‘Safety sets the bar’

A Q&A with Mike Thaman, chairman and CEO of Owens Corning

Owens Corning

Since 2000, the National Safety Council has awarded the annual Green Cross for Safety medal to an organization and its CEO that “have distinguished themselves through outstanding safety leadership and have showcased their commitment to safety by building successful partnerships to save lives and prevent injuries.”

The 2014 Green Cross for Safety medal is being presented to Toledo, OH-based Owens Corning.

The National Safety Council is proud to recognize Owens Corning for its steadfast commitment to safety excellence. A company that builds market-leading businesses, global in scope and human in scale, Owens Corning aspires to keep every employee working and living safely every day. The company strives to win with its customers and grow its people, lead in quality, turn knowledge into value, and meet the needs of the present without compromising the world it leaves to the future. In business for more than 75 years, Owens Corning is a market-leading innovator of glass-fiber technology and a leading global producer of residential and commercial building materials, glass-fiber reinforcements and engineered materials for composite systems.

Below, Safety+Health presents a Q&A with Owens Corning Chairman and CEO Mike Thaman.

Safety+Health: Why is safety a core value at Owens Corning?

Mike Thaman: It’s simple: For more than 75 years, Owens Corning has understood the importance of having engaged, productive employees who arrive home to their families and friends, without incident, the same way they left.

Safety has been an important part of the Owens Corning vocabulary since the company was founded in 1938. And almost 75 years later, it goes beyond what the word safety stands for … it’s about the stand our leaders and employees have taken on working and living safely.

The way Owens Corning conducts its business carries over into how we address safety: We believe that being good is not good enough. Being average in safety is not good enough. We set out every day to achieve world-class safety performance – a place where employees lead injury-free lives at work and at home.

S+H: How do you view safety’s relationship with quality, production and profitability?

Thaman: We believe that safety performance is the best barometer of manufacturing excellence. We have found that a facility that is operating well from a safety standpoint is likely to be excelling at quality, service and operating cost. When an incident does occur, we find the root cause of the incident and take action to prevent it from happening again. We learn from these incidents and share that learning across the organization so the same thing doesn’t happen somewhere else. The strong safety stand throughout Owens Corning has shown the company how to treat a production upset in exactly the same fashion. When we treat a production upset as if it were an injury, we’ve moved toward improving the operation of our company across the globe.

We lead from safety, and our other business metrics follow. We hold up our safety journey as an example of our ability to execute, and this carries over to other business objectives. Safety sets the bar, and it shows what continuous improvement in a company can really look like. That’s why we begin every discussion on strategy and performance with a safety review before we address business results.

S+H: What is the biggest obstacle to safety for Owens Corning, and how do you work to overcome it?

Thaman: We have to be careful to not let the success we have experienced cause us to become complacent. We have made significant progress over a long period of time, but we can never rest on those accomplishments. We must continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our core safety processes, engage our people and learn from our current experience so that we remain contemporary in our continuous improvement efforts. As injuries have been reduced, we have increased our efforts in risk assessment and reduction in advance of injury as one example. Safety is never finished and must keep pace with the speed of our business.

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

Thaman: Owens Corning’s approach is to fully integrate safety and health into the company’s vibrant sustainability strategy. Sustainability is a core business strategy for our company. Inside this strategy, one of our three focus areas is operational sustainability, which encompasses a holistic view of improvement across our global operations. It starts with safety at work and at home, and includes reducing our environmental footprint and actively working, volunteering and contributing in our communities.

Our company demonstrates its dedication to safety and health across our businesses and throughout our home communities in the following ways:

  • The emphasis on product and operations sustainability includes a total lifecycle view of our products – including the safe design, manufacturing, installation, use and end-of-life recycling/reuse/disposal.
  • Owens Corning employees routinely volunteer to lead safety training and/or overall safety coordination for community projects (e.g., playground builds, community festivities and club/school/church activities).
  • All employees have – and know they have – full freedom (and accountability) to stop work if they see something that appears unsafe. It is a job responsibility to stop and report any unsafe behavior that puts you or others at risk.
  • Stories of work/home/community safety intervention are routinely shared across our company and have become the foundation of our growing behavior-based atmosphere.

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