Should Leaders Be Fired For Poor Safety Records?

March 30, 2017

My apologies for procrastinating. I’m just now circling back to a webinar that I moderated in February. Don’t judge me – I know I need to work on getting to these things sooner.

It was the first webinar in our process-safety series and it covered leadership skills and responsibilities as they apply to creating safety as a core value at all levels of leadership. Our speaker, Dr. Sam Mannan, Regents Professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University and Director of the Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center, helped us develop the series concept.

According to Mannan, “Impact of leadership cannot be overemphasized. In my opinion, unless these leaders are engaged and fully committed, it's very difficult to accomplish best in class performance and safety culture.”

Among the many lessons and tough-love insights he provided, he noted it is best to be wary of consensus. Whenever you have too many “yes” people in the room, you should look out for problems.

At the conclusion of the webinar, Mannan fielded questions in his straight-shooting manner. The first question out of the gate: Should leaders get credit for good safety performance of a company?

Dr. Mannan: I mean, that's really an interesting question, and my answer is absolutely, one-word answer, absolutely. Now, let me kind of go beyond that. They should definitely get credit if safety performance is good, just as they should be blamed or held accountable when safety performance is bad. That is the bottom line. I'll give you an analogy of NFL of football coaches. They have a good winning record, they get the credit, doesn't matter who else did what. But when they are not producing a good winning record, they get fired. And that's the way I view it. Leaders are the ones who have their fingers on what happens in the plant. They have lots of authority. And so if safety record is good, they should get credit for it, and if the safety record is bad, they should be blamed for it or held accountable. And that's why I say in every organization annual reviews of leaders should include a review of their safety record. Also, what I would say is that when a leader comes in, for example, a plant manager comes in and says, "This year we are saving 30% of our cost," instead of giving him or her a bonus, I would ask them, "Sit down and show me how you're saving this 30%." And if he's cutting maintenance, if she is cutting safety, then I'll ask them, "Have you done a risk analysis of what this means?"

You can watch the on-demand version of this webinar by registering here. You can also download a complete transcript of the presentation, including the Q&A at the end.

I promise to be more timely in my blogging about webinar events. Although, next week I plan to blog about another webinar that happened in February. But after that I swear I will jump right on them!

Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor and webinar moderator. She has a long history of procrastinating. She hopes that by publicly admitting her problem, she will do better in the future. You can send her words of encouragement via email to [email protected]