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Insights from the National Safety Council Congress & Expo

October 01, 2013 - Posted by Eric Glass

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This week I'm at the National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Chicago.

So far, I've attended seminars in the Executive Summit, which focused on the future of EHS and sustainability.

One of most memorable sessions was “Leveraging the Big Picture – Seizing Opportunities by Identifying, Minimizing and Managing EHS & Enterprise Risk.” Featured speakers were David Eherts, VP and Chief Safety Officer of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation; David Shipman, President of Firmenich, Inc.; and Mark Vergnano, Executive VP of Dupont.

There were a lot of good messages intertwined with stories and actions they use to operate safely while ensuring sustainability. Here are some quotes and highlights:

“Safety culture does not start with leadership, it ends with leadership.” (I had to think about this one for a minute.) The message is that leadership usually is the culture killer. Without leadership buy-in, safety culture eventually dies.) – David Eherts

“You can do a lot of things wrong in our company. But the WORST offense one can commit is not reporting a near miss.” – David Shipman

“Just like us not being afraid to tout our successes, we are not afraid to broadcast our failures to all employees, as well. If they create opportunities to improve, all must know of the failures; ALL! Transparency drives improvement and sustains our safety culture. “ – David Shipman (on the importance of employee feedback and surveys)

“Leadership must not be afraid to step up for safety and not be tempted to undermine the efforts of many that established that safety culture.” – Mark Vergnano (describing how the company’s former CEO threatened to cancel President George W. Bush’s visit because the Secret Service detail was not adhering to Dupont’s safety programs and policies)

One of the most interesting stories was shared by Eherts of Sikorsky. Following an aviation accident, one of the first statements made by federal investigators is that they “are trying to locate the flight data recorder” (aka…”black box”). I, too, associated the black box with post-accident investigations. However, what I did not know is that Sikorsky uses recorder data in a leading-indicator sense with their test pilots. For instance, data from test flights are used to teach pilots how to perform more safely. All aggressive or improper operations are treated as near misses and the entire test pilot team is briefed on these maneuvers, the hazards associated with them and how to prevent them the future.

A question from the audience generated a lot nodding heads and caused us to sit up straighter in our chairs:

“I am having a difficult time getting my leadership to commit to a more aggressive safety approach. Other than safety-related measurements, what other performance metrics could I use to my advantage?”

David Shipman answered:

“I question why they are in a leadership position in the first place. It is definitely true that safety impacts many other performance-based metrics in an organization. If I were in your shoes, I would focus on error rates, positive increases in QA passes vs. fails, and correlating safety performance metrics with decreasing insurance experience modifications and premiums. Now you are talking the operation and financial language.”

Some great lessons so far at the conference. Looking forward to many more this week. If you're into social media and hashtags, you can keep up with the action by following #NSC2013.

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Topics: workplace safety