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People, Processes and Tools: How to Create a World-Class Safety Program

Sandy Smith

Effective EHS requires the integration of people, processes, and tools. Does your EHS management system measure up? EHS expert Scott Gaddis offers insight to help you improve your EHS management system.

Successful EHS management systems proactively identify and manage workplace hazards before they cause injury or illness. This contributes to the sustainability of the business and positively impacts the bottom line.  

We recently spoke with Scott Gaddis, Vice President and Global Practice Leader—Safety and Health at Intelex Technologies Inc., about how to transform a good EHS program into one that is world-class. Before joining Intelex, Scott spent over 25 years in EHS leadership for heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging industries. He served as vice president of EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, was executive director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and was global leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corp. 

Sandy Smith (SS): Scott, you recently created a checklist of 10 steps companies can take that will put them on the path to EHS excellence. At the top of your list is “Position safety and health as the chief value in the organization.” It seems like that might be easier said than done. Many companies say that safety is a value, but often, production is king. What are the actions an EHS leader can or should take to encourage employees at all levels to make safety a true corporate value? 

Scott Gaddis (SG): I believe it’s a bit like how we look at relationships in our personal lives, meaning that we usually seek to understand someone’s value through their actions, not merely their words. Considering this idea in our work lives, the value for safety and the protection of the workforce is the beliefs or principles that guide behavior as well as judgment and decision making. With that said, value-based cultures are easier said than done. Trust or mistrust towards management has always been forefront as the most potent influence with safety value [Conchie and Donald 2006]. Trust is a necessary condition for the spread of safety value (Reason 1997). In this instance and while words matter, it’s the actions of leadership that have the most significant impact on the front-line. 

Trust is a necessary condition for the spread of safety value (Reason 1997).

For the EHS professional, it is imperative to work with the leadership team to craft a safety vision that is simple, concise and can be adopted through the organization with endorsement. Once this is done, the EHS professional should work to align policies and procedures that support the overall safety vision. Middle management up through senior leadership should take a proactive approach to establish employee relationships throughout the organization and ensure safety and health are critical topics in discussions. Normalizing safety communications at an informal level is essential in building safety value. Another area to focus on is ensuring that the safety and health program is proactive and public. I can’t stress enough how far critical fundamental elements like inspections, investigations, observations, hazard ID, reporting systems, corrective actions, done openly, with employee participation, go in promoting safety as a value. 

A final thought is that there will still be some that will experience working in a culture with little support from the senior level. In this type of environment, develop a micro-culture. This approach works within another culture but aligns itself to the values, vision, strategy and the plans of a specific group or department. To be successful, work to grow safety values from a small group in the organization that shares safety passion and then support the micro-culture with a great strategy and plans that will show progress over time. 

I can’t stress enough how far critical fundamental elements like inspections, investigations, observations, hazard ID, reporting systems, corrective actions, done openly, with employee participation, go in promoting safety as a value. 

SS: Gap analysis is important to EHS improvement, knowing what is going well and what’s not working. Should a survey of employees be part of this process and if so, what are some of the questions that should be asked to get a clear picture of EHS performance and perception? 

SG: I try to stay in the mind-set of always being involved in assessing the management system every day, regardless of the work activity. Granted, most of it is done informally, but I think when an EHS professional hits the front door of his or her organization, gap assessment begins. It is prudent for the EHS professional to have the professional curiosity to assess their people, processes, places, and predictive data often. Specific to surveying employees, at Intelex, we’ve developed a tool that helps our clients do that with a perceptions approach tool to gain an understanding of how workers feel at a moment in time. This would have been a game-changer for me when I was leading organizations because it would have allowed me to ask pertinent questions when necessary and with the frequency needed to support my EHS plans. 

Some common questions you could begin with: 

  • Do you feel safe at work? 
  • Do you believe the management team is committed to the safety of the organization? 
  • Do you think the primary cause of incidents that occur are because of unsafe conditions? 
  • Does your supervisor have good knowledge of the safety requirements of your job? 
  • Does your direct supervisor care about your safety and expect you to work safe? 
  • Is there a shared mentality of “safety before production” in the organization? 
  • Do you believe you are trained to do your job safely? 
  • Do you initiate actions to communicate safety concerns when you find them? 
  • Do you think your organization fixes safety concerns and issues quickly when discovered? 
  • Do you actively try to caution or stop your co-workers from unsafe work? 


