2020 CEOs Who 'Get It'
President and CEO
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions
- Engaged organization management through training and communication to strengthen injury case management, resulting in increased reporting of minor injuries, increased hazard recognition and resolution, and a reduction in more significant injuries.
- Enhanced mentoring programs to improve employee access to senior leadership, allowing senior leaders to communicate directly with small teams of employees at all levels of the company. This has increased employee understanding of safety culture, fostered relationship building through networking, and improved transparency between management and employees.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions manages and operates the Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC. A key facility in the U.S. Department of Energy complex, SRS is dedicated to environmental stewardship, national security, supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile, and nuclear materials management and storage. SRNS also operates the Savannah River National Laboratory, a multiprogram applied research and development laboratory for the Department of Energy. SRNS employs 6,800 workers.
Why is safety a core value at your organization?
For 70 years, SRS has been a national leader in nuclear materials management, environmental stewardship, research and technology. The important work conducted at SRS is technically diverse, from general construction activities to high-hazard work in laboratories, handling nuclear materials and working in very remote environments, such as forests and swamps. Safety is at the heart of all that we do. Our slogan is “Safety Begins with Me,” and our employees live it. At SRNS, we believe that we make the world safer. This belief is only achievable if every person demonstrates personal ownership for his or her safety and the safety of others.
Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.” What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?
My greatest lesson about the value of a healthy safety culture came in the form of firsthand experience. Early in my leadership career, an employee at a previous work location was seriously injured under my supervision. The ripple effect of that injury was not only life-changing for the affected employee, but for the family, co-workers and the leadership team. I knew in that moment that I would always remember that event and that my leadership style was forever changed. Safety is always my overriding priority, and I live that promise out every day.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?
Without a doubt, complacency is our greatest obstacle. An organization can have all the policies and procedures in the world, but keeping every person focused on the repetitive, everyday tasks proves to be a daily battle with comfort and familiarity.
To address complacency, we employ a multipart approach to safety communication and engagement. Some examples of tools we use include a daily morning leadership conference call, leadership engagement through a monthly president’s safety council, regular management field observations, empowered local safety improvement teams and a sitewide safety communications program that includes near-instantaneous communications tools at our fingertips. Winning the battle against complacency always requires a full-court press.
How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?
I strive to instill in employees that safety off the job is as important as safety on the job. I believe that when people value safety as a way of life, it becomes a lens through which they see the world around them. To help establish that vision for safety, I encourage employees to carry our safety culture and expectations into their homes and communities. It is important to me to recognize employees who have made a difference to the safety of others in the community. Going a step further, we strive to share our culture with our community through communications products, education outreach and corporate partnerships. My goal is to bring safety awareness to the community, then it is the way of life and of benefit to our employees, their families, neighbors and future generations of SRS employees.
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?
SRNS uses a collection of formal and informal indicators to monitor the health of our culture. Data is extracted and analyzed from thousands of monthly behavior-based safety observations and management field observations. Additionally, we utilize a robust safety reporting system that raises safety concerns to leadership attention and paves the way for immediate response and remedy. I believe that we have an important opportunity to develop and mature tools that establish and sustain our safety culture. SRNS has, over the past two years, experienced a wave of new hires because of attrition and new missions. Creating engaging training and mentoring opportunities that inspire our newest employees to take ownership for safety, and then passing it on to the workers that come after them, is an absolute necessity. We are up for the challenge and have developed new programs and outreach opportunities that not only address our current needs, but are going a step further by reaching out into the schools and trades to begin training the next generation of SRS employees.
What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety and health programs does your organization offer to employees?
Off-the-job safety is one of the truest measures of an organization’s culture. Safety is a matter of heart, it should not be checked at the door as employees leave the office at the end of the day and picked back up when they return in the morning. I am reminded of the health of our culture when I see SRNS employees giving back to their communities while sharing our safety practices with others. For instance, our employees volunteer their time to conduct safety walkdowns and provide protective equipment during annual days of service to United Way agencies. Likewise, each year, SRNS recognizes many employees who take action to save a life in their community, and in many cases those employees received their first aid and CPR training at work. Going a step further, SRNS works in partnership with local schools and universities to provide educational resources that underpin our safety values. We are currently working with local colleges and technical schools to develop certifications and degree programs that support the current and future needs of safety and health organizations in our local area.