As a safety professional with 25 years of experience in the
hydrocarbon and chemical industries, Ive had the unique
opportunity to view first-hand the evolution of safety. Upon
entering this field, much of the early drive for safety within
organizations was centered on loss of physical assets and the
moral issues around loss of life. I remember hearing of a refinery in the early 1960s whose
safety goal was to have only five fatalities during the coming
year. This wasnt because companies lacked a concern for
the well-being of their employees. The oil business was simply
perceived as dangerous, with injuries viewed as inherent to the
nature of this business.
I started as a safety engineer in 1986, working for a polystyrene plant. With the
creation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) regulatory requirements in the mid-1970s, safety
professionals in this era played an enforcement role, ensuring
compliance with OSHA guidelines designed to train companies and
employees on proper safety standards to reduce workplace
injuries. The use of hard hats, safety glasses and other
personal protective equipment was the primary focus of safety
programs back then. While this era marked progress, the
industry as a whole struggled to fully integrate safety into
its core business and kept it separate as a compliance
We know the health, safety and well-being of employees
should be of foremost importance to any company, and it is a
fundamental part of successfully conducting business. The
mistake the industry was making was that safety professionals
attempted to rank safety in a vertical order of importance.
Safety professionals wrote policies with a primary focus on
employee safety. Unfortunately, these policies failed to
recognize the correlation between the guidelines and the
operating impact of their content. This created unique
challenges through the next decade.
Safety is a key business element.
Even while companies fine-tuned safety procedures, safety
remained separate from operations and it was primarily
compliance-driven. Then, in the late 1980s, the industry was
forced to reassess the role of safety after two major
incidentsin 1988, a catastrophic fire and explosion on an
offshore platform in the North Sea, and, in 1989, a fatal
chemical plant explosion in Pasadena, Texas. Public and safety
regulators began to see that the existing mechanism for
policing the industry was not sufficient, and that additional
influence was needed to improve workplace safety.
These two significant incidents in the energy business
became the catalyst for a paradigm shift in the safety culture
of organizations. Companies understood, more than ever before,
the need to integrate safety and operations.
Today, the most successful safety programs are those
recognizing that safety cannot be viewed in a vertical order of
importance. Rather, safety must be looked upon as a value which
is inherent to every part of a companys operation with an
underlying commitment to creating an incident- and injury-free
work environment for all employees.
Engage the workforce for an effective safety program.
A good safety system in the workplace has tools to help
employees look out for themselves and their fellow workers. It
takes more than just safety personnel to implement an effective
safety programan essential factor in the equation is the
companys safety practices. Perhaps the most important
elements of an effective safety program are leadership
support and visibility. An organization that can look to
leadership to actively support safety and engage employees,
vendors, subcontractors and clients about the importance of
safety in the business is most successful in the safety arena.
In support of this idea, at KBR, key leaders take part in
onsite safety leadership visits that have been effective in
decreasing injury rates.
With leadership onboard, the next key element to an
effective safety program is employee engagement. This
involves a robust task analysis process as well as employee
safety teams. An effective employee safety team should include
all levels of employees to ensure a wide variety of input from
the various groups on a job. It is important for the teams to
be led by operations and craft employees with safety
representatives involved as an advisor or facilitator.
Additional key elements to promote safety programs are those
that address employee behaviors and employee commitment to
safety in the workplace. At KBR, our Shaping Accident Free
Environments (SAFE) program uses employee commitment to help
drive behavior changes. Employees are encouraged to intervene
when they witness an unsafe condition or see someone working
unsafely. Every employee must embrace his or her obligation to
intervene and stop unsafe activities.
Looking to the future of safety.
Many companies place safety as a core value. Ensuring the
safety of peoplemaking sure each employee returns home
daily as healthy, functional and productive as when they came
to workis paramount for the success of any business.
The hydrocarbons business will be a leader in safety
improvement going into the future. We continue to find ways to
improve safety and take performance to the next level.
The testament to the industrys success lies in the
performance of KBR and other companies that have achieved, and
continue to achieve, record safety while executing megaprojects
across the globe. To ensure our future success as an integral
function of any business, we, as safety professionals, must
continue to seek and implement new, innovative ways to identify
and control the risks with which we are presented.
Lyons, P.E., is KBRs vice president of
Global Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE).
He coordinates the global QHSE strategy with senior
leadership and oversees the QHSE support to projects globally. Mr. Lyons
joined KBR in 2004. Prior to his current position, he
served as director of KBR Onshore HSE. He holds a BS
degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M
University and has more than 25 years of industry
experience, including QHSE leadership positions at
ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Tenneco and