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SLC 2015: Lessons from a 30-year Career in Safety

Nov. 4, 2015
Ben Scriven, manager of plant safety at Westar Energy, shares six lessons he has learned in his 30 years at the company.

As an employee of Westar Energy for more than 30 years, Ben Scriven, manager of plant safety, has learned a few lessons along the way.

During his address, “Silver Bullets and Poison Pills, at the 2015 Safety Leadership Conference, Scriven shared some of those insights.

Westar Energy – an electric utility company – was named one of America’s Safest Companies by EHS Today in 2014.

Never believe your own press.

He pointed to the criticism DuPont received after a chemical leak in La Porte, Texas killed four people in 2014. Even Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said there was “evidence of a failed safety program” at DuPont, which, until the catastrophe, had repeatedly been heralded for its safety efforts and its contributions to the field.

“I don’t believe that DuPont has a failed safety program,” Scriven said. “I don’t think we’re ever quite as good as some people would have us believe or quite as bad as some people would have us believe.”

There is no silver bullet.

“That’s not to say that there are not a ton of good policies, procedures, practices out there,” Scriven said.

Rather, you can’t just buy some magic bullet that will fix all of your problems.

“It doesn’t exist,” Scriven said. “Silver bullets are based on myths and folklore.”

It’s all about the culture.

“Culture is what folks do when you’re not looking,” Scriven said.

To understand the culture, you need to talk to employees, he said.

Don’t whine – safety people have it good.

According to a recent ASSE survey, safety and health professionals earn a base salary of $98,000 - $8,000 more than two years ago when the last survey was completed.

Zero is okay.

Instead of focusing on long-term corporate goals and larger metrics, just focus on today and on not having any injuries.

“I can make it today,” Scriven said. “Give me zero today.”

You have to do something.

“You have to do something to make things better,” Scriven said.

Safety professionals, like those gathered for Scriven’s talk, need to take the new information they learn from experiences like the Safety Leadership Conference and apply it to their workplaces to create change.

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