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EHS Leaders Share Their Thoughts on Sustainability, Bullying and Other Hot Topics at ASC 2013

Dec. 6, 2013
These safety executives and stakeholders offered their perspectives on key issues facing the profession.

High-level EHS managers from some of the world's top companies brought their wisdom, passion and vast institutional knowledge to the 2013 America's Safest Companies Conference in Atlanta. In the process, they offered valuable perspective on the issues that present the greatest challenges and opportunities for safety professionals today.

"We're in a new era of occupational safety and health," NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard asserted, during a breakout session that focused on integrating safety with sustainability efforts. 

It's a new era indeed, as the safety profession evolves in how it defines, measures and communicates its business value. Behavioral safety – once a fringe concept – has taken root in many organizations, and a profession that traditionally has gauged its success with reactive data is shifting toward leading indicators that offer visibility into the vibrancy of a company's safety culture.

While the profession is poised to elevate its status within the organization, it also faces a host of new challenges, from protecting the aging workforce to managing EHS across an increasingly global manufacturing footprint. 

These and other issues will take center stage in 2014. As we look ahead, here are some perspectives from EHS leaders who attended the America's Safest Companies Conference.

EHS Excellence

"Get away from the word ‘program.' Safety has to be managed each and every day by each and every associate, employee and worker in your company. If it's not, then you fail."  

– Wayne Punch, corporate emeritus director of safety and health for Milliken & Co.

"What's going to make a change in your company? It starts with care. Do you care about your workers, about the people who you look after? That's the driving factor. You have to care, you have to have a passion for safety in your company and your leaders need to demonstrate that care."

 – Bob Fitzgerald, manager of project safety and health for Southern Co.

"There were no sacred cows. Everything – every incident, every injury – had to have a systemic cause."

– Keith Harned, corporate health and safety director for LP Building Products (Louisiana Pacific Corp.), on the company's approach to revitalizing its safety efforts.

Safety and Sustainability

"The first step in any problem is to recognize that you have a problem. The problem is that all of us have not put safety and health in the sustainability conversation. We didn't go to environmental sustainability conferences. We didn't say, ‘Look, you forgot something.'"

– Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH

"Safety and health helps to drive environmental sustainability. So when we talk about waste reduction, about water reduction, there's a safety impact to it. We're not able to make the product if we can't make it safely. We can't talk about environmental sustainability if we can't do it safely in our factories. We have to have an understanding of this, and we have to tout what we do as safety and health professionals."

– Michael Vigezzi, General Electric Co.'s global manager for VPP and safety programs

Workplace Violence and Bullying

"We hire our problems. We actually put them on the payroll and pay them to come to work, without properly screening them and without understanding what the risks are."

– Steve Davis, president and CEO of risk-management consulting firm GRM Inc.

"Bullies are organizational terrorists. Bullies bully because they can. Don't let them."

– Dr. Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute

"Bad military service is the best predictor of future bad behavior in the workplace." 

– Harley Stock, a forensic psychologist and a managing partner at the Florida-based Incident Management Group Inc.

"Many employer actions can mitigate the health-harming effects of abusive conduct, if only employers were willing to act."

– Dr. Gary Namie, Workplace Bullying Institute

Employee Engagement

"People are your power when you empower your people. Safety is more than PPE and warning signs. It is health and life safety, sharing knowledge, building skills – including soft skills like coaching and leadership." 

– Troy Bodnar, safety manager at Buffalo Gap Instrumentation & Electrical Co. Inc.

"Data shows employee engagement is not just a good thing to do or the nice thing to do, it's the business thing to do. The measurement of engagement is that employees voluntarily contribute to your organization."

– J.A. Rodriguez, global senior manager, Raytheon Co. 

"We get 1,300 to 1,900 work orders a year [from employees]. The first way to lose their involvement is to not address those work orders."

– Paul Zybert, senior manager, Raytheon Co.

Management Commitment 

"If you don't ha
ve leadership, you're going to fail. We [decided] to go after machine safety ... but if we haven't lined up leadership first? It's going to crash." 

– Craig Torrance, PepsiCo's global director of health, safety and well-being, on his efforts to develop a corporatewide machine-safety program

Selling Safety to the C-Suite

"We hear ‘safety first' or ‘safety over production.' The message that we have to get to our CEOs, so they understand it and it works it way down the organization, is not ‘safety first.' It's ‘safe production.'"

– Mike Maddox, vice president of corporate VPP for NuStar Energy

"Understanding business risks … is very powerful. It is much easier to plan for something than to retrofit something after the fact. You can develop strategies that take us out of the concept of being the safety police and become business enablers. We are not the ones saying ‘no.' We are saying, ‘These are the risks associated with this new business unit you are looking at purchasing. These are the risks with using these hazardous materials that you are looking to integrate into your business.'"

– Kathy Seabrook, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers and president and founder of Global Solutions Inc. 

"You go into an operations meeting, and you have finance, quality and production all standing there talking. As soon as EHS walks in the room, it goes quiet. Why? Do we have the acumen to come to the table [with other departments], or are we just the fire extinguisher people?"

– Michael Vigezzi, GE

Leading Indicators

"How do you measure the health of safety in a company to where the public understands what you're talking about? If all we do is measure fatalities or citations or lost workdays, what does that really tell us about a company?"

– Dusty Ferrell, vice president of global safety and health for Georgia Pacific 

"There are a lot of indicators that tell you the healthiness of your EHS process [other than lost-time injury rates]. Pull them into the forefront. It'll take some time. We're still struggling through it, but we're getting better at it."

– Michael Vigezzi, GE

The Future of EHS

"I hope it's people like you who don't look at your work life as a job or a career but as a ministry. And your ministry is helping create and sustain a better quality of life for anybody you have the ability to influence."

– Dusty Ferrell, Georgia Pacific 

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