2011 CEOs Who 'Get It'

Richard Hebert

President & CEO
GEA Power Cooling Inc.

GEA Power Cooling Inc. designs and constructs new cooling towers and air-cooled condensers, in addition to providing repair, preventive maintenance, and modification of existing cooling towers and condensers. As a subsidiary of GEA Group based in Bochum, Germany, GPC employs approximately 300 people among its corporate headquarters in Lakewood, CO; Aftermarket Services in Clearwater, FL; and other office locations throughout the United States.

Why is safety a core value at your company?

I believe the example set with our safety program is a reflection of how our organization presents itself and should mirror the same degree of professionalism and aspiration for excellence as other business practices. A day on the jobsite in our industry doesn't operate with a typical "day at the office" scenario.  Our work presents job task challenges with unique hazards specific to each site. It is essential to eat, sleep and breathe safety to be successful.

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

To advance our culture to the point where safety becomes instinctive, we've mandated compliance with our up-front safety policy and procedures before work begins. Start all of the processes, set the standards, work out the compliance issues, provide all of the training and orientations, complete required checklists, bring our clients on-board at the onset, and get workers' commitment starting on day one.

We foster a positive environment with a safety system that provides a consistent message through daily safety meetings, safety observations, and face-to-face communication and feedback. Every employee has the right to question the safety and health procedures and provide input to management on hazard identification and safety systems that are used within our company. We offer safety incentives based on safe work performance. Our comprehensive training program for all employees presents the technical aspects of safety on the job, conveys our expectations of compliance, personal accountability, teamwork, watching out for others and never working alone.
Top-down management support filters through all levels of our company, starting with executive management's presence during open discussions at safety workshops with superintendents and foremen to the craft daily toolbox safety talks on the jobsite and the safety systems within our office locations. I am known for punctuating my support in opening remarks, recaps or concluding observations, which usually include: "Is there anything here you can’t implement? Do you have a problem with anything said here today? Do you have anything to add?"                                    

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

In a word, complacency is our biggest obstacle. There can be a blurred perception when answering the questions "Is it safe?" and "Is it right?" Completing a task repeatedly without incident can lead to the belief that the procedure is good enough without further question. We challenge that complacency by raising the bar, setting and reviewing standards, and proper planning, which sheds light on the realization that "good enough" is not always good enough. In addition, our approach of utilizing face-to-face contact, positive reinforcement and maintaining momentum with the support of safety professionals working alongside our superintendents far exceeds any memos, bulletins and training alone. 

How does safety "pay" at your company?

The importance of a positive safety culture and an effective safety system adds value and is an investment in our business and for all of our families. Benefits of solid environmental, health and safety performance give us a competitive edge and are calculable by the following:

  • Client's positive feedback from observing our safety in action
  • Improved productivity – daily safety meetings and job site audits are like dress rehearsals and organize the day’s work
  • Creating a positive environment where employees are willing to participate in safety activities (i.e., daily safety meetings, jobsite audits and training) and provide feedback to their co-workers and management
  • Reduced workers' compensation costs – we have decreased our workers' compensation costs by 80 percent over the past three years
  • Spending less valuable resources on injuries and investigations

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?

Let me answer the second part of this question first. I strongly believe safety performance is the best leading indicator in measuring safety success. By focusing on doing things right and maintaining a consistent safety system, a positive impact on the standard statistical measures (OSHA recordable, lost workday and EMR rates) will prevail.

Upstream safety performance data is gathered from the field utilizing our pre-job accident prevention checklist, job site audits (both scheduled and unannounced), daily site safety observations, and observations and audits provided by our clients.

I don't ever see a day we will be able to let our guard down and say we have finally met our safety goals. Efforts to adjust and improve are ongoing. Safety is a moving target with our eye always toward the future in anticipation of what’s next. As client and industry requirements constantly change, we must reshape our safety system to meet those needs.

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 employees are our most valuable asset, and I remain mindful that safety extends beyond our employees to their families and further still to the companies and communities where we work. 
Encouraging the use of personal protective equipment on work tasks outside of our jobsite is a step in bridging the importance of safety off the job. Injuries at home or at play affect every employee and their families just as significantly as an injury on the job. By providing safety training, the opportunities exist for our employees to carry their knowledge beyond the confines of the jobsite or office.

We also stress the demands or urgency of the job are never so great that we cannot take the time to perform our work safely, that we depend on it and, most importantly, our families depend on it. 

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