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August 23, 2013
World class safety: DuPont and Milliken share their proven processes

Imagine a safety and health process so effective and so highly developed that it can be successfully applied to other businesses. Two global corporations—DuPont and Milliken—have done just that. “Exporting” their worker protection process has helped both companies keep a sharp focus on safety, while building successful ancillary businesses as safety consultants.

Safety leaders from both companies generously share their approaches in this article. While the two companies differ in focus and program structure, both leverage familiar elements, including employee engagement and a rock-solid, top-level commitment to eliminating injuries.

DuPont: Sustainable Solutions

DuPont has brought world-class science and engineering to market through innovative products, materials, and services. In business for more than 2 centuries, DuPont serves diverse markets, including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, transportation, and apparel.

DuPont has developed many familiar products and materials, including neoprene, nylon, Teflon®, Mylar®, Kevlar®, Tyvek®, and Lycra®, as well as Freon® for the refrigerant industry. Today the company is engaged in global challenges that include providing healthy food for the world’s people and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels.

Bob Kryzwicki is DuPont global practice leader for employee safety. He says the company’s insistence on safety is a legacy of DuPont’s founding in the 1800s as a Wilmington, Delaware, gunpowder manufacturer. “There were some horrific explosions that were devastating to the DuPont family,” he says, that spurred their interest in safety. Although the family has not operated the business for decades, “we’ve never lost that value,” Kryzwicki adds.

Protecting employees (today there are around 58,000) and eliminating injuries, illnesses, and environmental releases are essential to DuPont’s core commitment. “Many people have similar philosophical positions, but we’ve been able to actually live by those principles—they govern our actions and decisions.”

For example, Kryzwicki says DuPont will not acquire a company if they believe it cannot be operated safely. “And we won’t bring a new product to market if we don’t believe that it meets our sustainability requirements.”

From cottage industry to corporate enterprise

About 30 years ago, DuPont started slowly sharing some of its safety principles and applications with other businesses through seminars and workshops. “Over time,” adds Kryzwicki, “we began to see that not only was it the right thing to do, but there was business value in helping other organizations.”

Expanding into safety was a good corporate fit. The company is dedicated to addressing what it calls three “megatrends.” These are feeding the world, meeting the world’s energy needs, and protecting people, which is where safety comes in. DuPont is able to help other organizations achieve their vision of success more efficiently than they might be able to do on their own.

Safety consulting is one of the services provided by DuPont Sustainable Solutions, together with client offerings in productivity improvement and enhancing environmental performance. According to its mission, its goal is to deliver “long-lasting solutions by applying our deep knowledge, unmatched experience, and science-driven innovation to safer workplaces, greater operational efficiencies, and reduced environmental footprints.”

Tools of the trade

The DuPont process involves a great deal of up-front work to ensure that consultants understand the client business and its worker protection needs. It’s the kind of upstream strategy that experts strongly recommend as a foundation for any safety process.

One of the first initiatives is using a data-driven tool known as the DuPont Safety Perception Survey. It is made up of 24 multiple-choice questions that evaluate the three elements of safety management: leadership, structure, and processes and actions. Companies can use the findings to benchmark their current status against many other organizations and those considered best in class.

Analysis of the data from thousands of completed surveys has shown that it is possible to correlate the strength of a company’s safety culture with its actual safety performance. DuPont pioneered the evaluation of cultural maturity in safety with the development of the DuPont Bradley Curve.


DuPont has adopted a definition of safety culture that was first described by a British Health and Safety Commission in 1993.

“The safety culture of an organization is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety management.” Simply put, says DuPont, “it defines what people do when no one is watching.”

In use since 1995, it ranks an organization according to four levels of increasing culture advancement validated by survey data. The concept is that when you improve an organization’s safety culture, the collective value that its people demonstrate for safety and performance will follow.

From least to most desirable, the stages are:

Reactive stage: Employees see safety as a matter of luck rather than management and believe that “accidents will happen.”
Dependent stage: Safety is perceived as a matter of following rules made by someone else. Accident rates decrease and management believes that safety could be managed “if only people would follow the rules.”
Independent stage: Individuals take responsibility for themselves and believe that safety is personal, which reduces accidents even further.
Interdependent stage: Teams of employees own safety, taking responsibility for themselves and others. They believe sustainable change can be achieved only as a group and that an outcome of zero injuries is achievable.

Knowing where you are is the first step toward improving, Kryzwicki explains. Using the outcome of the perception survey, the Bradley Curve, and other field assessments, DuPont consultants present clients with a detailed analysis of their status, as well as near- and long-term steps that will help them achieve the interdependent stage.

The process is highly customized, with recommended solutions based on an organization’s business, risks, worker population, and other factors. Progress is targeted within the three domains of leadership, structure, and processes/actions, with specific elements under each domain.

DuPont also helps client companies achieve what is known as “felt leadership.” This refers to an environment in which people sense a leader’s authentic passion and commitment to their protection—respect through action for employee well-being.

