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Corky Taylor Stefanie Valentic
Corky Taylor, Kentucky Peerless owner, addresses tour attendees at the Safety Leadership Conference in Louisville.

Sincerely Stefanie: Creating a Peerless Safety Program

Believe it or not, whiskey and safety have something in common.

PEERLESS peer·​less adjective: MATCHLESS, INCOMPARABLE (Merriam-Webster)

At this year’s Safety Leadership Conference in Louisville, I had the opportunity to tour Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.

The downtown distillery blossomed from a family-run business that was originally founded in the 1880s. Fourth-generation owner Corky Taylor and son Carson Taylor revived the business in 2015 with the goal of producing a world-class whiskey. In the past three years, the small-batch distillery already has made a name for themselves, its straight rye whiskey ranking number one in the world.

“We want to make sure it’s done right,” Corky told tour attendees in a special appearance.

Despite this seeming like a standard distillery tour on the surface, the embodiment of what truly is quality, or what is peerless, parallels directly to occupational health and safety efforts.

Safety professionals want a world-class safety program and culture to permeate throughout their organization. In my experience, the industry thrives on passion and attention to detail, just as the leadership and 25 employees at Kentucky Peerless do.

The goal of the distillery is to have a product that is unmatched when compared to other whiskey producers such as Jim Beam, or to be “peerless” as its namesake suggests. To do this, Corky and family created a process that they think will help them achieve that goal.

In the end, each company, no matter what the size, is making whiskey that consumers will enjoy, but the journey to get there is what sets them apart. And this is where lines are drawn to safety.

You can have a solid safety program, but the journey you take to get there is what will drive safety excellence in your organization.

For example, Kentucky Peerless is adamant about using a sweet mash in the fermentation process while many larger producers use a sour mash. In a sweet mash, fresh yeast is used, while a sour mash uses a small amount of leftover mash from the previous process.

The difference in starting a fresh batch every day, that attention to detail, inevitably contributes to the company’s rye whiskey ranking and sets them apart. 

And the same goes for safety. Hazards always are changing and evolving. Using a cookie cutter approach, assuming everything will be the same day-to-day, will not lead to world-class excellence.

A true safety leader will develop processes and programs specifically designed to address hazards and issues within his/her specific organization.

If he/she happens to accept a position at another organization, the leader isn’t going to take the boilerplate program he/she implemented. He/she is going to start fresh and identify the things that are needed to bring the new company into the ranks of world-class excellence.

In the end, safety professionals have one common goal of making sure everyone goes home safe each day. What sets leaders apart are those who look at hazards with a fresh eye every morning, who implement policies and procedures that solve unique issues and who strive to be peerless. These are the professionals and organizations who drive world-class safety excellence, just as Kentucky Peerless leads the world in straight rye whiskey.

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