthusiasm and curiosity to find innovative solutions to safety challenges.
  • The humility to admit that they could do safety better.
  • The dedication to continue to strive for perfection.

A letter from Jeff Immelt, General Electric's (GE) chairman and CEO, and Steve Ramsey, vice president of corporate environmental programs, demonstrates the powerful impact occupational health and safety can have on a corporate culture. "GE has driven the expectation of excellence in EHS performance into the fabric of our business and operating systems. ... It is a fundamental part of who we are and how we act," Immelt and Ramsey stress.

From Houston's Petrocon Engineering, where employees have worked seven years (9 million hours) without a lost-time injury, to John Deere, frequently honored as one of the best places to work in America, these companies make safe production a priority.

The companies were chosen with help from their industry associations, associations representing EHS professionals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program and the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association.

Through interviews and questionnaires, these stellar companies shared their best practices with us. Now we share them with you.

Management Electrifies Safety at New York Power Authority

Want to get charged up about safety?

Talk to Eugene W. Zeltmann, president and CEO of the NYPA.

None of the Power Authority's many accomplishments in 2001 was more gratifying to me than our progress in preventing accidents in the workplace."

That's how Eugene W. Zeltmann, president and CEO of New York Power Authority (NYPA), led off his comments about occupational safety in the company's 2001 annual report.

Noting the power authority's precipitous drop in lost workday injuries - from 438 in 2000 to 31 in 2001 - Zeltmann commented, "That improvement did not come by chance. ... We recognize that safety requires a concerted effort by everyone, from union and nonunion workers to management at all levels."

There is no doubt in the minds of NYPA's 1,500 employees at 17 electric generating facilities that Zeltmann "walks the walk," so to speak. He attends all the quarterly corporate safety committee meetings, which can last as long as two days. In fact, he has not missed one of those quarterly meetings since coming on board as CEO in 1997.

"Word has filtered down to employees that if the president attends the meetings, then safety must be important," says Noel P. DesChamps, director of Power Generation Support Services at NYPA.

Zeltmann promotes safety because it's the "right thing to do," but admits he recognizes a relationship between safe operations and a productive work force. "If people know we care for them, then we have the sense they'll work hard to help us succeed. These things [business performance and safety] go together, there's no doubt about it."

Key Elements of Safety. Recognizing that a safe workplace shows up on the bottom line, NYPA does not skimp when it comes to the safety process.

All appropriate staff members receive e-mails concerning accidents and near-misses, including the way the issue was resolved and the lessons learned. That safety information is also available on a company intranet, which can be accessed internally by employees. Safety audits of sites by NYPA health and safety professionals include a safety observation of the facility and a discussion of what was found during the visit. All safety issues and solutions are documented and, whenever possible, those solutions are implemented during the site visit itself. The company prides itself on "fixing the program, which will fix the problem."

Each primary NYPA site has a safety committee, which generally meets on a monthly basis. This is in addition to the quarterly corporate safety committee meetings attended by Zeltmann. Site safety committees include union members, supervisors and management. It is their job to identify problems and immediately apply solutions.

Zeltmann points out that safety does not stop at the gates for NYPA employees. A "100 Days of Summer" flyer program encourages employees to be safe off the job, while a wellness program offers free flu shots and hepatitis vaccinations and sponsors an annual health fair.

Training. Zeltmann admits the respect employees show safety trainers surprised him when he first came to NYPA. "Employees know the trainers and teachers are very, very good," he adds, "and if they follow the training, they'll be safe."

Workers at NYPA appear to be happy to work there; turnover is almost nonexistent. When a new employee does come on board, he or she receives one-on-one safety training from one of NYPA's occupational safety professionals.

The end result of the dedication of upper management and employees to safety is paying off. NYPA received the "Best Safety Record" award from the American Public Power Association for the last six years. The award is based on the best safety record in a particular group, defined by number of employees.

"We want all employees to go home with all their body parts intact, and I'm not saying that glibly," Zeltmann says. "When all is said and done, we want the kids of our employees to have their moms and dads home safe at night, and our employees want that too."

Best Practices: Training at NYPA

Joseph N. Dube, senior safety and fire protection specialist, notes the type of large voltage electrical work done by many NYPA employees requires specialized training. NYPA employees are trained annually on eight to 10 major health and safety issues, such as forklift safety and ergonomics, and more than 500 NYPA employees are trained in defibrillator use and CPR, with 60 defibrillators distributed among the sites.

"In this business, you only get one try," Dube says. " The end result [of mistakes or inadequate training] can be deadly."

General Electric Co.

