2009 CEOs Who 'Get It'
Chairman, CEO & President
E.ON U.S., a diversified energy services company, owns and operates Louisville Gas and Electric Co., a regulated utility that serves 318,000 natural gas and 390,000 electric customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties; and Kentucky Utilities Co., a regulated electric utility in Louisville, KY, serving 518,000 customers in 77 Kentucky counties and five counties in Virginia. The Louisville-based company employs 3,500 workers.
Why is safety a core value at your company?
A workforce that is safe and free of injury is productive and contributes to improved customer service. In addition, E.ON U.S. has saved millions of dollars over the past several years by reducing insurance costs, workers’ compensation claims and other related costs because of safe work performance.
Then there are the many collateral benefits: a positive image in the community and industry, a good relationship with regulators, a lack of negative media coverage, and strengthening of the bonds of trust among all of E.ON U.S.’s employees and contractors to show that we really do care about one another’s well-being.
But the most important benefit of our emphasis on safety is the impact on people’s lives. The people who work for E.ON U.S. are operating more safely now than at any other time in our history; and the families, friends and co-workers of our employees and contractors are benefiting every single day from that care.
How do you instill a sense of safety in your employees on an ongoing basis?
While the foundation of a successful business is safety, the foundation of a safe workforce is its leaders. Consistently communicating our safety culture requires strong, unwavering leaders – throughout every level of the company – who are committed to safety and serve as role models for their employees. Whether it’s daily safety tailgate sessions in the field or regular employee and contractor safety meetings, everyone shares in the responsibility of working toward zero incidents; there is no compromise when it comes to protecting our employees’ well-being.
Our philosophy starts at the top and is at the base of every line of business at E.ON U.S. Every morning by 9 a.m., I have a complete operating report for all business units on my desk. The report provides information from the previous day’s events, from the number of outages we experienced, to the number of megawatts we generated, to a summary of media coverage.
But, the very first line at the top of the page is safety. As CEO, I feel personally responsible for the health and safety of every worker. My senior management team and I continue to challenge every employee to take ownership over safety and make sure our employees know they have the freedom and authority to stop unsafe work and demand proper procedures be in place.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety in your workplace, and how do you work to overcome it?
While our safety statistics are among the best in the industry, our continuous goal is to get to zero incidents – or what we call “Destination Zero” – and we’ve made significant progress. We set expectations and manage with an open mind when it comes to reaching this goal. We challenge our leaders at all levels to:
- Know what is going on in their businesses
- Demand notification of every safety incident, no matter how minor
- Require employees to report accidents and near misses
- Challenge employees to uphold their obligations to stop unsafe work and support their right to do so
- Listen to employees who raise safety suggestions and concerns, and act on the information received
- Engage employees in decision-making
- Communicate clearly and consistently and reinforce messages
In addition, the most important and easiest action one can take when it comes to safety is to be a role model. If you make safety your highest priority, employees will follow your lead.