The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Safety Leadership

August 22, 2013

By Quentin Smith, ECC Future Leader

As ECC Future Leaders, we actively participate in organizing a portion of the conference content. This is a great opportunity to contribute to a successful conference and also to establish some meaningful networking connections with fellow future leader team mates. One of the Future Leader Committees this year is the Safety Committee. As I am part of this safety committee and with the ECC Conference approaching fast, I wanted to share some of my personal experience with Safety Leadership.

After graduating college, I was commissioned as an officer in the Nuclear Navy. The most influential impact on me personally as it relates to safety is the time I spent in the Navy. This was a truly unique experience not only in the fact that the technology and application is unique, but also in the rigor that Safety Leadership is taken to. The impact of certain potential incidents is massive on the submarine. Because of this risk profile, the Navy has implemented what is probably the world’s leading safety program. Various aspects of this program are audited regularly but the day to day safety of the boat is dependent on the integrity and leadership of the crew. In this post, I wanted to share some of my personal safety takeaways from my experience in the Navy that I have applied to my post-navy career.

  • Be especially vigilant when the original plan changes – there is a significantly heightened risk when the plan changes and the team is trying to recover. Slow down, discuss the full implications of the change, involve the whole team including senior leadership to ensure that the risk is mitigated to the maximum extent possible.
  • Instill a culture of “watch team backup” – it is critical that every member on the team feels that it is not only their right but their duty to speak up when they see something that is not right. This applies up and down the chain of command. In the Navy, this was termed “watch team backup”.
  • The most important time to slow down is when everyone is pushing to speed up – when the pace spins out of control and there are too many loose ends, as a safety leader you MUST stop the team. Easy to say and very hard to do, especially when the stakes are high. One area where this regularly came up in the Navy was work package approval and Lock-Out-Tag-Out (LOTO). It only takes a few seconds to sign off on a LOTO and the pressure can be enormous especially when the entire shipyard is waiting on you but if the isolations are incorrect, the ramifications of improper LOTO can be devastating and last a lifetime.
  • There is no gray area when it comes to safety – safety processes and procedures have been written because there was an incident where most likely someone was injured or worse. Following the safety procedures to the letter is critical and stopping practices that go against these procedures is required.
  • Safety Leadership requires Safety Knowledge – building on the point above, mastery of the procedures and guidelines that govern safe operations is required to truly establish a leadership presence when it comes to safety – you need to know what you are looking for. In the Navy, we deliberately trained on safety. One of the safety leaders that I had the privilege of working under in my post-Navy career put this in actionable terms for those in the EPC industry. In the EPC industry, we build projects (meaning both engineering and construction). If you currently have an office role, your duty is to set aside time every week to practice/refresh on safety procedures or the field safety manual. You cannot put this off until you have a field or operations assignment – this is too late. We need to constantly work toward developing our understanding and knowledge of safety.

I view safety leadership as a journey. After writing this, it struck me that one area that I need to redouble my effort is on the last point – establishing a habit to increase safety knowledge. Being in sales, the pace is frantic and it is difficult to keep this a priority but it needs to be a priority.

I hope there is something that you can take away after reading this that helps you on your journey.

Have a safe conference.