2011 CEOs Who 'Get It'

Charles L. Harrington

Chairman & CEO
Parsons Corp.

Parsons Corp., an international engineering, construction, technical and management services firm in Pasadena, CA, delivers design/design-build, program and construction management, professional services, and innovative alternative delivery solutions to private industrial customers worldwide, as well as federal, regional and local government agencies. Parsons has 12,000 employees.

Why is safety a core value at your company?

Safety has been established as one of Parsons' six core values for some time. The basis of this was to emphasize the importance we place on having our employees, customers, subcontractors, partners and the public that come in contact with our projects return home safely to their families each day. Establishing safety as a value rather than a priority tells our employees and our customers that safety is built in to our culture, not something we do merely to comply with regulations. Safety is recognized by client organizations in our industry as an important component of contract execution, and we believe our goal to be a firm with a superior safety culture and performance will yield competitive advantages in the market.

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

The demonstrated commitment toward safety by our executives and senior managers provides our employees with evidence of our belief that all incidents are preventable. We provide our employees with numerous online and instructor-led safety training programs to improve their knowledge and skill to support our zero-incident philosophy. Employees readily report near misses, present "safety moments" to begin meetings, participate in audits and inspections, and make peer-on-peer safety observations. Our goal is to weave safety throughout every aspect of our corporate culture, processes and systems so it is a natural way of thinking toward every action taken by our employees.

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

Complacency and taking superior safety performance for granted are the issues that we continually work to prevent and mitigate, as they can create the potential for reduced levels of safety awareness. Our efforts to combat these issues include increased engagement with our employees. Two-minute video clips regarding hazard recognition and mitigation are sent to our employees through our intranet.

In addition, weekly safety bulletins and "Lessons Learned" documents are communicated on a continual basis to increase safety awareness. Safety committees also have been established to gain additional participation by employees in having a voice in our safety processes.

How does safety "pay" at your company?

Our excellent safety performance over the past seven years has been a key factor in reducing our insurance cost. Our low EMR, incident rates and SHARP (Safety, Health, And Risk Program) Management System have impressed our customers and, in many cases, was a key factor in selecting Parsons to perform their project.

We also reward our global business units internally by returning funds set aside to pay for anticipated claims. These funds are taken to profit on the business unit and corporate level. However, some of the biggest gains we have experienced through our safety program are ones in employee productivity and improved schedule performance and quality. We start each day with our field teams assembling and going through the tasks that will be performed, who will be performing them, identifying the hazards that will be encountered, and discussing steps that will be taken to mitigate those hazards. These actions allow our teams to all get on the "same sheet of music" at the start of each day. So not only are the tasks performed safely, they also are performed with improved cost, schedule and quality performance.

The positive impact of our safety performance is one of the factors that has contributed to us increasing our stock price for our shareholders.

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

We have developed a core value metric for safety that measures our leading and lagging indicator performance on a monthly basis at the project level of our organization, and is rolled up to each of our sectors, then divisions, then global business units, and finally to the corporate level. Parsons' leading and lagging indicators are based on our Incident Prevention Model, which is used to drive and measure our safety progress. Leading indicators incorporated in the IPM include a Relative Cultural Strength Score based on our annual employee perception survey, a self-assessment score of the key factors contained in our SHARP Management System, a score to measure the completion of required office and project field audits, the measurement of near misses reported, and employee peer-on-peer observations. Our Relative Cultural Strength score has achieved world-class status in one of three categories. We are working diligently to close the gap in the two remaining areas of the perception survey. This has resulted in improving existing processes and creating new processes to gain the improvement we are looking for.

How important is off-the-job safety to your company's overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety programs does your company offer to employees?

Our annual employee perception survey indicated a large gap in the effectiveness of our off-the-job safety program. We care equally whether our employees are injured at home or at work. The impact of injuries to our employees' families off the job can be just as devastating as on-the-job injuries. We recently began an awareness campaign to highlight both our internal data and the National Safety Council’s data regarding injuries being 11 times greater off the job as compared to on the job. The campaign included a two-minute video clip of one of our employees reviewing the injury she suffered while falling down the stairs in her home. We also publish an annual children's safety calendar that focuses on hazards in the home through the eyes of children's drawings. First aid and CPR classes are provided free of charge to family members at our office locations. In addition, our weekly safety bulletins now include an off-the-job safety message.

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