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2012 CEOs Who 'Get It'

February 1, 2012

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Jim Bell

President & CEO
Veolia ES Technical Solutions LLC

Why is safety a core value at your company?

JIM BELL: The vision of our company is “To be the company trusted by all to protect people and improve the environment.” For us to achieve this vision, our employees need to be focused on safety at every moment of every day. We owe this to the customers that we service, the communities that we work in, the agencies that regulate us and the families of the employees who work for us. My personal commitment to our employees is to send them home from work in the same manner that they arrived at work. Many of our employees have heard this message when I routinely visit our operations.

How do you instill a sense of safety in your employees on an ongoing basis?

Constant reinforcement of safety is critical to improving the culture of safety in any organization. We are always looking for new ideas to reinforce our safety culture. One suggestion from an employee in the past few years was that we start every meeting with a safety message. This is now a routine with our company. I personally start every message, verbal or written, to our employees with an update on our safety performance. Our company also is very active with the OSHA Voluntary Protection Programs initiative. Active employee participation in programs like VPP, as well as local safety committees, helps instill a culture of safety at all levels.

Recognition and accountability are key parts of our safety program. Our president’s safety award is handed out annually to each business unit that exceeded all of its safety measurables. In the last year, we instituted a recognition program for business units that have shown the most improvement in their safety program over the previous year. This recognizes business units that emphasize innovation and continuous improvement in their safety program.

What is your company’s biggest obstacle to safety?

We are in an industry that handles waste materials, both hazardous and industrial. We often rely on customers’ knowledge of their materials to properly handle them. This is much different than a company that is managing consistent product(s). We have overcome this obstacle through extensive training programs, competency testing programs and tools such as computerized chemical tests to ensure materials are handled safely.

Another obstacle for us is the type of excessive weather conditions that our employees work in. We have a number of outdoor facilities, as well as a large transportation fleet, that are operating 24/7. These operations are conducted in excessive heat while wearing proper protective equipment, in the extreme cold and in hazardous driving conditions. A key message to all of our employees is that they have the ability to stop a job at any moment for any safety reason. This is consistently reinforced.

How important is off-the-job safety to your company’s overall safety program? What type of off-the-job safety program does your company offer to employees?

Our employees are our best asset, and we need them to be at work to effectively service our customers. Our daily safety messages often reference how the safety practice could be used at home. We offer first aid and CPR training programs to our employees, which is a tremendous skill both on and off the job. We also offer an employee wellness program for everyone and a comprehensive medical physical program for our operations personnel. A healthy employee is a good employee.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”

My experience in this industry spans more than 30 years working in various roles, including operations and working in an environmental, health and safety role, to my current role as CEO. During this journey, we have had some serious issues, as well as near misses, both in our company and the industry. The key to improving safety is to learn from these incidents and improve the company. I have been surrounded by key people who also “get it,” and they have educated and guided me to make the right decisions to improve safety in the organization. I have had no better experience in my career than when I attend a flag-raising ceremony at one of our sites when they achieve OSHA VPP status or a celebration for achieving a safety milestone. The pride and hard work of the employees at that local operation is amazing to see and really makes me get it.


Veolia ES Technical Solutions LLC, which employs 1,600 people, specializes in the handling, transportation, recycling, treatment, and disposal of hazardous and industrial wastes.

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