Bechtel: Striving to Be the Best: At Bechtel Group Inc., the Challenge Is Protecting 47,000 Employees in 35 Countries from Injury and Illness While Tackling Massive Construction Projects Such as Rebuilding the Infrastructure of Iraq

By Smith, Sandy | Occupational Hazards, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Bechtel: Striving to Be the Best: At Bechtel Group Inc., the Challenge Is Protecting 47,000 Employees in 35 Countries from Injury and Illness While Tackling Massive Construction Projects Such as Rebuilding the Infrastructure of Iraq


Smith, Sandy, Occupational Hazards


A partial list of safety awards won by Bechtel Group Inc. covers even pages of single-spaced type. This is a company that is doing safety well.

But not quite well enough, says Kevin S. Berg, principal vice president and manager of Environmental, Safety and Health Services at the engineering and construction services company. "Bechtel is dedicated to the concept that all accidents are preventable," he says. Accordingly, the company is committed to "achieving and sustaining zero accident performance through continuous improvement," he adds.

While the company might not have achieved zero accidents, it is getting closer every year. In 1992, the lost workday case rate for Bechtel North America was 0.63, and Bureau of Labor Statistics' average lost workday case for SIC Code 1620, Heavy Construction, was 5.3. Ten years later, the lost workday case rate for Bechtel North America is 0.17, while the national average for SIC Code 1620 is 4.0.

Just a few years ago, says Berg, Bechtel was a reactive organization that dealt with problems and challenges as they carne up. "The reason we're receiving the recognition for safety that we are today is that 10 years ago, we adopted a systems approach to environment, safety and health (ESH)--a more holistic approach--which put us in a preventive mode rather than a reactive mode," Berg asserts. "About two years ago, we developed a process that integrates ES&H into the planning of a project, even down to whether the project is a 'go' or 'no go.'"

Safety was always a priority at Bechtel, says Berg, but in recent years, it has changed from a priority to a corporate value. "When you prioritize something, that means it's not always going to be at the top of your list. A core value is woven into everything you do, every business decision you make."

While they were creating a business culture that values safety, Bechtel's top management found that irs "support" for occupational safety and health was, surprisingly, not what the company or safety process needed.

"Safety was like a high performance sporting event, where supporters buy tickets. Ultimately, the supporters sit in the stands and cheer on the teams," Berg explains. "We wanted management engaged tn the game, on the field, walking the talk.

"Don't just demonstrate support," he urges other managers. "Demonstrate pride in ownership."

Developing a Safety System

To integrate safety into the corporate culture and make it a core value of the company, Bechtel management took several steps, including:

* Develop a real understanding of an integrated system. What did it mean to integrate safety into the business? How dial that impact planning at all levels? "We had to have a much better understanding of what ES&H meant to the process," says Berg.

* Institute a behavioral-based safety program. "In 1994-95, we contacted a number of behavior-based safety training companies tn come in and talk to us," Berg remembers. "They all said, 'It won't work for construction. You have too many variables: the work process, the short duration of the work, the changing workforce.' We didn't accept that answer. Our organization is not afraid to look ar new tools and materials of seek out and apply leading-edge technology where it hasn't previously been viewed as viable. The key elements of behavior-based safety work for construction, even in countries with cultures far removed from the traditional safety process."

When the smoke cleared, Bechtel's occupational safety and health program had several key elements:

* Management commitment to ownership of, participation in and accountability for ES&H performance.

* Consistent expectations that are communicated through the organization.

* Establishment of standard operating procedures and commitment to continuous improvement through adoption and implementation of industry best practices. …

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