Peter Riley, executive vice president of integrated operations, Bell Helicopter, and Thomas O’Rourke, North America vice president of site EHS services, BASF, revealed what they personally do to ensure their companies have a world-class safety program, the most rewarding outcomes from the safety program, the greatest challenges to continuing to improve safety and other issues during a discussion led by former Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin Foulke during the opening keynote session of EHS Today America’s Safest Companies Conference.
“As we improve safety, we are helping companies to be more profitable,” said Foulke. “It’s almost selfish,” he said of achieving world-class safety. “We’re helping the U.S. improve economically, keep jobs here and increase jobs here.”
“As a leader, you have to do the right thing” to succeed in business, said Riley, adding that keeping workers healthy and injury-free is the right business decision.
“EHS is paramount to achieve our strategic [business] purpose,” added O’Rourke.
He said that at BASF, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, executives are expected to understand basic chemistry as well as the regulations governing the chemical industry and any regulations specific to that location. “You must know, as a senior executive, what you need to do to foster safe operations.”
Both executives noted their companies focus on leading indicators, though both companies also measure lagging indicators such as injury and illness rates and experience modification rate.
At Bell Helicopter, recording, fixing and measuring near misses is an important leading indicator. Riley said the company had some 18,000 near misses reported in the past 2 years. “Sure, we’ve missed some [near misses], but the level of engagement among employees is good,” said Riley.
The key to increasing near miss reporting, said Riley, is to “tell maintenance to give the highest priority to safety fixes related to near misses.” Employees will stop reporting them if nothing happens as a result. Fix the issues and communicate to employees that their near miss report generated action.
At BASF, O’Rourke said a leading indicator focus has been to “take the journey home.” It not only relates to going home safe at the end of the day, but to staying safe once home. “We have very targeted communication about safety off the job,” said O’Rourke. “The commute home, power tools, cooking safety. I hear people talking about safety at home. They are getting it. People are internalizing it.”
In the end, said Riley, “The safety culture is a good indication about [the values and leadership of] a company.”