The Secrets of Killer Leadership


Just image how many more lives would be saved if Companies bothered to train employees in dealing with emergencies.  To actually believe that nothing can go wrong in your plant or facility and that people would naturally know what to do, then you must work for DuPont.  I’ve stood here before you many times before my friends and have told you that training is the most critical aspect of any safety program but even more important, you need the culture to support it and that only comes from the top.  Without this support you wind up with no safety program or worse a cycling safety program, (A safety program that starts strong and then slowly fades away until someone is seriously injured or killed then safety becomes a priority again until it again slowly dwindles into oblivion and so on and so on).  However safety must also work from the bottom up but without the right culture to nurture, it only withers and dies and that’s when someone is killed and all your poor practices and ignored hazards are exposed along with your hypocrisy for the whole world to see.  Not very pretty. Dupont the world leader in safety somehow missed the critical aspect that employees weren’t trained in what to do if the ventilation system failed in an emergency even though 5 years earlier, OSHA called them on it.  Somewhere there was a breakdown in communication as the safety program was no longer the priority their propaganda had stated it was.  This accident occurred at 4 a.m. on graveyard shift.

I’m sure many of you know that graveyard shift is a different world to say the least since you are awake all night working while most of the country is sleeping. Having worked that shift for many years myself, I know it’s advantages and disadvantages all too well.  It tends to be laid back since there is no top brass around or much of anyone else but that unfortunately means there is usually no maintenance manager, materials personnel, payroll people, IT staff or others available which means you’re wearing all those hats.  In one processing plant graveyard shift also meant no stores personnel on duty either and as the shift superintendent had to locate and sign-out parts and materials needed for repairs on top of everything else.  Even though it was very hectic at times did learn a lot about belts, motors and bearings. You are on your own during graveyard and that is where skill and time management are important as you balance the laid back atmosphere, (which you can use to your advantage), with keeping safety, operational and quality standards enforced.  That also means you have limited resources and little time to deal with an emergency and knowing what to do in those emergencies is critical and that only happens with training, drills and more training as well as checking and maintaining the equipment/machinery needed for you and your staff’s survival.  Respirators, ventilation systems, spill containment, protective clothing are just a few.  When you are on an airplane you know where your closest emergency exit is.  Do the same at work.  Where are the exits? The emergency route?  The assembly area?

The plant manager is the person at a facility responsible for establishing the safety culture and even if you have a safety manager, the plant manager sets the level of tolerance on how he interprets corporate policy if there is any.  They control the purse strings and decide what gets fixed and when.  In many cases their bonuses are based in part on how much they save on the plant’s annual budget and that is unfortunate since some may look the other way on safety to help obtain those goals and by not spending the money on needed repairs or training.  However the successful plant managers knows that workplace safety is important and his most valuable assets are his employees.  What ever the plant manager’s view on safety, even if they believe a behavior based safety program is very much like tossing someone in a lake to teach them to swim, you as part of the management team, forepersons, supervisors and superintendents can still protect your teams on graveyard shift.  Make sure your team is trained and knows what to do in an emergency.  I know it’s easier said then done and not that easy especially when you have expected production goals, while wearing all those hats and then the main scroll cracks and needs welding one night and a bin is clogged another night.  I found by being flexible and working with the ebb and flow of production and using that advantage I mentioned earlier of the laid back atmosphere you can conduct toolbox safety meetings and practice emergency drills over the course of a few days each month.  It also helps to become friends with the production scheduler and tell them what you’re up too, some times they will work with you.  It’s definitely more work for you but it’s rewarding when your staff handles an emergency efficiently, professionally and most important survives which is a much better result then having to attend funerals and you can still look at yourself in the mirror.

During those 5 years after OSHA pointed out the deficiency in training to Dupont, they did nothing.  Somehow after all those hours of behavioral based safety training, it slipped through all their layers of bureaucracy and by the plant manager and his staff and now 4 people are dead.  Somewhere there was a serious breakdown in communication between management, the union and their employees and what would make most sense and demonstrate that leadership still exists at Dupont is for someone in Dupont headquarters to immediately resolve those safety issues rather then wasting time defending themselves.   However Dupont has probably already contacted a P.R. firm to produce slick, well produced television ads just like PG&E and BP did, to tell the world how important safety is.  After BP killed 11 employees in an explosion on a oil platform and the resulting oil spill destroyed the gulf coast, their ads tried to humanize the company by showing you their employees are Americans that also live in communities along the gulf coast and care about the environment.  PG&E ran ads after they murdered 8 innocent people in San Bruno, California first with the CEO shouting his commitment to safety while he dangled from an helicopter and later much like BP, showing that the people who work for them live in our communities and are just like you and me, working safely for PGE.

As much as the people make a company, it’s the highly paid, highly bonus oriented executives at the top, greatly distanced from the shop floor who tell us people who live and work in communities just like you and me what the plant’s priorities are and what culture will be allowed to thrive and if safety is not a priority and if you don’t like it, leave.  However, you don’t have to leave.  As stated earlier, take care of your team.  Make them the best and then rely on your team and you will succeed.  I can tell you that from experience. You’ll be chided by other shift superintendents, you will threaten authority and you will scare people so be prepared for the crap that may come along.  It will make you stronger and a leader with ethics who expects their team to go home to their families at the end of every work day.

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