"GE's environmental, health and safety (EHS) vision is clear and simple," say Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt and Steve Ramsey, vice president, Corporate Environmental Programs. "We must keep our workers safe on the job, ensure that we are good neighbors to the communities in which we do business by complying with environmental laws and regulations, address historical contamination issues cooperatively and completely, and incorporate this vision into our processes and products."

GE is famous for training, and the company conducts more units of training in the EHS area than in all others at the company. Plant managers attend training on GE's EHS expectations and management systems. Their performance is reviewed annually with their business leader and the EHS functional leader. GE's top leaders review the company's EHS performance quarterly, with results shared across the company.

Michael J. Vigezzi, manager of Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and safety programs, says the key elements of GE's safety programs include:

  • Complying with applicable environmental, health and safety laws and regulations;
  • Taking appropriate measures to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, providing employees with a safe and healthy working environment, and considering evolving industry practices, regulatory requirements and societal standards of care;
  • Assessing the EHS impact before starting a new activity or project and considering EHS impact in the design and production of GE's products and services;
  • Eliminating unreasonable risks from facilities, products, services and activities;
  • Reducing the use and release of toxic and hazardous materials, preventing pollution, and conserving, recovering and recycling materials; and
  • Continuing to improve EHS systems and performance as an integral part of GE's operational strategy.

Facts about General Electric Co.

  • Headquarters: Fairfield, Conn.
  • Industry/Products: Consumer appliances, consumer appliance service, aircraft engines and services, financial services, railcar services, research and development, industrial motors and systems, lighting and lighting products, medical equipment, plastics, specialty materials, locomotives
  • Number of Employees/Locations: 320,000
  • employees globally at 380 facilities
  • Number of EHS Professionals: 800 globally

Georgia-Pacific Corp.

At Georgia-Pacific (G-P), "Employees are the core of the safety program," says Robert Wetherington, director of safety, "and are active in maintaining and developing safety awareness and procedures."

Because employees play such a key role in safety, the company makes every effort to acknowledge their efforts and energize their outlook about safety.

The Chairman's Safety Award goes to any facility that has worked 500,000 hours without an OSHA recordable injury. More than 73 Chairman's Awards have been awarded since the program was inaugurated in 1996. Chairman Pete Correll visits each facility for its award ceremony, indicating his support for safety, and personally awards the plaque to the employees.

The company also participates in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which requires the support of employees to achieve Star or Merit status. According to Wetherington, G-P sites are encouraged to participate in the program, and sites that have already been included in VPP mentor other facilities.

Facilities regularly host what the company calls "Revival Tent Meetings," which are designed to re-energize employees about safety. Facility employees are recognized for safety improvements they initiated and often are asked to speak to the group. Employees from other facilities attend the meetings to share best practices. Lunch or dinner is served outdoors in a large tent, and plant managers often serve as the "chefs" for the meal.

Daily and weekly toolbox safety meetings serve to "keep employees thinking about safety on a daily basis," Wetherington says. "They discuss the needs of the specific jobs they will work on that day and review changes in safety procedures. Employees look out for each other and help each other work safely through the day."

Other standouts in the safety program include employee publications and an intranet that cover safety awards and achievements; training; consulting with other facilities in "other-than-audit" visits to examine new equipment, new safety programs and problem resolution; and targeted monthly safety publications and regular reporting to employees of safety statistics.

Facts about Georgia-Pacific Corp.

  • Headquarters: Atlanta
  • Industry/Products: Manufacturer and distributor of tissue, packaging, paper, building products, pulp and related chemicals
  • Number of Employees/Locations: 71,000 employees at 600-plus locations
  • Number of EHS Professionals: 24 at corporate and division level, not including those at the facility level

Dick Pacific Construction

"We have three top reasons why safety is of the highest priority," says Tracy L. Lawson, CSP, CHST, CSHP, director, Environmental, Safety & Health. "First, people make our company, and we are responsible for making sure we provide them with the best place to work, and that means a safe place to work. Second, we are a responsible member of our communities and want to ensure we take care of the workers, public and environment.

"Third," she adds, "it is smart business. The small stuff counts, and by paying attention to detail, we can minimize our risks."

Key elements of the safety program:

  • Supervisor accountability and participation in the safety program. The president and CEO is also the chief safety officer.
  • Training and education of workers, including supervisor training (foreman and above attend supervisor training in accident reduction techniques, zero accident techniques, OSHA 10-hour construction training and CPR), and competent person training for safety and site personnel.
  • Subcontractor control and participation.
  • Pre-planning, including pre-project planning, activity hazard analysis and daily huddles to discuss safety challenges.
  • Frequent inspections and prompt corrective action.
  • Communication, including daily huddles with workers.
  • Highly trained site safety personnel who cover all projects and are there to pay attention to detail.
  • Accident and near-miss investigations for root cause and implementation of corrective action with follow-up.
  • Firm, fair and consistent discipline. No tolerance for fall protection violations, substance abuse or workplace violence.
  • Incentive awards that include all workers, supervisors and subcontractors in an attempt to catch workers doing safety right.

