Leadership

‘An unyielding commitment’

A Q&A with Philip K. Asherman, president and CEO of CB&I

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Photos: CB&I

Since 2000, the National Safety Council has awarded the Green Cross for Safety® medal to an organization and its CEO that “have distinguished themselves through outstanding safety leadership and have showcased their commitment to safety by building successful partnerships to save lives and prevent injuries.”

The 2015 Green Cross for Safety® medal is being presented to CB&I.

The National Safety Council is pleased to recognize CB&I with the 2015 Green Cross for Safety® medal for its steadfast commitment to safety leadership. For more than 100 years, CB&I has been working to foster a culture of safety by setting a strong example from the top down. CB&I empowers its employees to achieve a goal that nobody gets hurt and everyone goes home safely. A multinational organization, CB&I understands that safety knows no boundaries. Providing design, engineering, construction, fabrication, maintenance and environmental services, CB&I works to not only satisfy its customers’ needs, but also improve the quality of life for people around the world.

Here, Safety+Health presents a Q&A with CB&I President and CEO Philip Asherman.asherman.jpg

Safety+Health: Why is safety a core value at CB&I?

Philip ASHERMAN: Every day, all around the world, more than 55,000 people come to work for CB&I. They are what make this company great, and every day we make a commitment to be relentless in our efforts to keep them safe.

We have developed a culture of safety at every level of our organization because the long-term success of CB&I is predicated on the well-being of our workforce. And, on a more human level, the men and women of CB&I care about each other and look out for each other; what happens to one of them affects them all.

In addition, we’ve turned safety into a 360-degree operation to help protect the people we work with, our customers, our subcontractors and the communities touched by CB&I projects. We expect our subcontractors to abide by CB&I’s safety standards and provide them with the necessary training to do so. We share our safety processes with our customers and joint venture partners. We team up with our vendors in research and development to enhance personal protective equipment available to everyone in the industry. And we’ve developed safety partnerships with local communities and learning institutions to enhance wellness and safety education.

Our 360-degree approach to safety has saved lives and significantly reduced injuries. What could be more important?

S+H: How do you view safety’s relationship to quality, production and profitability?

ASHERMAN: At CB&I, our leadership shares this philosophy: “If we get safety right, everything will fall into place.” That’s why safety is at the forefront of everything we do.

Our employees have played a central role in helping CB&I earn a sterling reputation for safety, and that reputation helps us attract and retain an outstanding workforce. Having a growing, safety-conscious workforce helps CB&I deliver work of exceptional quality and boost productivity.

In our industry, safety is paramount to good business. If you’re not safe, you will not succeed. You will not win new awards, and you will not be profitable.

S+H: Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who understands the value of safety. What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

ASHERMAN: My goal always has been to do whatever is necessary to keep everyone on our sites safe, and the seeds of that goal were planted in my younger days when I saw firsthand how important safety is. I got my start working on projects all over the world. I remember very clearly how hazardous some job locations could be, and how different cultures responded to safety leadership. There is one thing that gets the same response from every culture: results. And when it comes to safety, the best result is a zero.

We believe zero injuries is attainable, and we are constantly working toward that goal. When you work long enough in this industry, you speak to employees who have suffered serious injuries and see the toll it takes on them and their loved ones. You meet with family members and co-workers who lost someone in a fatal accident, and you realize it only takes a moment for tragedy to strike.

As the president and CEO of CB&I, my primary responsibility is to do everything possible to protect our employees. That’s why we’ve enlisted every single employee to help us be proactive and look for ways to prevent injuries. I can’t say enough about how our employees have risen to that challenge.

S+H: What is the biggest obstacle to safety at CB&I, and how do you work to overcome it?

ASHERMAN: The biggest obstacle to safety is what we do and where we do it. A lot of the work in this industry is inherently dangerous, and the locations sometimes compound that danger. CB&I is constantly vigilant in our search for ways to minimize those risks.

We are the first company in our industry to win the Green Cross for Safety® medal. The hazardous nature of our work makes this honor even more meaningful for CB&I. Every person who works for CB&I – these are the men and women who face these hazards every day – is empowered to speak up if they see a way to make their work safer.

S+H: How do you instill safety awareness in employees on an ongoing basis?

ASHERMAN: We take a straightforward approach to instilling and maintaining a high level of safety awareness; we talk about safety every single day. Each CB&I meeting begins with a “Safety Moment” where one employee shares a thought, question or piece of advice about a safety-related issue.

In our industry, between 80 percent and 95 percent of incidents are caused by at-risk behavior. The frequency of these injuries can be reduced if the entire workforce takes action to influence their own and their fellow employees’ work practices.

We provide our employees with the training to think progressively and be proactive on safety matters. Every employee has a Stop Work Authority card, which empowers them to identify potentially unsafe behaviors and conditions and to immediately stop all work until the risk is addressed.

S+H: How does CB&I measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?

ASHERMAN: We use Leading Indicator cards and I CARE observation cards to actively participate in a peer-to-peer review process. These employee-generated observations lead to the early identification of unsafe conditions and also to positive reinforcement for safe behaviors. We keep track of the number of observations per hours worked to monitor our safety performance. Our statistical analysis reveals a direct correlation between increasing the number of observations and decreasing the rate of lost-time incidents.

We also keep a close eye on the number of near-miss reports. Supervisors are immediately notified in the event of a near miss, and we conduct investigations into near misses to see if we can identify the root cause and correct it.

S+H: What advice would you offer to other leaders whose organizations are at an earlier stage of the journey to safety excellence?

ASHERMAN: My first piece of advice would be to decide how you, as CEO, are going to set the tone for safety within your company. An unyielding commitment to safety is the single most important way to show you value your employees. Safety is not a measurement. Safety is not a strategy. Safety is being able to look all of your employees in the eye and say you’ve done everything in your power to create a workplace where nothing is more important than their well-being.

I tell my employees all the time that “zero is achievable.” Our goal is to have zero injuries every single day at every CB&I location. That’s very different from “Do the best you can.” When you are talking to your employees about their well-being, when you’re literally talking to them about matters of life and death, set the bar as high as you can.

Safety is a fundamental strength intrinsic to every successful company, and empowering your employees is essential to creating and sustaining a safe workplace. Don’t just encourage them to speak up on safety issues; tell them it is their responsibility, a responsibility shared equally by every employee, to look for ways to prevent injuries before they occur.

Finally, early in my tenure as president and CEO of CB&I, I decided to strengthen our safety department by altering the structure of the company. Now our safety team operates independently of our other businesses and reports directly to me. This gives them the independence to make objective decisions in the best interests of our employees and the company.

CB&I to be honored at Green Cross for Safety dinner

The National Safety Council will present the 2015 Green Cross for Safety® medal to Philip Asherman, president and CEO of CB&I, on April 9th at the Westin Galleria in Houston. For more information on the Green Cross for Safety® dinner, please visit GreenCross.nsc.org, call the NSC Corporate & Community Partnerships Office at (800) 621-7615, ext. 52124, or email GreenCross@nsc.org.

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