Safety is a Way of Life at America's Safest Companies

Oct. 7, 2004
Seventeen diverse companies that share a dedication to safe work and healthy workers are honored as the 2004 America's Safest Companies.

Safety is flying high at Bell Helicopter, fully entrenched at Washington Group, packing a punch at PACKERLAND-Plainwell, setting everyone abuzz at Anheuser-Busch and shining like lip gloss at L'Oreal USA.

The 2004 America's Safest Companies were chosen based on recommendations by industry professionals, recognition by industry associations, participation in programs such as OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, state and local awards, and Occupational Hazards' own research. This year's winners have clearly made safety a business value. They have invested time and energy to surpass minimum government standards and created an environment where employees come first which is key to being one of today's industry leaders.

Said Jean-Paul Agon, president and CEO of L'Oreal USA, "Safety makes good business sense, but more importantly, it's the right thing to do for our employees, for our business and for our communities." L'Oreal USA has made a commitment to occupational safety and health by vowing to have all of its U.S.-based facilities participate in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program in less than 5 years.

Many of America's Safest Companies (ASC) operate facilities worldwide. To be considered for the honor of ASC, these companies must operate their international facilities with the same level of commitment to safety that they show at their facilities in the United States. At Monsanto Co., for example, all facilities are expected to meet a set of fundamental requirements for core safety, health and occupational medicine programs and process, regardless of their location or lack of local or national safety and health regulations. "At Monsanto, it's about safety as a core value, not just a priority, but who we are. We've created a culture where safety where life is valued, and that's how we approach our employees about it," said Emer Obroin, vice president, Environmental Safety and Health.

The companies picked to join our list of America's safest share several fundamental values:

  • Safety is a corporate value;
  • Safety is incorporated into the production process;
  • Employees must be engaged in the safety process;
  • Management participation in the safety process is key;
  • Zero injuries is an achievable goal; and,
  • Despite business swings, safety must remain constant.

Safety is Part of the Process

For the 1,200 employees at PACKERLAND-Plainwell Inc., safety is a condition of employment and is integrated into the production and business models to the point where "it is a part of all decisions made in upgrading and improving the facility. Whether it's increasing production goals, or making facility or process modifications," said Leigh Floyd, occupational safety manager, "engineering and safety requirements must be satisfied before a project is approved.

"Safety," he added, "must be integrated as a core business and personal value, recognizing not only that good safety is good business, but also that it's important for each member of the business to have a personal value for their own safety and the safety of the people they work with."

Kaye Love-Dodgen, safety manager at Denark Construction Inc., noted that planning, communication, implementation and superior execution are the four key components of that company's safety program. "The planning process begins at the preconstruction phase of every job. Specific safety hazards are identified and addressed to enable everyone to recognize what specific safety precautions will be utilized to address the hazards and to put necessary precautions in the up-front costs of the project," she said.

Such attention to detail has paid off for Denark: the company has a lost-time injury rate that is approximately 1/7th of the industry average for construction.

No Employee Left Behind

The 2004 America's Safest Companies agree that every employee must be engaged in the safety process if a culture change is to be made and maintained.

At Milliken & Co., says Wayne Punch, there are no EHS professionals. That statement is a little confusing, given Punch's title of corporate director of safety and health. Then he explains: "There are 13,000+ owners of our safety process." In other words, he said, Milliken's employees are in charge of safety. The company has 51 sites in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program and is recognized by its insurance carrier as one of the safest companies in the world.

"Safety is the number one core value," Punch noted. "Our associates own the process. Commitment to safety excellence is part of everything we do. We are committed to an uncompromising safety and health environment and the basic belief that all incidents can and will be prevented."

Inland Printing Co. handed out t-shirts last year proclaiming every employee a "Member of the Inland Safety Team."

"Each employee is required to incorporate safety into his or her daily production, planning, quality and shipment activities. Employees are not only trained to look for hazards, they help correct and eliminate them," said Mike Byington, training and safety coordinator.

The company earned a Green Cross for Safety Excellence Achievement award from the National Safety Council, as well as state and local awards for its safety program. This recognition, and an injury-free year in 2003, "came during a time of increased production, record annual sales, an addition to our facility and numerous equipment upgrades and improvements," said Byington.

Another Green Cross award winner is Anheuser-Busch Inc., which has received eight of the awards, as well as recognition from EPA for its environmental and recycling efforts. At Anheuser-Busch, on- and off-the-job safety are emphasized during education efforts for the company's employees.

"One of our key initiatives is 'Ability for Life,' a comprehensive approach to health and safety. Ability for Life enables employees to physically enjoy life inside and outside of work through engaging in safe habits at work and at home and engaging in a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition and regular exercise," said Senior Manager Dave Lange.

