Watch Week 3: Safety Leadership by Example

Free On Demand Webinar

I want to share a story with you about a man named Paul O’Neill who is perhaps one of the greatest CEO’s in the modern industrialized work when it comes to demonstrating Leadership Commitment and support for safety.

Shortly after Paul O'Neill became CEO of Alcoa in 1987, he visited the company's huge aluminum smelter in east Tennessee.

Word had already spread that Mr. O'Neill wanted to make worker safety Alcoa's top goal. In a meeting with management and labor leaders at the plant that day, he recalled recently, he turned to the managers and said, "From now on, we're not going to budget for safety. As soon as anyone identifies anything that could get someone hurt, I want you to fix it and I will figure out how to pay for it." He then turned to the union leaders and said, "Here's my phone number at home, and if they don't do what I said, I want you to call me."

About three weeks later, Mr. O'Neill got a late night call from a production worker at the plant. "You came down here and you said all this fancy stuff about safety," the worker said, "and I just wanted you to know that for the past two or three days, we've had a broken conveyer belt." The broken belt meant workers had to manually hoist hot 600-pound ingots from one spot to another.

Mr. O'Neill called the plant manager, told him to report to the smelter, get the problem fixed and call him back when the job was done. He got the call-back at 5 that morning. "There was an communication network at Alcoa, and so I didn't have to do that at every plant because they soon knew I meant it.“

For the 13 years that Paul O’Neill was CEO of Alcoa, the company reduced its incident rate 90% from 1.86 injuries per 100 workers down to 0.2.

Paul O’Neill viewed safety as a barometer for the how the business was performing as a whole and he believed that safety was an ethical issue. He believed that Leaders have a responsibility to protect the people around them.

Paul went on to spread that safety passion at the Department of the Treasury and the United States Mints. Prior to his roles as Treasury Secretary, the US mint system has abyssmal safety programs and terribly high accident rates. He made safety a top operational value, and to this day has made significant improvements in their safety systems.

"Think about when your children were little and how you felt about their safety; that's a moral obligation you have as a parent. And Paul felt to the core of his soul that he had that obligation in terms of safety to make sure the people who work for him in his plants were safe.”


Every level of the organization, from the CEO to the first line supervisor must demonstrate the leadership, vision, and resources needed to implement an effective safety and health system. Safety leadership requires that you do the following:

  • Make worker safety and health a co-reorganizational value.

  • Be fully committed to eliminating hazards, protecting workers, and continuously improving workplace safety and health.

  • Provide sufficient resources to implement and maintain the safety and health system.

  • Establish proactive SMART safety goals based on leading indicators.

  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate your safety and health commitment to workers and others.

  • Encourage reporting of incidents, near-misses, and hazards without fear of retaliation or discipline.

  • Encourage and support Stop Work Authority (SWA) for imminently dangerous work practices. SWA gives employees and contract workers the responsibility and obligation to stop work when they perceive an unsafe condition or behavior that may result in an unwanted event.

  • Remove barriers to employee participation and en-gagement.

  • Set an example through your own actions.

I hope that you enjoyed weeks 1 & 2 free on demand webinars. In Week 3, I talk about "Safety Leadership by Example". Upon completion of this webinar, you should be able to:

  1. Understand the fundamental concept of safety leadership,

  2. Identify some basic truths about safety leadership,

  3. Identify key strategies to demonstrate safety leadership at your company, and

  4. Start taking steps to demonstrate a commitment to safety to employees at your company.

I have also included a bonus video where you can hear Paul O’Neill’s views on safety first hand.

Watch Week 3 (31 min.)

Webinar Instructor

Leslie Rex Stockel, MS CSP SMS

  • Certified Safety Professional

  • Certified Safety Management Specialist

  • 25+ years of experience in safety and health (Manufacturing, Energy, Utilities, Aviation, Insurance & Public sectors )

  • BS in Fire Protection & Safety Engineering Technology – Oklahoma State University

  • MS in Engineering and Technology Management – Oklahoma State University

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