Is Too Safe Even Possible?
2:58 PM MDT | April 11, 2011 | By JIM ALDER
This is the third in a series of posts from Celanese on linking sustainability to your business operations. To read Celanese Senior VP Jim Alder's take on sustainability and budgeting, click here and general manager of Ticona Michael Stubblefield’s views on developing sustainable products, click here.
The recent earthquake in Japan, which I experienced first-hand, and the unfortunate events that followed reinforce the importance of safety in all industries, including the chemical sector. We all think our safety designs are good and our safety procedures effective, and then Mother Nature throws out a surprise to test us. Events like this make me question whether we can ever be too prepared. And in turbulent economic times like today, safety is even more critical.
Our focus on safety at Celanese started about seven years ago when our occupational safety performance declined. We initiated a major external benchmarking effort to see how our performance compared to other chemical companies. Using standard Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) metrics, we discovered our safety performance was really only ‘average.’ This was our first benchmark of what ‘good’ really meant.
The knowledge pushed us into a cultural shift putting safety, integrity and responsibility as the foundation for all other business priorities. Safety is now a precondition for all we do and the first of our core values. As a result of this fundamental cultural shift, we have improved our OSHA recordable incident rate over six years from 1.02 to 0.15 in 2010, and our OSHA lost time injury rate from 0.49 to 0.04. While these represent good interim targets, our sole goal is zero incidents.
As part of our commitment to corporate social responsibility, we at Celanese want the entire industry to push for zero incidents. To do that, it may take big changes for some and a renewed focus on safety for others.
If you’re willing to join in, first, commit to zero incidents. Make sure every person in your company knows the goal. Employees also need to know their role in helping get the company there. Local champions in each plant can help push through changes faster and more effectively. Site leaders and these local champions can hold regular discussions to share questions, ideas and successes across sites.
Next, accountability gets results. For example, every reported “lost time” incident comes with a group call with the CEO within 24 hours.
Finally, review and refresh your tools and processes. Research and benchmark to find out what’s working for other companies. The changes aren’t always easy and sometimes include adopting new technologies and shuttering outdated facilities. The results are almost always worthwhile.
Our next phase in improving safety performance focuses on setting new targets based on even tougher standards using the nuclear and aerospace industries as benchmarks. Chemical companies can learn from these high-reliability and low-error sectors.
Many corporations, including Celanese, ‘plateau’ in their journeys to achieve their safety goals. Leveling out should not discourage any company’s commitment or be seen as an excuse to stop. Instead, explore new tools and processes, benchmark against top performers in some of the most rigorous industries, and then push harder.
Is reaching zero possible? Yes. In 2010, over 70% of our sites went without a recordable incident, and one of our major businesses had zero incidents. In 2008/9, we went 400 days without lost time injury. We will keep pushing for zero because we have people out there to protect.
Jim Alder is senior vice president (SVP) at Celanese. For more information, visit celanese.com.