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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Dwayne A. Wilson

President and CEO
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions


  • Developed a safety initiative that unified not only organization employees, but also all contractors at the site, with initiatives known as the “Safety Call to Action” drafted by a team of safety leaders from across the company
  • Introduced the “Safety Champion” award, given monthly to exemplary employees
  • Developed a set of safety leading indicators, which are monitored and used to bring increased safety awareness to the workforce, thus addressing potential hazards before an event occurs

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

Our core values – Safety and Security, Integrity, Teamwork, and Customer Satisfaction – provide the underpinnings of our success and for the overall quality of performance expected of us. It’s our foundation and what we expect of ourselves in pursuit of our vision to be the standard of excellence in managing federal assets by delivering knowledge, innovation and experience in nuclear materials management. Given the nature of our work, which involves handling nuclear materials, high hazards work in laboratories and working in remote forests and swamp locations during South Carolina summers, safety has to be our foremost consideration. We take pride in working safely and securely and are committed to maintaining a world class safety culture at the Savannah River Site.

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

My father instilled the importance of safety in me at a very young age. He worked in construction and as far back as I can remember, he was always teaching me the various aspects of the trade from a safety standpoint. Later, over my 30-plus-year career with Fluor Corp., I found myself working in heavy industrial construction sites, both new construction and operating facilities; refineries; gas turbines and around energized equipment. I always entered an area and stood back to ensure my own safety, then looked around to ensure others were safely working and then I would focus on the reason I was there. I find that all around the world, everyone really wants the same thing – to return home safely each day.

When I arrived at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, there was a tremendous safety culture that had been embedded for years, that when nurtured continues to blossom. But it does bring new challenges for me in my journey. I’m accustomed to the normal hazards of construction, but I’ve never been at a site that maintained its own fire department and emergency medical personnel, who have to make confined space entries, respond to collisions and make water rescues. Neither had I been in a location where to get to remote waste units for environmental monitoring, you might encounter venomous snakes and reptiles or alligators, not to mention typical insects and ivy. Our employees work with heavy equipment maintenance and crane operations and in various laboratory environments, and this is before you begin to address the hazards associated with nuclear facilities and heavy construction.

From a safety perspective, SRNS is the most comprehensive, challenging work environment that I’ve ever worked. And, it’s one of the more interesting in my journey to understanding the importance of worker safety.

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

Two obstacles come to mind. Currently, our biggest hurdle is funding and the federal budget process. Lack of funding and timely necessary appropriations jeopardizes the safety of the site, primarily because it causes a great deal of angst and distraction among the workforce. But it also means that tough choices have to be made when it comes to prioritizing our work and the basic maintenance and upkeep of our nuclear facilities is severely lacking. We need a budget that realistically allows us to continue to meet operational and regulatory imperatives and required staffing to safely meet the missions of the site.

Budget and funding issues aside, the diverse nature of our work is our biggest challenge. The Savannah River Site is like a small city on 310 square miles in rural South Carolina. It’s designed as such due to its secret beginnings, which were to provide plutonium and tritium to the nation’s weapons-production program in the 1950s. Then, there was a sense of urgency to accomplish a mission and while steps were taken to control by-products and waste, there weren’t many regulations. As in most industrial processes, potentially harmful waste is a result of creating useful products, and now many years later, we’re dealing with remediation and disposal of radioactive-contaminated legacy materials. We’re also working to repurpose many of the original facilities because they still offer a great deal of value for the nation. And we still have many active missions as well. For instance, we continue to supply tritium to the military for our nation’s defense programs.

We overcome our safety challenges through comprehensive training and robust safety programs. We utilize an extensive safety communications campaign, which we refresh annually and augment by mini focus campaigns. We also rely on individual accountability which is an expectation of every employee and reinforced daily.

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?

We monitor our leading and lagging indicators on a monthly basis. We look at injury and illness rates like most companies, but we also pay close attention to our behavior-based safety and management field observations statistics. These are the leading indicators that really indicate when we need to take action. For example, last May, we saw a slight decrease in observations and an uptick in our total recordable case rate, with five cases that month. Traditionally, we have struggled during the summer months, so we pulled together a team who initiated a campaign called “The Perfect Storm” to focus our employees on the 100 critical days of summer. The campaigned centered on storm predictions, stressors or conditions that made it favorable for an “event” to occur, and being prepared so you weren’t caught in the storm. It was very effective and I’m pleased to report that our employees achieved 21 million safe hours without a lost work day, an incredible achievement in any industry.

In anything, there is always room for improvement. I think the secret is to keep it fresh and never become complacent. We need to do a better job of sharing lessons learned at all levels of our organization, and we need to ensure the involvement of all of our employees in the various observation programs. Every employee has to understand their part in our safety culture and we can never let up; it’s the only way we can sustain our world-class performance.

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

We depend highly on our Local Safety Improvement Teams. LSITs are employee-driven safety teams created in an area or program within our company to sustain and advance our safety culture and practices. The members of the LSIT are safety leaders in their workplaces who promote, champion, and support safety involvement and engagement with the workforce and management. There are 26 teams who work in various areas in the company that are empowered to enhance and improve our work place safety performance.

We employ an active behavior-based safety program, which is implemented through our LSITs. Behavior-based safety refers to a broad category of processes, programs, strategies and tactics in which behavioral psychology principles are applied to support safe behaviors and change specific at-risk behaviors. It involves employees observing one another’s behaviors for safe and at-risk behaviors and then having a dialogue about the observation. BBS has been successfully used to reduce the occurrence of incidents by increasing the frequency of safe behaviors and decreasing the number of at-risk behaviors. The program has emerged as one of our primary employee involvement/engagement processes.

We also focus a great deal on communications and keeping safety at “eye level” for all employees through banners across roadways, signage, newsletters, lunch and learns, and a video production viewed monthly in mandatory safety meetings. We have a robust recognition program, sponsor housekeeping days, and host an annual Safety Expo event intended to engage employees through interactive booths and activities. Continuous safety improvement is an ongoing process that requires management leadership to provide opportunities for all workers throughout the company to be actively involved in planning and performing work safely.

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, supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile and nuclear materials management and storage. SRNS also operates the Savannah River National Laboratory, a multi-program applied research and development laboratory for the DOE. Cleanup of the 310-square-mile site is one of the largest environmental undertakings in history – the legacy of more than 50 years of production of plutonium and tritium for national defense. SRNS employs 4,800 people.