Employee empowerment and training have reaped rewards at Ford, Bacon & Davis. Employees have worked 3.1 million hours nearly 3 1/2 years without a lost-time accident. "FB&D employees are empowered to halt or call to a halt any activity they feel poses a danger to their own or a fellow employee's health and/or safety," said the company's safety director, Keith Sliman.

Walking the Talk

Walking the talk is a phrase heard often in safety. But how often does the chairman of a corporation take an active interest in safety or the CEO participate in Safety Week activities?

When told of Bell Helicopter's inclusion on the list of the 2004 America's Safest Companies, James "Skipper" Kendrick, manager of Industrial Safety & Hygiene at Bell Helicopter, admitted, "This announcement has created some excitement here within the ranks of our senior management." That comes as no surprise. Chairman Emeritus John R. Murphey said of safety: "We need to walk the talk, show that responsibility lies at the management level and to let the whole organization know consistently that this is a priority and part of their responsibility as well."

Safety at Bell Helicopter is so important to CEO Mike "Red" Redenbaugh that he joined other Bell employees in recent Safety Week activities. He started the day with a safety breakfast at which he shared his philosophy of safety and gained feedback from employees. He then flew in a helicopter, of course to each of Bell's Fort Worth facilities. While there, he met with employees, played safety trivia and answered questions about the company's safety philosophy.

"We are continuously improving our processes, demonstrating leadership and requiring accountability at all levels and championing safe behavior in the attempt to reach our ultimate goal of zero job-related injuries, illnesses, spills or releases," said Redenbaugh.

The employees at tiny DeFabCo have worked over 4 years without a lost-time accident, due, in part, to the dedication of company president Ed Eubanks, who employs a full-time safety director, Dick O'Brien, and encourages employees to participate on the safety committee. Eubanks issued a President's Safety Statement that notes, "Our motto, 'Quality Work from Quality People' includes 'Safe Work from Safe People.'" The philosophy has paid off: the company won an award from the governor of Ohio in 2003 for excellence in workers' compensation, and its Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation experience modification rating (EMR) is far lower than that of most employers in the state. At DeFabCo, improved safety has lead to improved financial performance.

Safety Comes First

Dave Lawson, director of health, safety and environment at Freudenberg-NOK General Partnership, said that, "Regardless of a company's level of profitability, safety is the one thing that can never be compromised."

The keys to Freudenberg-NOK's effective safety program, he said, are the participation of top management in the safety process and essential elements such as:

  • Intensive, daily risk assessment
  • In-depth accident root causation analysis
  • Measured accountability at all levels of supervision
  • Safety coaching for first-level supervisors
  • Use of lean systems to integrate safety into production processes

"At Freudenberg-NOK, we believe that all accidents are preventable, and therefore, unacceptable," noted Lawson.

Strive to be the Best

One philosophy shared by America's Safest Companies is that zero injuries is an attainable goal. Many of the companies have worked years without a lost-time incident.

"Our CEO has challenged us to be not only the safest company in our industry, but to be the safest company in all industry, with the ultimate vision of being a totally accident-free workplace," said Larry Otten, corporate director of safety and health at Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.

The company has adopted the acronym SAFE for its safety process: Smurfit-Stone Accident Free Environment. "To obtain this vision, we work under the following basic safety beliefs: all injuries are preventable; safety is everyone's responsibility; working safely is a condition of employment; and training employees to work safely is essential," said Otten.

Texas Instruments Inc., which shares a safety philosophy very close to that of Smurfit-Stone, made safety a "policy deployment item" in 2001. A policy deployment item is a management tool used to establish the highest priority goals and ensure that all teams are working effectively towards the same goal. The importance of safety also is illustrated by the monthly meetings between EHS senior management and technology and manufacturing senior management.

Nothing Stands in the Way

2001 was a terrible year for DSM Desotech Inc. That year, the company experienced a severe downward spiral for demand, and was forced to downsize its work force. In all aspects of the business, drastic changes had to be made in order for the company to return to profitability.

"This was a painful experience to all members of the site and management team," admitted Jill Ryan, safety, health, environment and quality manager. "But we were able to maintain our safety, health and environmental programs through strong leadership and an unwavering commitment to SHE."

Management and employees vowed that the company's safety philosophy all accidents can be prevented would be honored, and that an adverse business climate would not impact negatively its safety performance.

The dedication of employees and managers has paid off: DSM Desotech has not had a lost-time accident in over 13 years.

Earning the Respect of Others

Washington Group International landed on the list of America's Safest Companies by a circuitous route: they were nominated by Lt. Col. Neal R. Thibault, deputy commander of the Army Corps of Engineers; Richard Terrill, OSHA's Region X administrator; and Kurt M. Stetzer, director of safety at AON Risk Services, one of their insurance carriers.

"Safety has a direct bearing on the prosperity of Washington Group and our ability to secure new work," believes President and CEO Stephen G. Hanks.

