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SLC 2018 Q&A: EnPro's Journey - A Culture of Safety Ownership

Ownership drives workplace safety.

How does a company become an America's Safest Company?

At this year's Safety Leadership Conference, Joe Wheatley from EnPro Industries will tell attendees about how the industrial products manufacturer has been successful in implementing a robust system driven by a culture of caring, sharing and learning within the workplace. 

The session, titled "EnPro's Journey to Becoming One of America's Safest Companies: A Culture of Safety Ownership" is part of SLC's Safety and Risk Management track.

Wheatley recently told EHS Today more about the presentation in a Q&A.

EHS Today: Why is the topic of your presentation of interest to you and why is it important to SLC attendees?

Joe Wheatley: Safety ownership is the key driver when it comes to eliminating workplace injuries. Ownership of safety goes way beyond the EHS manager. Most EHS managers are overwhelmed just with the goal of reducing injuries. They need tools to help to develop safety leaders. That starts with safety ownership and it starts with changing that one word in our mindset – to go from reducing injuries to eliminating injuries.

EHS Today: Please share an example of a personal or professional experience you’ve had related to safety leadership or the topic of your presentation.

Wheatley: Leadership in general in business is in short supply. It’s difficult to get beyond managing and truly lead a company or a division or a plant or a department to a new higher performance level. I recently had a benchmark visit with a company that I really admire for its leadership development and corporate culture. That company has great morale and collaboration and was just at a whole other level. But their workplace safety was surprisingly poor. Their leaders have a mindset of injury prevention and reduction, but not elimination. And leading in safety is different than leading in operations. In this presentation, attendees will learn those differences and how to change the mindset and drive a new safety culture.

EHS Today: What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees?

Wheatley: Executives will implement systems to fix problems and make improvements. EHS managers will use tools like Behavior Based Safety or Job Safety Analysis to reduce injuries. But without first laying the groundwork of safety ownership and leadership, those systems and programs fade away and you’re back to square one. We want attendees to learn what it takes to develop a sustainable safety culture of zero injuries, and that starts with who really owns safety.

EHS Today: What do you think are some of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing corporate leaders and safety professionals in 2018 and beyond?

Wheatley: The biggest question is, do corporate leaders and safety professionals truly care enough about the people they work with to make sure they are all safe physically and emotionally in the place where they spend most of their lives? Because it really is life or death. We’re negotiating with executives and safety professionals at different companies all the time about directly working with them to help them change their safety cultures. Some do and some don’t, they are all at different stages in their journeys. The point is, while we’re having conference calls back and forth for a couple months, we’ve had 3 companies in the last 9 months experience deaths at their facilities, while we were in that negotiation process with them. We’re talking deaths, not even lost-time injuries. So every day we debate cost and production issues when it comes to safety, someone can die. Is safety really a core value that we’re going to back up with action? That takes a different kind of leadership.

EHS Today: How will this session help attendees be a better resource for their employees and company?

Wheatley: Attendees will get some ideas and tools they can take back with them for safety leadership, but more importantly we want them to catch the vision that injuries can be eliminated, and a sustainable, positive workplace safety culture is achievable. Then they will take that first step to being safety leaders and truly better resources for the people who trust us with their lives.

(EHS Today's 2018 Safety Leadership Conference and America’s Safest Companies Awards Program will take place Nov. 6-8 in Louisville, KY at the Hyatt Regency Louisville. This event is designed to share best leadership, risk management, compliance and safety practices with EHS professionals hoping to achieve world-class safety at their companies. The conference features 24 sessions across four performance tracks; Safety & Risk Management, Compliance, Construction and Safety Technology.)

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