2011 CEOs Who 'Get It'

Lee A. McIntire

Chairman & CEO

Employee-owned CH2M HILL, headquartered in Englewood, CO, is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government and industrial clients. CH2M HILL has 23,500 employees.

Why is safety a core value at your company?

When I came to CH2M HILL five years ago, one of the things that impressed me most was the collaborative and caring spirit, which clearly influences and strengthens what we call our Target Zero safety program. Building on that strong culture, we began personalizing the way we discuss injuries, instead of only reporting statistics. We talk about what happened, the people involved and the effects those injuries have on families. It caused a major step change: employees taking genuine ownership of the safety program. Since then, we haven't looked back and, as an organization, are obsessed with safety.

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

We do it by continuously emphasizing its importance to employees as individuals, and also by underscoring what it means to their teams and to their employee-owned company. We provide, fortify and encourage sincere ongoing communications to – and from – all corners of our global enterprise. Every meeting begins with a safety discussion, and every project day starts with a "plan for the day," thinking through each step with a focus on safety. If there is reason to celebrate, we do it; if there is a safety issue at an office or project that others can learn from, we share it broadly. The importance of safety can’t be overstated, and we embed it in virtually all of our messaging, from the intranet and online videos to break room bulletin boards. Employees are empowered to look for and call out unsafe or potentially unsafe conditions and help rectify them, and we reward exemplary behavior.

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

We have thousands of people working in the dead of winter on the North Slope of Alaska and in the sizzling summer heat of the Middle East. We have even more working at nuclear and environmental cleanup sites and large construction projects all over the world. I worry about the distracted employee or the one who becomes complacent, and whether we are doing enough to maintain awareness around safety. That uneasiness, which is shared throughout our organization, is a veiled blessing because it helps us stay focused on our safety program. This past year, to heighten awareness around potential hazards, we began placing increased emphasis on encouraging employees to report "near misses." This is providing us more complete real-time reporting so that we can take corrective action in advance of something going wrong.

How does safety "pay" at your company?

It pays on so many levels; most important, of course, is the well-being of our employees and those who work on our projects. Beyond that and the business imperative, I think we, and companies like ours, are having a positive influence in countries where historically there hasn't been a high priority on worker safety. It's gratifying to know that through our safety program and protocols, we can effect beneficial change beyond our company's operations.  

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

As an enterprise, in addition to using traditional metrics showing job-related injury and illness, we track 10 leading indicators that help us recognize and evaluate potential injury trends and determine how well we’re doing with pre-emptive measures. Because of the diversity of our business divisions, some now track additional indicators to better measure their progress with specific initiatives. Our water unit, for example, is looking at what can be done to ensure a continuum of safety for the lifetime of individual projects. On the other hand, our oil and gas unit is focused on analyzing hazards related to individual activities. We also conduct project audits and monitor how well and how often we conduct health and safety communications.

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?

To use a sports analogy, if you are an Olympian and get through the day's competition without an injury but come back the next day with a broken leg, you haven't benefited yourself or your teammates. Safety is about around-the-clock awareness, and we've encouraged it outside the workplace via a variety of communications, including "safety moment" topics and a quarterly wellness newsletter, as well as a CEO Life Saving Award.

A few months ago, we conducted an all-employee survey and learned that 92 percent of our workforce takes safety home with them. That tells us we're doing some things right, but we need to do more. As a result, we are launching a holistic health and wellness program that will be available to the majority of our employees this year, and we have plans of expanding it firmwide. This program will range from a confidential personal health assessment done through a third-party vendor to providing a variety of health-improvement resources.  

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