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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Brig. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi

Commanding General
Marine Corps Installations East – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune
U.S. Marine Corps


  • Expects every member of his team to accept responsibility for safety; take an active role in identifying and mitigating risk; and preserve the workforce through teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of family
  • Directed development of a Command Strategic Plan, including a comprehensive safety management plan
  • Reinvigorated efforts to advance OSHA VPP status for all command installations

The MARINE CORPS is America’s Expeditionary Force in Readiness – a balanced air-ground-logistics team. We are forward deployed and forward engaged; shaping, training, deterring and responding to all manner of crises and contingencies. We create options and decision space for our nation’s leaders. Alert and ready, we respond to today’s crises with today’s force, today.

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

It is imperative that safety remains a core value throughout Marine Corps Installations East (MCIEAST) because our primary mission is to support the war fighter – the Marines and Sailors who train aboard our bases and stations in order to win wars in defense of this great nation. Likewise, protecting the lives of every person who works, trains, resides aboard or visits any of my installations is a top priority. Losses, whether on duty or off, seriously degrade mission readiness and threaten our operational capabilities. Everything we do is managed with a sense of purpose, and requires everyone’s active participation with a focus on providing a safe and healthful working environment. Anything less degrades our ultimate purpose.

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?

Early in my Marine Corps career, I learned that everything I do as a leader is based on the premise that people matter. As a young Platoon Commander, leading my Marines allowed me to incorporate the values of self-reliance and self-discipline, hone the skills of a strong leader, and exercise my tenacity to do the right thing. As a commander today, I am an unapologetic advocate for the Corps and take the safety of my people very seriously. Our tasks are done with an eye toward preparing our Marines for combat. Each day, I encourage every person to seek self-improvement in order to obtain and maintain their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual balance. The absence of any of these elements puts us at risk of losing focus, which can have serious detrimental effects on our proactive safety and health culture.

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

The biggest obstacle to safety I’ve experienced during my tenure as the Commanding General for MCIEAST is the aging civilian workforce, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, they represent and provide the stability, continuity and enterprise experience that is required to operate a military installation charged with training and supporting the operating forces. On the other hand, those same civilian employees are so focused on the task at hand, that they oftentimes become resistant to change, particularly new management styles or initiatives. To overcome that, I rely heavily on the implementation of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) at all of my installations. Since VPP emphasizes and involves management leadership and accountability for worker safety and health, and active participation of employees in their own protection, it has really brought about a true change in culture towards a workforce focused on mishap prevention and overall excellence in the various work centers.

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

Again, I take the safety of my personnel and equipment very seriously. I recognize the intricate relationship between risk management and positive outcomes in safety. Every member of my team is expected to accept responsibility for their safety, take an active role in identifying and mitigating risk, and preserve the workforce through teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of family. I do this by having a series of long-range plans. First, my Command Strategic Plan and Campaign Plan outline my vision for accomplishing the mission, embracing innovation and consistently pursuing greater effectiveness, efficiency and excellence. More specifically, my Comprehensive Safety Management Plan articulates specific guiding principles designed to motivate personnel, effect change and bring high-level awareness to the safety community.

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?

I measure safety a number of ways. First, those who manage my Commanding General’s Inspection Program (CGIP) take a hard look annually at all of my commanders’ programs. One in particular is safety. I insist they meet 100 percent of safety requirements in accordance with their governing documents. The CGIP acts as my “eyes and ears” to ensure we are routinely meeting mission and creating an atmosphere of excellence. Second, I pay close attention to the training and safety metrics reported in the quarterly Warrior Preservation Status Report (WPSR). My commanders use the WPSR as a tool to drive and measure their safety requirements and provide me with an overall status on an installation’s safety program that reflects mishap rates, facility inspections, executive safety councils and training requirements. As a strong advocate of VPP, there’s always room for continuous improvement, which is why I personally chair the Executive Safety Council where I can direct and oversee the safety management process to identify deficiencies ahead of time to prevent mishaps before they occur.

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

Get involved and stay involved. Expect excellence. Sincerely value your people, their safety and well-being. Develop and nurture a safety mindset as a fundamental way of doing things. Hold leaders accountable. Encourage dialogue, knowledge-sharing and employee participation. Ensure that managing risk is a primary focus and an integral part of all processes; that developing and enforcing regulations and policies are always directed toward the elimination of hazards and unsafe acts; and, finally, that an effective and viable safety program is maintained and continuously improved.

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

Know that preventable injuries and illnesses can cost your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in direct and indirect costs related to mishaps. That’s real money that you can save and pain workers can avoid! Money that’s spent on mishap-related matters can have a significant and devastating effect on your bottom line, however you measure it. By investing in a strong and effective safety management program, the return on investment comes in the form of reduced illnesses and injuries among employees, reduced workers’ compensation claims, reduced employee absenteeism and turnover, higher productivity, and increased morale.

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