Granted, this is not an exhaustive list of questions, and there could be more questions asked, but what we have found at Intelex is that perceptions change as the organization does, and so do your questions. It begins with an honest inspection of your safety management system and agreeing to the facts you see as the outputs. That starts the question process. What we have discovered at Intelex is that it’s an excellent approach to ask fewer questions but with more frequency. 

SS: Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) created the Safety Performance Report to try to quantify the correlation between the use of measures companies can take to keep workers safe on job sites—known as leading indicators—and the number of incidents, accidents and injuries that occur (trailing indicators). The report shows the remarkable impact that leading indicator use has on a company’s safety performance, such as fewer disrupted or lost lives and a safer jobsite regardless of the size of the company.  

One of the leading indicators they examined was the training messaging that new hires received. ABC found that companies that conduct an in-depth indoctrination of new employees into the safety culture, systems and processes based on a documented orientation process experience nearly 50 percent lower incident rates than companies that limit their orientations to basic safety and health compliance topics. That new hire indoctrination was even more valuable if the CEO or senior leadership delivered that introduction to the company’s safety culture and core values. One of your 10 suggestions is to “invest” in workers—ie. training and the development of capabilities—to ensure they recognize hazards and know how to control them. You mention several ways to do this, including training, toolbox talks and one-on-one discussions. Can you provide us with an example from your experience as an EHS leader of the best way to talk one-on-one with workers about safety and risk? 

SG: I will answer your last question first because it tells the story better. I came from a strong safety culture at Kimberly-Clark, where I led a facility that had very few incidents, and I credit it all to how we started our employees’ work career in the organization. To be frank, it began before they ever worked for us during their interview process. There was one standard safety question that every person would be required to answer. “Have you ever discovered an unsafe condition or safety concern, personally or professionally, explain what it was, and what you did about it.” I was amazed how many people couldn’t think of a single unsafe condition they had confronted and even more surprised when many simply communicated they did nothing about it after they had discovered the situation. Miss that question and we simply did not hire you. Get it right, and if we did hire you, the interview process was enough to indicate that things were going to be different working at our facility. 

Talk to your senior leaders about how to set the right tone, with high safety value and expectations. 

I believe the journey of capability begins as soon as an employee joins the organization. Again, with Kimberly-Clark, employee orientation was 80 hours with one-half of that time dedicated to EHS training. It was a LEAN based organization, so we recognized that we had to build capability in our workforce and do it in a way that expressed our safety values and expectations. Learning was a value. The first person that an employee would encounter, hour one of the first day, was the plant manager that spent two hours discussing his expectations for EHS and how imperative it was to work safely in the facility while protecting the environment. He embraced his level in the organization and knew he had significant leverage to increase EHS value and took full advantage to set a really high mark. That’s what I needed from him and would encourage other EHS professionals to do the same in their organizations. Talk to your senior leaders about how to set the right tone, with high safety value and expectations. 

For the EHS professional, this work never stops. I believe the very best EHS programs have robust capability development programs. Some of it is done in a classroom, yet most through effective mentoring and coaching. In essence, it’s the EHS professional building mini-me versions of themselves through daily contact with the worker. It means you can’t answer it all from behind the desk, but you walk the manufacturing floor and give yourself away, your knowledge and expertise as it’s warranted. 

How I’ve learned to have productive 1-on-1 interactions with workers is as follows: 

  • Clarify what is expected of the worker and how the organization supports this through policy, rules, procedures, training, desired behaviors, and the expectations required for the work. Not every worker is always clear about what is required, so this type of approach works well and does not isolate the worker that may not usually ask questions in a group setting. 
  • Ensure they comprehend the work processes and procedures and understand what they are supposed to be doing and how they are expected to do it. 
  • Collaborate with your workforce to understand. Learning has two distinct outputs, one side of this is what you give, the other is what you learn as an EHS professional. Both are vital and promote the idea with your workers that not only am I to learn, but I am expected to give back what I know. 


SS: I know you embrace the concept of “servant leadership” and the “power of we” in terms of serving as a coach and mentor to employees as a way to help them reach their full potential. Can you explain this concept further and perhaps give some examples from your own career where a manager served as your coach or mentor and where you served as a coach and mentor and helped employees have a voice in their work process and safety? 

