Service First, Safety Always

Chicago-based water and wastewater company sets the bar on safety.
Service First, Safety Always

When statistics showed a consistent spike in January recordable injuries over a number of years, many people thought it was probably because of winter cold, snow and ice. Assumptions weren't good enough for Dan Ryan, executive VP of Management Systems and Health and Safety at Veolia Water North America. He dug into the data and came up with an idea that significantly reduced the spike.

"The three legs of a successful safety program are tools for success (policies, procedures, awareness materials and campaigns, audits, inspections, safety equipment, etc.), training and enforcement," says Ryan, who has headed up health and safety for 13 of his 28 years at Veolia.

In April, the company released safety data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that shows Veolia Water significantly outperforms both the municipal and private water and wastewater sectors. The company's Lost-Time Incidence Rate (LTIR) of 0.7 was 67 percent better than the national average for municipal operations and 56 percent better than that for private firms. Its Recordable
Incidence Rate (RIR) of 3.0 was 52 percent better than municipal operations and 33 percent better than the private sector.

The January spike was discovered about seven years ago and Ryan found the root cause had more to do with the malaise of returning from the holidays than winter weather. "Our minds were not focusing on the task at hand," he says. So the company started spending five minutes at the start of every day in January discussing safety. January recordable events have progressively dropped from an average of 17 (maximum of 21) to 5 since the January "Take 5 for Safety" program began. January 2012 set a new company-best with only three OSHA recordable injuries – none of which resulted in lost-time.

Ryan says the company has learned much about safety from its work in the private sector like chemical plants, steel mills, energy, pulp and paper, and mining where there is more potential for catastrophic events. "I think the industrial sector took safety much more seriously than the municipal sector for a number of years," he says. "We've been able to apply those principles and practices to municipal customers."

Ryan says he's convinced there are a wide variety of things that Veolia Water does that lead to the outcomes it's achieved. "It starts at the top with our president and CEO Laurent Auguste," he says. "I'm part of the senior management team, so I know that health and safety is as important to him as finance and human resources, for example. He's made safety a core value and that trickles down through the organization. Worker safety is as critical as effluent compliance, water quality, customer satisfaction or financial performance. Success is at the ground level where safety is everyone's job.

"We think and speak about safety every single day; it's become a natural part of our work process. We're striving toward a perfectly safe workplace and every day that we meet our safety goals, we see that it is indeed a possibility."

This summer the company distributed stop sign wallet cards reminding people that all 2,700 employees have the authority to stop work for safety concerns. C


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