Facts about Dick Pacific Construction:

  • Headquarters: Honolulu
  • Industry/Products: Construction/general contractor
  • Number of Employees: 500-1,000
  • Number of EHS Professionals: 16
  • Company Philosophy Regarding Safety: "Safety is an integrated part of our daily business operations, not an optional accessory," says Tracy L. Lawson, CSP, CHST, CSHP, director, Environmental, Safety & Health.

Petrocon Engineering - a subsidiary of ENGlobal Corp.

ENGlobal Corp. faces some unique safety and health challenges not found at other companies included in America's Safest Companies.

"ENGlobal Corp., being in the engineering business, has associates working at numerous jobsites remote from our main offices. Many different types of business are represented, and all of the jobsites have their own unique conditions and potential jobsite hazards," says Don Johnson, safety manager. To meet those challenges, he adds, "We emphasize all aspects of hazard awareness training. There is an assessment and certification process in place to identify potential hazards for each job."

Before accepting a job, it first must satisfy the criteria that the work can be completed in a safe and healthy manner by concerned, safe and prudent personnel.

That caveat appears to be working: Petrocon Engineering, a subsidiary of ENGlobal Corp., recently logged 9 million man hours - seven years - without a lost-time injury. Another subsidiary, Petrocon Systems, boasts a nine-year record, while a third, Petrocon Construction Resources, maintains a five-year record without a lost-time incident.

Johnson says that management commitment and participation in safety activities, up to and including the CEO/COO level, is the strongest element of Petrocon's safety program. Managers participate in safety meetings and conduct jobsite safety audits.

Management, however, says safety is a team effort. "We take safety seriously. ... We are extremely proud of our associates for their uncompromising commitment to a safe and healthy workplace," CEO Michael L. Burrow acknowledges.

"Our safety policy states that all injuries are preventable; therefore, our goal is a zero injury rating for every ENGlobal company," Johnson notes. "We have developed a comprehensive safety program that encourages all employees to take a proactive role in identifying, evaluating and correcting any potentially unsafe condition, thereby minimizing the possibility of accidents."

Facts about Petrocon Engineering:

  • Headquarters: Beaumont, Texas
  • Industry/Products: Engineering, design, inspection, analytical, fabrication, controls, automation programming, graphics, commissioning, start-up, construction management, in-plant services, integration and information technology, custom and industrial computers, battery-powered systems, air handling equipment, pipeline engineering and construction, mechanical, civil/structural, process, piping, cost control, estimating, scheduling, etc.
  • Number of Employees/Locations: 1,100-plus
  • Number of EHS Professionals: 3

Safety Sits in the Driver's Seat at Delphi

At this automotive components manufacturer, safety is a hands-on experience for every employee.

At Delphi Corp., safety has always been a priority. In 1993 and 1994, when the company was a subsidiary of General Motors, Delphi benchmarked its safety program against those of competitors Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. It determined Delphi's safety record was twice as good as those at Ford and Chrysler, and there was much rejoicing.

"We were all saying we were the best of the best," says Karl Bossung, director of health and safety at Delphi. "Then we got a new board member. He pointed out that the automobile industry had one of the worst safety records. 'You're the best of the worst,' he told us. Then he told us who we should really benchmark against, companies like Allied Signal, Alcoa, DuPont - large global manufacturing companies that have stellar health and safety records."

Once Delphi management recovered from the shock of hearing they were the best of the worst, they got to work. Union representatives and management took a look at the health and safety programs of several companies suggested by the board member and came up with "50 to 60 things we should be doing," Bossung remembers. "We determined that all the great programs had four core elements: a plant safety review board, safe operating practices, incident investigation and safety observation tours - and that's where we started."

Top-Down Safety. "Our organization is a top-down company. We live up to the minimum expectations our management sets for us," he says. " For a culture change, we needed action from management, not just speeches or announcements. We knew that if we rolled out a new safety culture the way we announced everything else, it was doomed to failure."

For a year, beginning in February 1995, the top 100 union and management executives trained on the four core elements of the new safety process. In the second year, the next level of managers and union representatives trained. In 1996, plant managers learned about the four core elements. Training continued until this year, when hourly employees received their training. When finished, some 191,000 Delphi employees, at every level, will be thoroughly trained in the health and safety process.