SG: On the first day of my first corporate-level job in the mid-1990s—I had assumed the role of Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) leader for a large chunk of the company’s business portfolio—my boss, a guy that would become a mentor and coach, sat me down and drew a triangle. He then went on to draw circles indicating positions in the organizational structure, but this time drawing himself at the bottom, my circle above his with other circles indicating the various positions continuing up until the front-line workers were positioned at the very top.  

Was there a punch line somewhere? After all, it was my first day, and my first, big, corporate job. I anticipated hearing some lofty explanation of why he had positioned himself at the bottom and why my circle was hovering above his, and I certainly wanted to understand why he had placed the front-line workers at the top. He was teaching me maybe the most important lesson I ever learned in leading organizations forward: The power of “we,” the inverted pyramid.  

What I came to understand later was that this was how I was expected to personally perform in my job as a leader in the organization. His role, he elaborated, was “to coach and mentor and remove the barriers” from my path so that I could be successful, as well as everyone else who had a circle. Why? Because, he said, “the most important people in our manufacturing organization were the ones that actually made something.” He was telling me to work more like him.  

A principle taught in servant leadership suggests cultivating people to reach their full potential by giving yourself away through a dynamic learning environment. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant details this in a recent article in Forbes magazine: “Servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees, and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well. They don’t waste much time deciding to whom to give and in what order. They give to everyone in their organizations.” 

Leaders with this view believe that workers have both present and future value. Leaders consider it their responsibility to nurture others toward achieving their full potential because they understand that it also delivers value and profit to the organization, or in my case, delivered them back home to their families, safe and healthy and protected our natural resources. It’s simple; this style of leadership fosters a sense of organizational interdependence.  

SS: How important for safety professionals on a journey toward safety excellence is open dialogue with either their peers at their company or networking with their peers in EHS?  

SG: I believe, as professionals, we tend to look up higher for mentoring and coaching, but get intimidated easily with horizontal networking. However, it’s imperative to learn from each other, as most of your time will be in horizontal relationships. With this in mind, peers offer information that you need now, not in the future. If you are in an EHS capacity of leading a facility, for example, you want to have a relationship and a network that includes people doing the same. Peers understand where you are coming from and where you are trying to go. As a senior leader, I may realize that, but my primary objective is different and probably dedicated to vision and strategy, or as I mentioned, where we are going. Peers help you stay realistic.  

Peers offer information that you need now, not in the future.

One thing I’ve learned as an EHS professional is that I always want to be the best, have the best and do the best. Peers have an excellent way of keeping you grounded based on their own journey. Lastly, I think enlarging and working your network is one of the most important activities you can do as a professional for two reasons. The first is that you want to be able to take away good parts of their EHS process and embed them in yours. There’s no reason to reinvent great process or program if your peers are having success. Second, there’s a high likelihood that some in your network will grow professionally and have careers that will have a positive impact on your career as well as serve as additional mentoring and learning opportunities later in your career. 

SS: You are a fan of “celebrating wins.” No one wants to do that in a way that masks injuries or near-misses—one of the criticisms OSHA has had with they way some incentive programs are structured—but we should celebrate when things improve. Can you offer some examples of the “right way” to celebrate wins? 

SG: Very early in my career that began in the late 1980s, a lot of safety and health practitioners had safety incentive programs based primarily on reducing OSHA injury targets. I didn’t know much then and was soon following along with incentive programs focused on reducing reported injuries and then reductions to the lost time rate and subsequent days lost. The valuable lessons I learned was that there was excitement for a time with under-reporting of incidents and then a de-motivating episode that was just too bad to hide. It did not take long to recognize that incenting workers with coffee mugs and jackets and hamburgers were not a sustainable way to gain robustness in the safety process. 

With that said, I’m a fervent believer in celebration of safety and incenting with proactive recognition programs. I like to think about it as recognizing and celebrating with the organization for working safely as a behavior. 

