Make Safety Second Nature

A strong focus on building the right corporate culture is crucial.

By Michael R. Gambrell, The Dow Chemical Co.

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2. Set the tone from the top. Leadership, from the board of directors down, plays a key role in cultural change, and must be visible and vigilant in its commitment. Safety must involve everyone.

It helps to start with the basics: make safety a core value rather than an initiative; infuse it into your corporate strategy; integrate it across all businesses, functions and geographies; and continually measure progress. In addition, leaders should take every opportunity to talk about safety. They must show they personally care, they want others to care, and it takes a team to succeed.

At Dow, safety is embedded in our core value — Respect for People — and in our corporate vision and strategic commitment to sustainability. Our leadership takes an active role in safety sessions and kicks off all meetings with a two-way “safety moment” discussion. We also have created a simple “safety first, pounds second” mantra that leadership constantly articulates, along with a “drive to zero” mindset that reinforces the goal of zero incidents, injuries and excuses. The fact that these phrases are memorable and repeated by our top leaders keeps safety front and center, as do many other behavior-based activities.

In addition, every Dow business is required to incorporate EH&S into its goals and make safety its highest priority wherever we operate. Each of our 344 locations around the world, in fact, operates according to a global set of EH&S standards that often exceed local requirements. EH&S also is a key consideration in business decisions related to joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, new capital projects and suppliers selection, through our business risk review and due diligence processes. We find that good EH&S performance drives business value.

3. Hold everyone accountable. To create a safety mindset, all people at all levels must be involved and accountable — no exceptions. This includes employees across all businesses and functions. If a failure does occur, your company must acknowledge it, conduct a root cause investigation, take corrective action, and leverage the learnings across the enterprise to prevent repeat incidents. If a company can’t do these things, it doesn’t have the right culture.

At Dow, we take the attitude that “if you play in our sandbox, you play by our rules” and stick to it — selecting suppliers, partners and contractors accordingly. We make sure everyone working inside our fence gets the right training and clearly understands the expectations.

Dow leaders are directly involved in every facet of safety — ensuring, for example, that EH&S resources are available and operating disciplines are firmly in place. Leaders spend a great deal of time reinforcing and redirecting behaviors, and intervening where necessary. They also are expected to create an environment of trust where people can voice concerns and share ideas. This means respecting what is being said — even if a recommended action has major impact. For instance, we shut down a recently acquired facility for several months to implement necessary EH&S improvements. While this move significantly affected customers in a tight supply market, our corporate and business leaders considered this the right decision to ensure alignment with our safety management systems.

Dow doesn’t pay its people to be unsafe. We pay for people to be safe and make it personal, right down to individual goal-setting and “I commit” pledges to reinforce accountability. We bolster this further by incorporating EH&S performance into individual performance assessments. Leadership is held to an even higher standard because their compensation and career opportunities are directly linked to their work group’s performance, too. Leaders who don’t measure up don’t move up.

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