"Hourly workers want to be committed to the safety process because their managers were committed. Once the managers were asked to take ownership of health and safety, we saw an attitude change not only in them, but in the hourly employees," Bossung says.

The training gave management the knowledge and the tools to demonstrate a visible commitment to safety. In addition, employees learned that they all could be "safety inspectors," watching out for themselves and others. "Nobody knows the equipment better than our employees," Bossung acknowledges. "We hire employees from the shoulders on up. When we design new equipment and processes, we get the employees involved."

The effort to prioritize safety paid off. In January 1999, when Delphi split from General Motors, the first policy statement adopted was the health and safety policy. Since 1993, Delphi reduced its lost workday injury rate by 88 percent. At a company of Delphi's size, that equates to 4,700 fewer lost workday injuries. Recordable injuries/illnesses decreased by 86 percent during the same time, resulting in a drop of more than 28,000 recordable injuries/illnesses annually.

Now, Bossung says, the biggest challenge is keeping the ball rolling. "Safety is not a relay race. You can't have one competitor run a leg and hand off the baton. You have to keep safety on everybody's mind all the time."

Best Practices: Four Core Elements of Delphi Safety

Plant safety review board - A mandatory, high-priority, monthly meeting co-chaired by the plant manager and the union shop chairperson at each UAW-Delphi location. The board reviews, monitors and oversees the location's health and safety process, sets health and safety priorities, and communicates those priorities to facility employees.

Safe operating practices - SOPs establish an understanding of how to work safely, including employee instructions on safety, necessary training and reinforcement of the idea that shortcuts that violate safety procedures are not acceptable. As part of this element, all new hires, employees transferred to the plant from other locations and contract employees must go through a safety orientation before being placed on the job. This requirement includes salaried employees.

Incident investigation - A process to identify the root causes of incidents to prevent injuries. Once the root cause of an incident is identified, Delphi uses the hierarchy of safety controls - substitution/elimination, engineering controls, warning signs, training and procedures and personal protective equipment - to implement an effective corrective measure.

Safety observation tours - All levels of leadership, both management and union, are required to conduct safety observation tours at least monthly. The focus of these tours is to "catch" employees working safely, then stop and praise them for their safe work behaviors.

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.

At Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a good name means everything, and one way to protect that good name is to do safety right.

"We strive for continuous improvement in all aspects of environmental, health and safety matters. Each of our associates worldwide is responsible for protecting Goodyear's good name under the guidance of our highly motivated EHS professionals," noted CEO and Chairman Samir G. Gibara in the company's 2001 Environmental Health and Safety Report.

Safety plays a part in business success, he added. "Our global EHS management supports the company's business objectives, offering a sustainable, competitive advantage by striving to reach the exacting standards to which we aspire. It is a responsibility that we proudly carry on the wings of Goodyear."

Goodyear is implementing ergonomic education and programs on a global basis; the company believes a comprehensive ergonomic process is an integral part of its global health and safety system. Through hazard recognition, evaluation and risk control, each Goodyear facility is implementing an ergonomic process to reduce the risk of injuries and illnesses. Such a program "supports Goodyear's competitive advantage, maximizes productivity and enhances the quality of associates' work life."

The comprehensive policy is being phased into all manufacturing and nonmanufacturing facilities. Over the past six years, the global ergonomics systems and project manager has conducted detailed training sessions in 30 plants around the world to increase awareness and train local personnel in process implementation.

An intranet site encourages associates to participate in a well-defined problem-solving process, starting with ergonomic awareness training and special training for the ergonomics committee in identifying and solving specific challenges. An ergonomics handbook walks users through a problem-solving model, from identification and analysis to development and implementation of solutions and documentation, follow-up and evaluation of results. Information about worldwide ergonomic teams is detailed on Goodyear's intranet.

Other elements of the EHS program include safety committees, behavior-based safety programs, industrial hygiene assessment/monitoring, risk assessment and communication between management and employees about safety initiatives.

Facts about the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.:

  • Headquarters: Akron, Ohio
  • Industry/Products: Tires
  • Number of Employees/Locations: 95,000 worldwide
  • Number of EHS Professionals:
  • 36 at corporate/regional level

Deere & Co.

Laurie Zelnio, director, Safety, Environment and Energy Management, says that the goal of the safety program at Deere & Co. is to "create very strong safety processes that are repeatable" at different business units throughout the company.

One way they achieve that goal is through an innovative software program that allows EHS professionals at Deere & Co. to enter best practices into a database that is accessible at all the facilities. "If I'm in Brazil and I sign up and say I want to be notified if someone posts a best practice for ergonomics, every time a new message is added, I'll be notified," Zelnio says.

