The Importance of Safety Leadership

March 28th, 2012

Every year, in the February issue of Safety+Health magazine, the National Safety Council features an article on CEOs Who “Get It.” This year’s honorees lead national and international organizations ranging in size from 90 to more than 100,000 employees. While they come from very diverse backgrounds and a variety of industries, they share certain traits that make them world-class safety leaders. Of this year’s nine honorees, Mr. Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company was awarded the 2012 Green Cross for Safety Medal. Here is a part of what he had to say:

How does safety “pay” at your company?
Setting ambitious EHS efforts at Dow and letting our employees develop innovative ways to meet those goals have resulted in safer workplaces, new business opportunities and considerable financial rewards. In 1996, Dow set ambitious 2005 goals that committed to a 90 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses per 200,000 work hours, leaks, breaks and spills, process incidents, and more. As a result, we reduced personal safety and health incidents by 84 percent. Our injury and illness rate is well below the chemical industry average. We also reduced solid waste by 1.6 million pounds, or the equivalent of 415 football fields of waste 1 meter thick, reduced water use by 183 billion pounds and saved 900 trillion Btu of energy. Our efforts, while difficult to achieve, saved lives and improved our world, while saving the company more than $5 billion with a $1 billion investment.

Our current set of sustainability goals for 2015 sets the bar even higher and calls for an average 75 percent improvement in key indicators for EHS operating excellence from 2005. By setting aspirational 10-year goals with annual milestones, we have been able to break free from a focus on incremental improvement. Because our employees are not sure how they are going to reach these goals, they are more likely to innovate and seek non-traditional ways to improve performance. That is exciting and has paid off with some truly cutting-edge technology improvements at our sites.

What advice do you have for other CEOs who want to “get it”?
I would advise them to set bold goals – goals so aspirational that you do not know how you can possibly achieve them. Only then will you truly stretch yourself and your people. This is the path Dow has taken, first with our 2005 EHS goals. After achieving and exceeding many of those goals, we pushed ourselves even further with our 2015 sustainability goals. These goals may be difficult to attain, but they have driven innovation and performance throughout our company, and have taken us to where we are today.

I also would tell them to set the tone from the top. Leadership, from the board of directors down, plays a key role in cultural change. Safety must involve everyone. Make safety a core value rather than an initiative, infuse it into your corporate strategy, integrate it across your company, 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.

Finally, never be satisfied. The moment you become satisfied with performance, you become complacent. The constant drive to zero, to perfection, is the key to “getting it.”

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