‘Nobody gets hurt’: A safety journey

2013 Green Cross for Safety medal presented to Exxon Mobil Corporation

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson.

Since 2000, the National Safety Council has awarded the Green Cross for Safety medal “in recognition of leadership and commitment to corporate and social responsibility efforts in safety.” To be considered for the Green Cross for Safety medal, an organization and its leadership “must demonstrate a superior record in advancing safety and health practices consistent with the mission of the National Safety Council.”

The 2013 Green Cross for Safety medal is being presented to Exxon Mobil Corporation:

ExxonMobil is being recognized for its steadfast commitment to excellence in safety, security, health and environmental performance. It believes the best way to meet this commitment is through a capable, committed workforce as well as practices designed to enable safe, secure and environmentally responsible operations. ExxonMobil accomplishes this through clearly defined policies and practices, and with rigorously applied management systems designed to deliver expected results. It remains steadfast in its goal that “Nobody Gets Hurt.”

Based in Irving, TX, ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company. Below, Safety+Health presents a Q&A with ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson.

Safety+Health: Why is safety a core value at Exxon Mobil Corporation?

Rex W. Tillerson: I’ve heard people say they’ve made safety a “top priority” for their company or organization. That’s commendable, but I believe that a commitment to safety must run much deeper than simply being a priority. Priorities can – and do – evolve over time depending on business conditions and other factors. A commitment to safety, however, does not change or evolve. A commitment to safety is a value that shapes all decision-making at every level.

We certainly acknowledge the risk inherent in the oil and gas industry. Our responsibility is to recognize the elements of risk, to understand and assess the risk, and to effectively mitigate or eliminate significant risk. To do otherwise, at a minimum, exposes the enterprise’s assets and reputation – but most tragically, could put lives at risk.

So, safety is fundamental to operational excellence. Indeed, safety is a core value. It requires a personal commitment at all levels in the organization.

ExxonMobil’s goal is not simply to have workers who comply with safety procedures. A culture of compliance alone can lead to complacency. We seek to go beyond compliance, to create a culture in which workers are meeting safety requirements and, just as importantly, also challenging them so they can be improved where needed.

I do not want anyone – inside or outside the company – to think that pride in our safety systems means we can relax our commitment. The exact opposite is true. Continuous improvement is essential to achieve our safety goal, which also happens to be our vision: a workplace where “Nobody Gets Hurt.”

S+H: What does safety leadership mean to you?

Tillerson: Safety starts with leadership, because leadership shapes culture and culture drives behavior. Leaders foster this culture by setting expectations, building structure, teaching others and stewarding results. But most importantly, they lead by example.

As chairman and chief executive, I know that a commitment to safety and operational integrity begins with me and the rest of ExxonMobil’s management team. But managers are not – and should not be – the sole drivers toward building a culture. For a culture of safety to grow and flourish, it must be embedded throughout the workforce. Safety leadership at ExxonMobil comes not just from supervisors and managers, but from the entire workforce.

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

Tillerson: We view effective risk management and the commitment to safety as business imperatives.

In short, excellence in safety performance leads to excellence in business performance. The fundamentals to manage safety are the same as those required for managing a successful business. Companies that have a strong safety culture and high corporate standards not only operate more safely, but also operate more professionally and more profitably.

It is this fundamental principle that underpinned the creation of the Robert W. Campbell Award and the newly launched Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council – both created to help businesses and organizations understand and realize the important connection between safety excellence and business success.

S+H: What is the biggest obstacle to safety for ExxonMobil, and how do you work to overcome it?

Tillerson: The journey to safety excellence requires that we seek opportunities to continuously improve our approaches to the prevention of injuries and illnesses. In this regard, our analysis indicates that human factors continue to be primary contributors to incidents. We have learned that this, in part, has to do with the personal choices each of us makes to either accept or reject risk, or what we call “risk tolerance.”

The concept of risk tolerance involves first recognizing and identifying the risk, then understanding it and, lastly, making the choice to either accept or reduce the risk. It is in this last step, in particular, that we find significant opportunity.