Another best practice, she says, is the company's efforts to stress off-the-job safety as well as on-the-job safety. "It only makes good business sense to ensure that the people who have the knowledge and experience to build great products are in the best health possible."

The efforts appear to be paying off, she says. In a recent company survey, 88 percent of employees rated "favorably" or "very favorably" the following question: "People in my work area are protected from health and safety hazards."

Facts about Deere & Co.:

  • Headquarters: Moline, Ill.
  • Industry/Products: Agricultural, forest harvesting, construction, lawn and turf care and golf course maintenance equipment; parts, diesel engines and power trains; global positioning systems and special technologies for heavy equipment; equipment finance and leasing; health care benefit management
  • Number of Employees/Sites: 40,000 employees in 17 countries
  • Number of EHS Professionals: 175 worldwide
  • Key Elements of the Occupational Safety and Health Program: John Deere safety programs include wage and salaried employees worldwide. Each unit establishes safety goals annually, and progress toward those goals is closely monitored and communicated to every employee. EHS employees regularly share best practices with counterparts.
  • Best Practices:
    • Provide adequate financial and human resources to safety and health programs
    • Implement safety management systems to ensure compliance with laws and regulations
    • Implement the controls and reports necessary to monitor safety performance
    • Clearly specify line managers' and supervisors' responsibilities for safety performance
    • Develop annual unit safety goals and objectives
    • Include safety responsibilities in performance appraisals

Alcoa: Finding True North

True North is defined as the direction from any point on the earth's surface toward the geographic North Pole. True North also refers to the concept of an ultimate goal or destination.

At Alcoa, the world's leading producer of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum and alumina, which has facilities around the world devoted to technology, mining, refining, smelting, fabricating and recycling, True North in safety means zero injuries.

"We have 130,000 employees taking the goal of zero injuries seriously and we believe we can achieve that goal," says William J. O'Rourke, vice president, Environment, Health & Safety and Audit. "Eighty percent of our 462 locations have not had a lost workday this year, which leads me to believe that what six or seven years ago was just a pipe dream, a slogan - zero injuries - can be a reality."

When now-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill became CEO of Alcoa in 1987, the lost-time injury rate was 1.86 injuries for 200,000 hours worked. He adopted safety as his No. 1 priority, says O'Rourke, who remembers O'Neill making safety the first item on the agenda at meetings.

"When he left the company, our lost-time injury rate was .22. That's quite an achievement," O'Rourke notes. "He [O'Neill] said that if the focus on safety continued after he left, that was one of the measures of his success as CEO. Our lost-time rate is now .12."

An Articulated Value. Safety is an articulated value at Alcoa, O'Rourke says. Just as quality and fiscal responsibility are not optional values for employees and management, "safety is not an option," he adds. "Whether we're talking about ergonomics, wearing PPE, employee safety while traveling for the company, not using cell phones while driving for company business or conducting community safety days, safety is a part of everything we do." It is a company mandate, O'Rourke says, that at every meeting everywhere in the company, safety is the first thing discussed.

In the company's 2001 annual report, current CEO Alain Belda noted, "The safety of our people and communities always is our highest priority." He noted that in 2001, Alcoa intensified efforts to raise safety performance at locations acquired in 2000 to the levels expected at other Alcoa operations and undertook a companywide effort to eliminate fatalities.

As part of that effort, managers of facilities that are underperforming in safety should expect a phone call from a member of upper management, O'Rourke says, as should the managers of facilities where injuries have been reported. Sometimes, he adds, calls go out to facilities when upper management learns safety has improved. "They talk about what the facility is doing well, what needs improvement."

The Future of Safety. Alcoa continues to bring new acquisitions into the fold, so a top priority at the company is a rapid integration process to bring them up to speed on safety, beginning with incoming leadership and management.

Alcoa's executive council has12 to 13 members who create the corporate strategy for the company. When they meet, they request a safety update from O'Rourke. Recently, the executive council asked him how the company managed to get the incident rates down at new acquisitions so quickly when it took the core business 15 years to do it. "I told them the corporate value of zero accidents, the training we give plant managers and the corporate help [in terms of safety training, education and support] facilities receive are contributing to the quick integration of acquisitions," O'Rourke says.

Along with getting new acquisitions on board even faster, O'Rourke says his job is to find out how the company can improve further. "We have to go past zero," he says, "We have to send employees home healthier than when they came into work. We do that through wellness and fitness programs that give them physical, emotional and work life support."

O'Rourke calls such forward thinking a "True North" concept, which means "thinking as far ahead as you can think

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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