Safety culture Leadership

2015 CEOs Who "Get It"

The National Safety Council recognizes nine leaders who demonstrate a personal commitment to worker safety and health

2015 CEOs Who "Get It"
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Michael S. Burke



  • Reduced total recordable injury rate by 60 percent in one year
  • Implemented “Safety for Life” program and adopted “Life-Preserving Principles” to achieve vision of zero injuries, property damage, and threats to the environment
  • Celebrated United Nations’ World Day for Safety and Health at Work by recording special audio messages sent to all employees

With nearly 100,000 employees serving clients in more than 150 countries around the world following the acquisition of URS, AECOM is a premier, fully integrated infrastructure and support services firm. Los Angeles-based AECOM is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, oil and gas, water, high-rise buildings, and government.

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

It’s critically important to me that all of our employees around the world return home from work safely every day. Our nearly 100,000 colleagues around the world drive AECOM’s success, and safety is the No. 1 priority in everything that we do. Working for a company that places safety first is our commitment to our employees, and a key reason we attract the best talent. We are dedicated to achieving zero employee injuries, zero property damage and zero threats to the environment – every day.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who understands the importance of worker safety. What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

As AECOM’s CEO, I have a responsibility to ensure that our people are able to serve our clients in a safe environment and return to their loved ones at the end of the day. I can’t think of a more important responsibility for any CEO. Additionally, safety is a key factor to success in our industry. Prior to becoming CEO, I observed that the average safety statistics across our industry were not impressive. As a result, I wanted AECOM to be ahead of that average – to do all that we could to ensure the safety of our people. That’s why we created “Safety for Life,” a comprehensive program for the workplace that goes beyond the office or project site and gives employees the tools to incorporate safe behavior into their personal lives.

What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?

With nearly 100,000 employees serving clients in more than 150 countries, it can be challenging to engage every single employee. That is why we reach out to our employees from their very first day on the job and have an active safety communications program with multiple touch points throughout the year. By instilling a “Culture of Caring,” we watch out for fellow colleagues, contractors and families, and we work hard to connect with employees emotionally via our “Safety for Life” program. Safety is the DNA of our organizational culture. 2014 is my first year as CEO of AECOM. Each year, the CEO gives out an award to a few, select individuals who represent true leadership in areas that are important to the company. I proudly named Andy Peters, our Chief Safety Officer, as an awardee. This reinforces to our leadership, and all of our employees, that safety is a priority for me personally, and needs to be a priority for everyone at AECOM.

How do you instill safety awareness in employees on an ongoing basis?

We utilize a full suite of communications channels to keep safety top of mind with our people. In addition to messages directly from me, safety is prominently featured in our internal newsletter, on our internal and external websites, in our videos, across all of our industry-leading internal and external social media platforms, and in our monthly communications toolkits for managers. In addition to regular, multi-level safety communications activities, we look to engage our people by promoting and supporting grassroots safety campaigns. Regular recognition of our superstar safety performers is another way we aim to embed safety into our Culture of Caring.

How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?

Safety is a “Core Value” within our organization, and although we utilize recordable-incident rates, lost-time and workers’ compensation costs as factors in safety performance, our key focus is on leading indicators. Leading indicators, such as senior management observations, program audits, office safety inspections and behavior-based safety processes, support our goal of both management and employee participation in the “Safety for Life” program. These activities also support our focus on enabling our people to make an individual commitment to our “Zero Incident” philosophy.

We are always looking to continuously improve our current safety program with new and innovative technology, as well as engineering processes and procedures. We must utilize all the methods available to keep our people safe – both on and off the job.

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

I believe that one of the most critical behaviors that leaders must promote in the development of a successful safety program is to lead by example. I make it a point whenever I visit our leaders and employees to emphasize that there are no compromises on safety. Developing a culture of safety by establishing and utilizing a proactive safety program within the work environment is a key component to any leader’s future success.

What advice would you offer to a safety professional whose CEO doesn’t “get it”? How can safety pros secure buy-in from the C-suite?

Our safety staff’s success with senior management has focused primarily on being able to seamlessly integrate the “Safety for Life” program into all of our offices and projects throughout the 150 countries in which we work. Subsequently, senior leaders have seen what a “world class” safety program can do for the positive attitude and behaviors of our employees, and they appreciate how this culture improves employees’ experiences and differentiates us within the industry.

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