At ExxonMobil, we have identified a number of factors that we believe influence risk tolerance. The result has been an important dialogue that is elevating awareness and reinforcing expectations across all levels of our workforce.

To facilitate progress in this area, we also are continuing to reinforce the importance of workers looking out for each other in the workplace, encouraging and empowering people to intervene on behalf of others when faced with a potential at-risk situation. We refer to this as “actively caring.” Our focus is on training people to be more effective at intervention, as well as being intervened upon.

Both of these areas – risk tolerance and actively caring – may sound very simple, but they represent some of the more perplexing challenges we face related to the human factors in safety management.

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

Tillerson: ExxonMobil’s approach to business and corporate citizenship is built on a commitment to integrity in everything we do. Integrity is a commitment to do the right thing, the right way, every time – from business and technical challenges to the way we manage our operations.

As I said earlier, excellence in safety is a core value for our company. Each ExxonMobil employee and contractor accepts safety as a job requirement. Whether working at a desk, on an oil platform, in a refinery or at any of our various facilities, every employee and contractor is empowered to be a leader in safety. Every meeting, engagement or work activity at ExxonMobil starts with an emphasis on safety. Employees and contractors take ownership and accountability for their own and each other’s personal safety. The workforce is empowered and expected to ask questions or to comment when a colleague – whether peer or superior – appears to be at-risk.

We have a robust safety management structure based on decades of experience and manage all risks associated with our operations through the implementation of our Operations Integrity Management System – or OIMS. OIMS provides the framework to manage safety, security, health and environmental risks, and to achieve excellence in our operational performance.

OIMS guides the activities of each of our employees and contractors around the world. It has become embedded into every work process at all levels. It ensures we operate the same safe way, every day, everywhere around the world.

OIMS helps us to sustain superior operational performance, to pursue continuous improvement and, ultimately, to maintain our license to operate.

It’s important to note the first element of OIMS is “Management Leadership, Commitment and Accountability.” ExxonMobil managers are expected to lead the OIMS process by demonstrating a visible commitment to safety and operations integrity.

S+H: How do you measure safety? Where do you see room for improvement?

Tillerson: You may have heard the phrase: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Well, we think it is true. And it is why ExxonMobil measures and analyzes its safety performance – all the time, all the way down to every business level. We record and analyze all injuries and near misses. Our goal is not only to analyze safety incidents, but to identify risks and potential at-risk behaviors before they lead to a safety incident.

While our journey toward achieving zero incidents is far from complete, we have made significant progress. Nonetheless, there are a number of opportunities that hold considerable promise for ExxonMobil and the industry as a whole.

Working with other industry leaders, ExxonMobil has been at the forefront of seeking to better understand why companies are not experiencing the same level of performance improvement for serious injuries and fatalities, or life-altering injuries, as they have achieved for lost time and total recordable injuries.

Ongoing work in this area has highlighted the importance of flawless execution of well-established higher-risk procedures and the significant learning potential from investigating and analyzing incidents and near misses based on their potential consequences versus only their actual consequences.

Frankly, we must eliminate fatalities from our industry. Through more robust planning for potential consequences, especially those associated with higher-risk activities, we will better protect our workforce from unacceptable risks.

S+H: What advice would you offer to other leaders who are at an earlier stage of their Journey to Safety Excellence?

Tillerson: Begin with a self-assessment of your own behaviors and commit to the safety of your people and your assets as the most important element of your management responsibilities.

As I’ve said, safety begins with leadership that has nurtured a culture of safety. For that culture to flourish, safety must be embedded as a core value throughout the workforce, supported by each person’s commitment to stay safe and be responsible for the safety of those around them.

You have heard me describe the virtues of our Operations Integrity Management System. But no system is fully self-sustaining. For a management system to endure and flourish over time, it must be adequately resourced, assessed and continuously refreshed. But most importantly, it must operate within a supportive organizational culture that is shaped by the behaviors of its leaders.

In short, the road to safety excellence must be built on an integrated comprehensive safety management system – operating within a supportive culture – and driven by strong leadership. This is a journey, but an imperative for business success.

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