Safety culture Leadership

2016 CEOs Who 'Get It'

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

Previous page Next page

Gerard Anderson

Chairman and CEO
DTE Energy
Detroit, MI


  • Added safety as a standing agenda item and created a deeper and more robust discussion about the strategic direction of the organization’s safety system
  • Engages in routine dialogue with union leadership to create true partnership in advancing the safety culture
  • Holds Tri-Annual Labor-Management meetings with senior executives and labor leaders to discuss actions, challenges and progress within safety system

DTE ENERGY is a diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. The company employs 10,000 workers.

Describe your personal journey to becoming a leader who “gets it.” What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

Early in my career, I understood the importance of safety on an intellectual level, and this was not sufficient to make safety rise above all of the other competing priorities for me. At times, an event can cause our thinking to shift. Shortly after I joined DTE Energy, one of our employees was fatally injured on the job. As I watched the employee’s wife and child walk down the aisle during his funeral, it suddenly hit me on an emotional level that the child would grow up without his father, and the wife would be without her husband forever.

At that moment, I realized a much deeper understanding of the importance of safety, and I shifted from an intellectual understanding that supported a safety plan, to an emotional commitment and personal responsibility for safety. This event pushed safety to the top of my priority list, and has continued to be the driving force behind my safety focus.

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

We built DTE Energy’s values around the ideas and behaviors that we feel most strongly connected to. The first of our company’s seven values is: “We put the health and safety of people first … and know this responsibility rests with each of us.”

We used those words because of the inherently dangerous nature of our work producing and distributing electricity and natural gas. The word “people” applies to both employees and the public, who we protect from hazards in our electric and gas distribution systems. The second part of our safety value makes every employee responsible for their own safety and responsible for the safety of those around them. I believe that including every employee is essential in establishing a strong safety culture.

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

We have come to see “incremental rationalization” as our greatest obstacle to safety. Our employees are tremendously talented and dedicated to excellence in their daily work. At times, however, our human nature allows us to gradually rationalize risky behaviors into accepted practice in our daily routines. A common example of this is not wearing proper gloves or other personal protective equipment. Although it is a risky behavior, if an employee completes a job without getting hurt, he or she may repeat the risk on the next job as well.

We use the concept of “200% accountability” to overcome incremental rationalization. It means that employees are 100% accountable for their own safety and 100% accountable for the safety of those around them. This concept creates a supportive environment that gives every employee the ability – and the responsibility – to address unsafe situations or behaviors.

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

To make our safety culture sustainable, we have embedded safety into our daily work processes. We require pre-job briefs before any work starts, we incorporate safety tools into our standard work instructions and processes, and we systematically conduct safe worker observations.

Keeping safety top-of-mind for employees also requires presenting fresh ideas and insights. For example, last year we realized that our frequency of injuries was not closely correlated to the severity of injuries. In response, we created and deployed our “Life Critical” safety initiative, which included an awareness campaign and updated standards for our most dangerous types of work. This renewed focus enabled employees to approach their work with a fresh perspective and focused their process improvement efforts where they would have the most impact on preventing life-changing injuries.

How does your organization measure safety?

The DTE Energy Health and Safety Dashboard brings visibility into our health and safety performance at the enterprise and business unit levels. The dashboard shows our progress toward our targets across leading and lagging indicators. Leading indicators include the number and quality of safe worker observations, near-miss reporting, training qualifications, and National Safety Council survey results.

In addition, we developed and implemented a systematic annual process to assess the safety maturity of each of our business units. These assessments enable our businesses to share best practices and develop customized action plans to improve their safety processes and culture. We track safety maturity scores on our health and safety dashboard as another leading performance indicator.

What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program?

Statistically, we know most injuries happen outside of work. Through our efforts to work safely on the job, we know injures can be prevented with awareness, education and taking time to evaluate a situation. We encourage employees to bring the safety mindset they have at work into their personal life by applying the principles they practice each day at work.

Our safety commitment applies to employees and their families, and also to the public that we serve with our natural gas and electricity. Our infrastructure – poles, wires, transformers and pipelines – provides essential services to every home and business in our region. The heart of our public safety program is to protect the public from potentially fatal hazards associated with our infrastructure, including downed power lines and gas leaks. In addition to the daily work of our field employees, during catastrophic storms we deploy many of our office employees to guard downed wires until they can be repaired.

What types of off-the-job safety and health programs does your organization offer to employees?

DTE’s “Energize Your Life” program empowers employees, retirees and family members to live safe and have high energy, good health and passion for life through programs that include personal health coaches, bike sharing, walking routes and exercise rooms to increase physical activity.

Recently, we partnered with the National Safety Council to deliver its quarterly magazine, Family Safety & Health, to every employee’s home. The magazine includes articles for all ages on safety and wellness at home and in the community. Another small way that we emphasize the value of safety at home is by using safety items like vehicle emergency kits as prizes for employee recognition programs.

That said, we know we can do more to help our employees and their families be healthier and safer at home. Implementing a more robust strategy for improving safety at home is a key focus area for us in 2016.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)