Building a Successful Global Safety System: A Variety of Market Forces Are Driving Companies to Establish Global Environmental, Health and Safety Systems. What Are the Elements of a Successful Program?

By Walker, Larry; Smith, Les | Occupational Hazards, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Building a Successful Global Safety System: A Variety of Market Forces Are Driving Companies to Establish Global Environmental, Health and Safety Systems. What Are the Elements of a Successful Program?


Walker, Larry, Smith, Les, Occupational Hazards


The old NASA slogan "failure is not an option" is appropriate to describe the safety challenges faced by leaders of multinational companies. For an increasingly well-informed public, safety, health and environmental problems are becoming less and less acceptable.

Though no one really believes perfection is possible, it appears to be a growing demand of the marketplace, especially in environmental, safety and health (EHS) performance.

In building an effective EHS program, global companies face additional hurdles not faced by organizations that operate in just one nation. As a result of our combined 35 years of experience assisting international organizations, we have found there are a number of key success factors common to the experience of companies who have overcome these hurdles.

The Growing Demand for Safety

"Having a poor safety system can affect how our products are perceived in the market," says James C. Morgenstern, vice president for safety and quality assurance at Kimberly-Clark, a paper products company with headquarters in Dallas and production facilities in North, Central and South America, and Europe and Asia. "Therefore, we have made up an action plan in which a systematic approach to control loss is basic in our safety strategy."

Stakeholders in any organization have always held that organization accountable for managing the risks of its business. More recently, a number of factors have combined to "up the ante" on companies' EHS performance:

* When serious EHS issues within an organization are exposed, consumers may become concerned about the quality of the product or service they are buying.

* Regulators are reacting to losses with more stringent requirements and significant penalties.

* Employees who perceive excessive risk in their organizations, even in the absence of major accidents, are more aggressive than ever before in airing their concerns.

* Shareholders, concerned about stock value, are insisting that leadership be more aggressive in dealing with safety and environmental risks.

* The ever-present media see great opportunity in airing the inadequacies of prominent organizations.

These aspects of today's business environment, coupled with an increasingly complex web of new technology, aggressive marketing, changing priorities, and acquisitions and mergers, challenge organizational leadership in ways never before experienced.

Why a Global System?

Many international organizations have stated their intention to be a "world leader in safety" or manage a "world-class safety process." Part of this effort is driven by ethical and humanitarian concerns, but as indicated previously, a large part of it is in response to the organization's recognition that safety and environmental performance have become competitive issues along with price, quality and reputation.

As a result, to be successful, many global companies must demonstrate that they apply appropriate risk technology to their decision-making processes in all operations, wherever they may be located.

Some organizations have stated their intent to be world leaders in safety without really examining the investment that must be made or the specific characteristics, activities and processes that must be developed and implemented to make it happen. There are numerous sources that provide insight into critical success factors for implementing a global safety system. Among them are the Cullen Report (Cullen 1990), the report of the official government investigation into the Piper Alpha explosion; OSHA's Process Safety Management standard; OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs; and the safety guideline Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18000), which is gaining international recognition. The success factors listed in Figure 1 are extracted from these resources.

OSHA programs are referenced for two reasons. …

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