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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Zero Injuries, Waste, and Harm

The Need for a Methodical Approach

HSE isn’t rocket science. In fact, I would argue it’s a commodity. Although factories have different hazard profiles, how you run safety in Factory A is almost identical to how you run safety in Factory B, C, or D, regardless of what the factories are making. HSE involves the culture, the line management, the training, the systems, and the procedures. Our objective, in addition to creating transparency about safety performance, is to create a common platform for behavior-based safety, product safety, and process safety management so that we can keep the needle moving in the right direction. (For more on these concepts, see the sidebar below, “The Rudiments of HSE.”)

One of my jobs is to train plant managers in our common safety platform, and a few years ago I had a new manager in Indonesia in one of my courses. He came up to me during a break and said, “Look, I understand what we’re trying to do and I think it’s great. But I just took over this plant and I’m told my plant is up for an immediate safety audit. I think I should ask the audit team to come back in a year, after I’ve got more of a system in place. Can you intervene on my behalf?” I told him the auditors would probably not accept a delay, which in fact they did not.

A few weeks later, the manager’s plant received a score of 2.3 out of 10, and he was embarrassed. “Look,” I said to him, “embrace it. You just arrived on this site. You have the benefit now of knowing exactly where you’re starting from. And when—after three or four years—you’ve turned this site around and instead of a score of 2.3 you’ve got a score of 6.3, you’re going to be a knight in shining armor.”

Indeed, the thing that’s evolved most over the course of our HSE push is our plant managers’ attitudes toward it. They love it now; they embrace it. Why wouldn’t they? If you’re a plant manager, you care about your people, your reputation, and how effective your production assets are. If you have a factory that’s not safe, your assets aren’t going to be effective. If your people are getting injured or hurt, you’ll have a motivation problem. And if you’re leaking product into the environment, you’ll get a bad reputation. All those things will damage your career and keep you up at night.

It’s also worth noting that most factory managers are engineers. If you give engineers a system and structure to work with, a template, they’re usually happy and they don’t want to change it. Our common safety platform appeals to them for those reasons.

You’ll notice I’m saying quite a bit more about line managers’ roles in our HSE improvement efforts than about the role of the HSE staff itself. That’s deliberate—and it’s no knock on our HSE function. We’ve got a great HSE staff. They carry out our audits, serve as coaches on safety issues, and help us comply with the regulations of the many different countries in which we operate. Our HSE staff members are also involved in an ongoing effort to help us identify and reduce our use of particularly hazardous substances. For instance, we were one of the first paint companies to completely stop using lead as an ingredient. But we don’t rely on HSE staff for day-to-day site safety issues. That responsibility falls to a handful of managers at each manufacturing site—including the site manager, the production manager, and the maintenance manager. If you’re in one of these leadership positions, we empower you. And by that, I mean we give you the authority to follow a zero-tolerance policy if people don’t want to obey basic lifesaving rules. You have not only the power to fire workers in those situations, but a duty to do so.

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