Approximately 30 of Washington Group International's projects recorded 1 million or more hours without a lost-workday injury. The engineering, construction and project management company has approximately 27,000 employees at work in over 40 states and more than 30 countries, "We also had two projects, Dupont's Louisville Works and the Savannah River Site, which completed nearly 20 million hours each without a lost-time accident," added Hanks. "That's world class by anyone's standards. But there is always room for improvement because we're only as good as the last safe hour we've worked."

Like Hanks, the other CEOs, safety professionals and employees at the 2004 America's Safest Companies acknowledge that it takes engaged employees and managers to make safety part of the production and planning process.

Constant diligence by making safety a 24-hour-a-day mentality is the best way a company can continue on the safety path, said Hanks. "Our greatest commitment to our employees is our pledge to maintain a safe workplace. Our commitment to safety is our guarantee of our performance in the future."

Meet the 2004 America's Safest Companies

Anheuser-Busch Inc., St. Louis, Mo.: Beer, flavored alcoholic beverages and energy drinks; 13,000 employees at 12 breweries. "Our EHS vision incorporates five elements: an accident-free workplace; zero personal injuries outside of work; environmental excellence and stewardship; a healthy and physically fit work force; and protecting our employees and products from industrial security risks."

Bell Helicopter, Fort Worth, Texas: Helicopters and vertical lift rotorcraft; 8,000 employees at 12 locations. "Excellent EHS performance is good for business."

DeFabCo Inc., Columbus, Ohio: Industrial contractor; 50 workers at one location. "Safety is everyone's responsibility and safety rules must be observed and enforced. Violations of safety rules will not be tolerated, regardless of one's position within the company."

Denark Construction Inc., Knoxville, Tenn.: Construction; 100 workers. "Denark believes that its employees are its greatest asset. In implementing a safety program, everyone must buy in and agree to the safety culture."

DSM Desotech Inc., Elgin, Ill.: Specialty chemical manufacturer; 300 employees at four sites. "All accidents can be prevented...we set all main indicators at zero to send a clear message that we do not want any incidents."

Energy Northwest, Richland, Wash.: Electricity; Over 1,000 employees at four power generating plants. "Core values are the beliefs that guide our daily activities. We believe that the application of these values is essential to our success: teamwork, excellence, accountability and mutual respect and trust achieved through open, honest communication."

Ford, Bacon & Davis, Baton Rouge, La.: Chemical engineering and procurement company; 450 employees at five offices and 25 worksites. "FB&D employees are empowered to halt or call to a halt any activity that they feel poses a danger to their own or a fellow employees health and/or safety."

Freudenberg-NOK, Plymouth, Mich.: Automotive sealing and noise, vibration and harshness products; 5,600 employees at 37 facilities in North America. "We realize there isn't a 'silver bullet' in accident prevention and safety must be driven from the top-down in an organization."

Inland Printing Co., La Crosse, Wisc.: Commercial printing; 200 full-time and 40 part-time employees at three sites. "Inland Printing Co.'s safety and health policy is based on this simple premise: 'We are all members of the Inland Safety Team.'"

Milliken & Co., Spartanburg, S.C.: Textiles and chemicals; 10,000 employees in the United States. "Ultimately, safety in Milliken & Co. is beyond program status. It is a true, daily-managed process."

Monsanto Co., St. Louis, Mo.: Agricultural products; 13,000 workers worldwide with 134 sites in the United States. "If we were an average-performing company, an additional 3,400 employees and contract employees would have been hurt and some of those would have been fatalities. Through our efforts, a lot of pain and suffering has been reduced."

Packerland-Plainwell Inc., Plainwell, Mich.: Meatpacking;1,2000 workers. "Intelligent, trained and motivated employees are any company's greatest asset. Our success in safety depends upon the men and women in our company."

Rohm and Haas, Philadelphia, Pa.: Specialty materials company; 17,000 workers at more than 100 manufacturing, technical research and customer service sites in more than 27 countries. "Years of experience in our factory life have proven beyond a doubt that the best way to protect our welfare is to base our employee relations not on printed rules and verbal promises but on a genuine, mutual friendship." Otto Haas, 1955. Reaffirmed by John Haas in 2002 at a company symposium on sustainability.

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Chicago, Ill. and St. Louis, Mo.: Paperboard and packaging; 35,000 employees at 260 sites in North America. "All injuries are preventable. Safety is everyone's responsibility. Working safely is a condition of employment. Training employees to work safely is essential."

Texas Instruments Inc., Dallas, Texas: Semiconductors, sensors and controls; 36,000 employees in 33 locations worldwide. "Success with EHS reduces risk and distractions. This helps us maintain and grow a profitable business over the long term."

Washington Group International, Boise, Idaho: Integrated engineering, construction and management; 27,000 employees in over 40 states and more than 30 countries. "An unsafe workplace not only harms the health of employees, it also has a negative affect on our ability to perform the work profitably. Our safety record is a critical factor as to why our clients award us work on their major projects."

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