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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

DuPont's Connelly Points to Line Management as Key to Safety

Tom Connelly, a scientist by training and now a corporate executive at one of the world's most successful chemical companies, has seen safety from both sides - as a lab manager working with hazardous materials, and as a company vice president in charge of enforcing policies. And after almost 30 years of helping to craft a safety culture that has earned national honors, Connelly is in a good position to share advice with R&D facilities like Berkeley Lab.

He did so in a one-hour lecture on Monday before an auditorium full of managers, scientists and support staff. Here are some of the key points he made:

  • Safety has to be part of an institution's core value, a condition of employment
  • All incidents are preventable
  • Line leadership is largely responsible for safety
  • Policies and procedures are the guides, but people are the key
  • As for incidents involving safety or health, "The Goal is Zero."

Connelly said it's been pretty much that way for over 200 years, since DuPont first started as an explosives manufacturer in Delaware. Even then, the primitive work areas were fortified to protect the workers. Today, the company is consistently 10 to 50 times safer than the U.S. industry average for accidents and worktime lost.

"But safety is not about statistics or procedures," he told the audience. "Safety is about people. That's what drives our safety program. Our people spend time every day, every week on safety."

A strong safety culture takes time, he added, "but you work on it from day one, until every employee says 'This is the way we do things.'"

Berkeley Lab Director Steve Chu recalled a visit he made to the DuPont company's paint factory in Philadelphia. When he arrived at the entrance gate, he couldn't proceed until he read and signed the safety checklist that was handed to him. "And he (the guard) meant 'read it,'" Chu said. "It (the safety culture) is real. It's a natural habit and quite impressive. Safety is deeply in the DNA of this outfit."

And that's where he wants Berkeley Lab to be.

Chu would also like to see DuPont as a partner in the Laboratory's efforts to find an alternative to carbon-based fuels. While he was here, Connelly toured labs and user facilities and observed resources that might come in handy if DuPont continued its active program in biofuel research and renewable energy. Among DuPont's partners is British Petroleum (BP), for whom it is working on biobutanol and other fuel hybrids through biotechnology. Their search for cellulosic ethanol is a natural companion to Berkeley Lab's Helios initiative.

Connelly is DuPont's executive vice president and chief innovation officer, and his messages on safety and science may have planted the seeds of a symbiotic relationship with Berkeley Lab over the next several years.

-- Ron Kolb

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