We Can Learn a Lot from Dow Chemical

Nov. 16, 2010
Taking a broader view can improve already impressive EH&S performance.

In early October, Dow Chemical received the 2010 Robert W. Campbell Award from the National Safety Council (NSC), Itasca, Ill.


"The Campbell Award honors organizations with integrated EH&S [environmental, health and safety] management systems that achieve business excellence," noted Janet Froetscher, NSC CEO. "Dow's comprehensive commitment to safety excellence includes all of the critical elements, such as management leadership and employee engagement, an integrated safety management system, a risk reduction mindset, and careful measurement. This commitment is further demonstrated by the organization's 'Drive to Zero' safety initiative, which represents an inclusive strategy with detailed execution in all phases of its operations in this move toward zero injuries. Dow seeks to eliminate unplanned events involving personal injury, process safety or the environment. It has everything in place to achieve such a lofty goal."

Midland, Mich.-based Dow is the ninth company to receive the award. While it isn't the first firm involved in chemical processing to win — Bahrain Petroleum and Gulf Petrochemicals Industry are among the previous honorees — Dow's size and scope of operations across the globe make the accolade particularly notable.

The company, of course, has long focused on EH&S. For instance, in 1996 Dow established a set of ambitious goals for 2005 and a company-wide drive to attain them, explained Michael Gambrell, Dow's executive vice president, manufacturing and engineering operations, in accepting the award. It led to impressive results:
• 84% reduction in injuries and illness;
• 1.6 billion pound cut in solid waste generation;
• 1.83 billion pound decrease in water usage;
• 900 trillion BTUs of energy saved.

"These efforts — while difficult to achieve — not only saved lives and improved our world… but… also saved Dow over $5 billion with a $1 billion investment… This is the business proposition," he noted.

"Drive to Zero," launched in 2005, aims to "create a culture in which safety is a value, not an initiative." Today, the company has gone to the next level, added Gambrell, with "I Commit," which focuses on personal accountability and behaviors.

These clearly are important steps — but ones that cover aspects that many companies already appreciate even it they don't adequately address.

However, Gambrell urged industry to follow Dow's lead — to put EH&S into a broader context:

"In 2005 we showed the world what we could do with EH&S. But with the world facing even greater challenges in everything from clean water to energy and climate change, we realized we had to raise the bar even higher.

"It was time to think out of the box and beyond the fenceline — and we did. We did so with an unprecedented and highly aspirational set of 2015 Sustainability Goals. They were nontraditional and, as a result, once again established to drive innovation.

"Our 2015 Sustainability Goals build on accomplishments of the 2005 goals but have a broader external focus:
• strengthening our citizenship,
• continuing to offer solutions to the world's biggest challenges, and
• reducing our environmental footprint.

"Once again, we're not exactly sure how we're going to get there, but we know we can because we've done it before.

"Put simply … we've created an integrated business model for EH&S.

"We are challenging ourselves to lead the way across virtually every facet of environment, security, health and safety performance."

By 2015 Dow aims to improve key indicators for EH&S operating excellence on average by 75% from the 2005 baseline, he explained, adding that now, at the halfway point, the actual improvement so far is 41%.

Dow's EH&S systems certainly are transferable, as shown by their success at Rohm & Haas. "Within one year of the Rohm and Haas acquisition, we were able to lower its injury/illness rate by 40% from .73 and at the same time set an 113-year record for Dow," said Gambrell.

Other companies in the chemical industry would do well to emulate Dow's systems and its approach of viewing EH&S in the context of sustainability. They should set ambitious goals and provide the resources and resolve to achieve them.

We at Putman Media plan to do our part to help you. In January we'll launch a new website — Sustainableplant.com — that aims to provide a wealth of content, updated daily, on best practices as well as the newest thinking and latest products to improve the sustainability of manufacturing. It also will feature forums and social media outlets to spur development of an interactive community to discuss issues.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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