Safety culture Performance measurement Leadership

2014 CEOs Who 'Get It'

The National Safety Council recognizes 10 leaders who demonstrate a personal commitment to worker safety and health

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Elane Stock

Kimberly-Clark Professional, a business sector of the Kimberly-Clark Corp.


  • Has a personal goal to visit every plant around the globe each year and meet with local site leaders to understand each mill’s safety performance and challenges, while also taking time to listen one-on-one to line workers
  • Implemented safety training for all employees (including herself and the senior team) as an integral part of building the company’s culture of safety and accountability
  • Incorporated a safety metric into a visual management scorecard used monthly to assess business health, with safety as the very first measure on the scorecard

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

One of the four values at Kimberly-Clark is caring. Caring about our people means caring about their safety. While our products may evolve, the values at Kimberly-Clark remain timeless. For more than 140 years, our values have been woven throughout the fabric of our company. The values of authentic, accountable, innovative and caring describe how we work with and are judged by our consumers, business partners, investors and each other.

As part of selling safety products and solutions, we also must live it in every facet of our company. In order to deliver on our brand promise to create “Exceptional Workplaces,” our work has to be centrally focused toward safeguarding people. People make our workplaces work, and we make their workplaces exceptional through our relentless dedication to create healthier, safer and more productive work settings.

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

Complacency is a challenge faced by all manufacturers. A low injury rate is no guarantee that risks or hazards are being controlled and will not lead to future injuries or illnesses. It only takes one lapse for an injury to occur. Recognizing this obstacle, we strive to be relentlessly safety-focused.

We call this our “Full Potential Safety” philosophy, which is a holistic approach to safety. We are continuously asking ourselves, “What would it take to practice 100 percent safe behavior all the time?”

To answer this, we have created four approaches: committed, inspired leadership; engaged, empowered employees; relentless risk reduction; and systematic management. Each approach works in unison and is fully integrated into our comprehensive environmental, health and safety management system.

As part of our EHS management system, one way that we keep employees focused on safety is to have our shift workers participate in safety refreshers before they step onto the manufacturing floor following a “pace change” – or any change in an employee’s normal routine, such as returning from a vacation. These refresher training sessions raise the safety awareness for the individuals who have a higher potential of not being fully focused on safety when they return to work. In our mills, local leaders also provide employees with opportunities to be involved in safety management through Safety Steering Committees. The voluntary committees help to engage and empower employees by identifying and assessing the risks associated with the facility they work in and shaping discussion on how to mitigate any encountered risks.

Collectively, these efforts minimize the chance of complacency or stagnation in our safety thinking.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who understands the importance of worker safety.

Growing up, I lived in a manufacturing community, where my father was a manufacturing worker. I gained a deep understanding for the sometimes subtle and sometimes pronounced nuances of a manufacturing environment. When I was 11, my father was injured on the job. A boiler exploded in front of him and he was in the hospital for weeks with second- and third-degree burns. From those experiences, I also understood quickly that safety implications reach far beyond a single worker and extend to his or her family.

Today, those experiences help me create and hone strategies focused toward driving safety performance and continuous improvement at Kimberly-Clark Professional, where many of our company’s more than 4,570 employees are involved in manufacturing functions. My focus has always been and continues to remain simple: Everyone goes home safely – every day. No job, no task, absolutely nothing is worth an injury to one our employees.

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

We instill a sense of safety in three primary ways: committed, visible leadership; modeling behaviors; and engaging our teams for feedback.

Our leaders are personally committed to safety. This transition was grounded in a belief that safe behaviors should be modeled at every level, providing a comprehensive approach to our company’s operational focus, systems and tools. I have incorporated a safety metric into the visual management scorecard that my leadership team uses monthly to assess business health. Safety is the first topic of discussion around our leadership table.

To be successful, team members at every level and function need to model behavior that drives the necessary knowledge and capabilities to perform their jobs effectively. This is why safety training has become such an integral part of building our company’s strong and successful culture of safety and accountability. I work with our local leaders to help create safe work environments by asking that all employees participate in safety training. Our training is continual, systematic and task-specific – allowing our employees to identify safety knowledge gaps, address these defined gaps and mitigate potential future hazards and risks.

Finally, our employees are empowered to provide feedback for our safety programs. Visual management tools, such as safety dashboards, are critical to reinforcing safety every day. The dashboards outline progress being made against EHS goals and help identify potential gaps or barriers as defined by our performance indicators. To reinforce transparency and accountability, these dashboards are utilized at all levels and are discussed regularly during shift changes and team meetings.

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?

Our success is measured in practicing 100 percent safe behaviors at all times. Therefore, we believe that a successful and robust EHS management system should not be based solely on reactive metrics. Because of this recognition, we developed performance quality indicators, risk mitigation strategies and assessment tools based on both leading and lagging indicators. The broad range of quality measures we use to assess and track our activity-based EHS performance allows us to systematically eliminate exposures before a problem occurs.

As an example of one of our leading indicators, KCP North American mills experienced a 15.3 percent machinery risk reduction rate in 2013. This is a process for assessing machines to understand hazards in order to develop plans to mitigate risk. We also believe in recognition of our safe behaviors and have awarded 20 Crystal Eagles to our facilities in the past 10 years. This award recognizes facilities that obtain one year of working injury-free.

While our safety performance is much better than industry averages, we continually look for ways to improve. For example, we have a new program called “Safe Visits” that involves floor team members, mill management and senior leaders working together to address potential safety issues or concern. We realize that zero fatalities and injuries is the only acceptable outcome. We strive to eliminate all levels of risk through a detailed review of incidents and adherence to rigorous safety standards. We are always finding ways to improve as part of our safety journey.

Roswell, GA-based Kimberly-Clark Professional is a leading provider of hygiene, safety and productivity solutions, including personal protective equipment, safety apparel, respiratory gear, gloves, industrial wipers, and eye and hearing protection – all of which are known for comfort and reliability. Manufacturing companies worldwide rely on Kimberly-Clark Professional for safety products that help protect both their employees and their work environments. Its key brands are KLEENEX, SCOTT, WYPALL, KIMTECH and JACKSON SAFETY. As part of its business sector, Kimberly-Clark Professional employs more than 4,570 workers who are involved in a range of operational, sales and manufacturing functions.