‘Safety sets the bar’

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


S+H: 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?

Thaman: Like most companies, we begin by closely monitoring our lagging indicators, such as injuries and near misses, so we can learn from the root causes and take action so it will not happen again. These lessons are shared across the company so similar situations may be corrected in advance of an incident occurring.

We also monitor leading indicators in various ways, including our safety management system self-assessment scores.

The SAFE (Safety Assessment for Effectiveness) tool allows facilities to gauge the overall effectiveness and sustainability of their safety programs by comparing themselves to world-class performance criteria. The tool – designed to be a leading indicator of safety performance – allows sites to proactively identify areas of improvement and their overall ability to sustain those programs. The tool measures what facilities are doing “right,” instead of the traditional measure of deficiencies in programs (injuries).

The SAFE tool is divided into two modules:

  • The SAFE Management Module is designed to ensure basic management systems are in place so facilities can build and sustain effective improvements in safety performance.
  • The SAFE Critical Module outlines specific steps for facilities to gain and maintain control of the risk associated with six critical safety programs:
    1. Guarding
    2. Confined space
    3. Working from heights
    4. LTT (Lock, Tag, Try)/Electrical safety
    5. Lift trucks
    6. Automobile safety

These programs were selected based on their overall risk of very serious or fatal injury to our employees. Facilities “score” themselves annually, and the results feed directly into their overall safety strategy. Their gap improvement plans become part of their goals and objectives each year.

We also are building competency throughout the organization in hazard recognition and effectiveness of controls by training and certifying specialists who have demonstrated the necessary skills. We currently have almost 100 individuals who are certified as trainers and specialists across our company and in all regions of the world. Risk-control events assess the risk profile of the tasks within an operation, and we measure progress in reducing that risk as a key indicator.

S+H: Describe your personal journey to becoming a leader who understands the value of safety. What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

Thaman: As the CEO of Owens Corning, I have a responsibility to continuously improve as we continue our safety journey. On a recent plant visit, I asked the plant leader about his safety metrics, and he told me when the last first aid incident had occurred – because it had been so long since the previous recordable injury.

Another story I use to illustrate getting to the root cause of an incident involves an employee and a cart. About four years ago, I was touring a plant and heard of an employee who injured his shoulder pushing a cart. We discovered that, based on the weight of the cart, it should have been designed with bigger wheels. So we replaced the wheels and shared that knowledge across all our facilities. The result is helping eliminate the risk of a cart injuring someone. That is our philosophy in action.

S+H: Describe your philosophy of safety leadership.

Thaman: The president of our composite solutions business, Arnaud Genis, is among many in our company who provide an excellent perspective on our philosophy. Back in November of 2007, when we acquired facilities previously owned by Saint-Gobain, Arnaud believed he already worked for an organization with a pretty good safety stance.

But what he noticed when he came here was what he called “an immediate step change.”

He saw the attention to detail and the leadership shown toward safety as two of the differentiating factors at Owens Corning. He tells stories about new and prospective employees who are coming to Owens Corning for the first time. He reports that most tell him they have “never seen such a strong stand on safety” anywhere else in the world. He tells a story about a plant tour he took in China, which brings it home for me, too. Before the tour started, Arnaud was among a large crowd at the plant waiting for the official “safety talk” to begin the tour. And the person standing in front of every top leader at the plant, and the president of the business, was a batch house operator.

It wasn’t the global safety leader, or the plant leader or the HR leader: It was a line employee empowered with the knowledge and the passion for what she did every day – so much so that speaking to a massive audience of the company’s most powerful people was as comfortable to her as talking with a co-worker on a lunch break.

That is safety leadership at multiple levels of our company.

S+H: What advice would you offer to other leaders who are at an earlier stage of their journey to safety excellence?

Thaman: It all begins with leadership taking a stand that allowing an environment in which people are injured is simply no longer acceptable. Leadership must then walk the talk by setting the example of what safe behaviors look like and by engaging the team for solutions to the problems that exist in people working safely. Team members must understand that they have a role in working safely and watching out for each other. Finally, you must provide the resources and the talent to fix what needs fixing so the risk of injury is reduced to acceptable levels.

Safety is all about caring for each other and holding each other accountable for a safe working environment. The disciplined execution that creates a safe working environment improves everything else along the way. As Owens Corning has progressed along its safety journey, leadership has realized three truths about the road to zero injuries:

  • The power of caring
  • The power of stories
  • The power of empowering your employees

Owens Corning to be honored at Green Cross for Safety dinner

The National Safety Council will present the 2014 Green Cross for Safety medal to Mike Thaman, chairman and CEO of Owens Corning, on April 10 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. For more information on the Green Cross for Safety dinner, please visit greencross.nsc.org; call the NSC Corporate and Community Partnerships Office at (800) 621-7615, ext. 52124; or email greencross@nsc.org.

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