Here are some areas that can be measured and rewarded: 

  • Reporting injuries, no matter how small 
  • Complying with work instructions 
  • Reporting safety concerns and near misses 
  • Submitting safety suggestions 
  • Attending safety meetings or participating on safety committees or special teams 
  • Offering suggestions for improving safety in the workplace 
  • Conducting safety audits 
  • Participating in safety training 
  • Serving on a safety committee 
  • Wearing required PPE consistently over a certain period 


I simply incented the organization to focus on proactive focus areas that I knew if done well, increased our chance of naturally getting the trailing performance I desired. 

Lastly, I also try to look for opportunities to recognize employee service and even their associated challenges. I worked in paper mills early in my career and if you've been in one, you know they are hot and humid. In the summer months, they are almost unbearable. I couldn’t change the work environment, but I could send a positive message that we cared. I went out and purchased a deep freezer, filled it with premium ice cream, and left it open to whoever wanted an ice cream break whenever they believed it necessary to cool down before returning to work. It stayed filled from the beginning of summer and ended only when the weather cooled in the fall. It sent a message that management cared and that we recognized the sacrifice they were making for the organization. That was over 20 years ago, and the facility still fills an ice cream freezer every summer to recognize their employees. It’s a celebration of efforts that have paid great dividends in performance. 

SS: Scott, more and more companies are either implementing or are looking at implementing mobile IIOT solutions, such as smart phone apps, tablets, etc. I know some employers discourage or even forbid the use of mobile devices while employees are working, while others are embracing mobile technology as a sort of "safety on the go" strategy to keep workers engaged with EHS. What are your thoughts? 

SG: I was in the camp for many years with a lot of EHS professionals forbidding mobile technology, and I think we all had similar reasons. We were experiencing near-miss incidents, and actual losses due to things like employees walking and texting in areas of danger or they were becoming more distracted from their job tasks and would lose an acute focus of their work environment. Also, I had areas of the facilities I managed with potentially hazardous atmospheres, so bringing in technology that was not intrinsically safe was not allowed. 

I believe EHS professionals today have those same concerns, but we have recognized that it’s not an area we can entirely eliminate, especially with the abundance of business applications available and with the expectation that they are used. I’ve changed my opinion of mobile technology over the past several years because it’s allowed me to deliver data very deep in the organization when it needs to be addressed. It’s put things like an SOP or JSA in the hands of an employee when needed and has provided immediate access to information. It does not, however, negate the need for control, and the EHS professional should consider the hierarchy of controls to mitigate risk potential. 

Here are some things that I’ve done: 

1. Develop policy and rules. Acknowledge the importance of the technology and develop guidelines that are fair and flexible, meaning work and non-work-related use and with an understanding that all technology use is monitored. I would develop guidelines where technology cannot be used ever, such as when workers are in proximity to operating equipment. Personally, I set up safe technology areas in my facilities, much like you see at airport parking lots, where someone can go and use their technology. I even put lockable cubbies in areas where employees are not allowed mobile technology but have it close by in a safe technology use area. 

2. Utilize the benefit. As reference, I knew early that technology was only going to increase its footprint, so I looked at it as a benefit. One of the biggest challenges for an EHS professional is communication and connection. Mobile technology allows both. I can now deliver instructions, an audit or inspection, I can send safety messages or warn my workforce with data that is pertinent when I desire. I can use technology to extend knowledge and develop on-going capability, and I can even apply sensor technology and monitor the safety of my employees in their work environment. All of it helps the EHS professional respond quickly and with better business intelligence. 

3. Increase a culture of safety. Much like the last point, a lot of motivation for the EHS professional is to increase worker participation and partnership. Mobile technology speeds that process. Imagine how more likely workers are to report a near miss, a hazard, or to do audits that are completed, filed and with pictures of the found concerns. Not only has mobile technology allowed me to send data as an output, but it’s permitted inputs to build robustness in the EHS management system. That is participation that fosters partnership where we own the EHS process together as a team. We literally put EHS in the hands of employees like we never have before. 

About the author: Sandy Smith, Global Content Lead, Intelex Technologies, is an award-winning newspaper reporter and business-to-business journalist who has spent 20+ years researching and writing about EHSQ and networking with EHSQ professionals. She is passionate about helping them become leaders in building and maintaining safe workplaces and participate in creating workplace cultures that promote and support EHSQ.

September 10, 2019 @ 12:14 PM EDT Manufacturing, Construction, Metals and Mining, Energy - Oil and Gas Health & Safety, Operations, Risk Management

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