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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When we integrated Rohm and Haas into our operations, we took the best from both worlds to create an even safer environment for all of our sites. Special teams effectively transferred operating disciplines, reducing in just one year the overall injury/illness rate by 40% to 0.54 from 0.73 incidents per 200,000 hours at heritage Rohm and Haas sites (see Figure 4) while breaking records for Dow globally. More specifically, our coating materials business saw a 60% reduction in injuries, spills and process safety incidents, with some sites achieving up to a 77% decrease on certain measures. We believe this success was largely due to Dow’s unbending commitment to put people first — even during a period of immense change made still more difficult by the global economic crisis.

During implementation, our business leaders and EH&S experts made sure early on that EH&S expectations were well understood and that best-practice procedures were put into action — from the use of safety equipment to adhering to “life critical” standards. We held companywide “safety days” along with ongoing site safety meetings at every level. We rolled out behavior-based safety programs, making “intervention” a required behavior while encouraging people to report small issues before they become big. Capital funding also was an integral part of the EH&S investment necessary to meet Dow standards.

Dow certainly isn’t perfect but we continually challenge ourselves to learn, innovate and educate. It’s our responsibility to make Dow safer and to help, where we can, other companies improve their safety. By sharing lessons and best practices through industry associations and other venues, Dow and manufacturers everywhere can reach the next level of performance faster.

The only way to create an enduring safety culture is have both the culture and the processes firmly in place, and to pay as much attention to the soft side of EH&S as the hard side. If safety is a part of your daily routine, it will become second nature and ingrained in your DNA.

The rewards are well worth the investment: healthier employees, safer communities, a cleaner environment, more sustainable operations, and a better reputation — all of which drive business growth and competitive advantage.

In addition, as you form joint ventures or complete mergers and acquisitions, you’ll see the value of high safety standards grow and spread, creating a multiplier effect of improvement.

What traps should you avoid? Complacency, satisfaction with the status quo, willingness to compromise, tolerating lazy leadership and big egos, passing the buck, adopting easy goals, and thinking you know it all, as well as not setting priorities, clarifying expectations, communicating, including contractors, and being transparent. Another temptation is to not stick to your principals in countries that have minimal local requirements; apply the same high standards everywhere.

Dow has made safety a priority for 113 years and fully supports the philosophy of Robert W. Campbell, who connected safety performance to business success — long before notions of sustainability and triple bottom line came in vogue.

It’s a philosophy that manufacturers everywhere should take to heart. After all, the safer we all are, the better off everyone is — ourselves, customers, investors, and society for generations to come.

MICHAEL R. GAMBRELL is an executive vice president of The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich. E-mail him via

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