According to DuPont, felt leadership:

  • Is easy to observe,
  • Clearly demonstrates a belief in safety,
  • Involves employees at all levels,
  • Demonstrates a personal commitment, and
  • Makes a positive impression on employees.

Why DuPont?

One of DuPont’s strongest selling points is the fact that its consultants come primarily with extensive DuPont experience, including as former line leaders, safety professionals, and vice presidents. Kryzwicki says these are not individuals who take a brief training course to become experts in the DuPont system.

Many are business leaders who have had the responsibility of delivering safety, as well as quality, cost, and revenue. “They have learned what works and what doesn’t,” he adds.

Performance Solutions: The Milliken Way

Milliken has deep roots in the industrial fabric of the United States. The South Carolina–based company dates from 1865, when Seth Milliken and William Deering founded a small woolen fabrics company in Portland, Maine. In 1884, the company invested in a facility in South Carolina, and over time, its Southern operations grew to their current scale.

Milliken’s 39 manufacturing facilities in the United States and abroad produce chemicals, floor coverings, textiles, composites, and other performance materials that help enhance people’s lives, making the world safer and more sustainable. Milliken holds more than 2,000 U.S. patents and more than 5,000 patents worldwide.

Wayne Punch is director emeritus of the Milliken® Safety Way™ and was influential in building the company’s safety brand. “Our safety journey began back in 1990 when we had a fatality in the company. At the time it happened, we could never have imagined such an awful incident,” he recalls. Then–Board Chairman Roger Milliken asked Punch to leave his management post and oversee a renewed safety initiative with “the ultimate goal of hurting zero Milliken associates.”

The development of a strong internal safety process ultimately led to the company’s decision in 2008 to share it with other businesses. Since then, Milliken has consulted with as many as 150 company sites to create sustainable safety systems with the added benefit of increasing employee engagement. Today, Milliken’s consulting business, Performance Solutions by Milliken, helps clients drive change through both safety and performance systems.

Search and discover

Milliken set out on a multiyear benchmarking exercise to learn what other leading companies deemed world-class safety. The company discovered that the most essential element was active involvement by employees in the safety process. That led Milliken on a search for an operational definition of involvement—one that could be tracked and measured.

Punch says that’s where many companies fall down. They express a strong belief in employee engagement, but they fail to create a definition that can be benchmarked. Notes Punch, “I have given talks worldwide, and when we ask the question about metrics for involvement, I usually get a blank stare.”

Milliken worked to avoid that mistake by identifying specific engagement criteria that its associates were required to meet. For example, they could serve on a safety steering committee, become a trainer or subject matter expert, conduct audits, or work on special safety projects.

Once employees were engaged, the next step was to empower them to have an impact on safety and health. That involved making them part of the safety process and providing appropriate tools. “Throughout the 1990s we were focused on education and training so that our associates could take ownership of the program,” notes Punch. The focus was on such areas as conditions and equipment, housekeeping, and compliance with relevant regulations.

The safety journey included forging a lasting partnership with OSHA. For Milliken sites, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Certification became the norm. The company also added a behavioral safety process that goes beyond the typical model of requiring employees to complete observations.

Milliken associates are required to act on what they observe. The action might be adding an observed behavior to an audit checklist or making it the subject of a special safety project. In the Milliken behavior change process, any observation requires either “constructive feedback” or “appreciative feedback.” If an employee is observed working at risk, associates are encouraged to respond, but not to use the associate’s name to emphasize that the feedback is not personal.

When someone is observed working safely, associates are encouraged to thank him or her. Observations are tracked. If a particular department is the source of frequent unsafe behaviors, the safety team works to determine what the problem is and how to solve it.

Staying on track

Milliken’s focus on making safety measurable was behind another important element in its process, the safety tracking mechanism. Punch describes it as a tool used by any associate to bring closure to open opportunities.

An opportunity could be a safety idea or suggestion, audit or inspection findings, or outstanding meeting agenda items. The item to be tracked is given a number, a date, the name of the responsible person, and an anticipated completion date.

Accountability is also behind the Milliken “prescription for safety.” Every site receives a prescription, which is a package with policies, metrics, tools, training materials, corporate guidelines, country-specific regulations, reference materials, and other elements needed to manage safety on the site level.

Individual sites have autonomy to adjust the prescription, but must be accountable for the outcomes.

Strengths and gaps uncovered

Many of these program elements are among those that Milliken shares with companies using its consulting process. Starting with a site audit, Performance Solutions by Milliken practitioners provide leaders with information about the strengths of the existing process plus safety engagement data revealed through employee interviews.

Following the assessment, the next stage is to hold strategic master planning sessions with leadership. “We look at strengths and gaps in their program and the obstacles they face.”

Punch stresses that the goal is not for client companies to mimic the Milliken safety system, but instead to modify their process using Milliken’s proven methods. (According to DuPont’s Bob Kryzwicki, his company has a similar perspective, saying its goal is not to “unplug DuPont’s process and plug it into a client environment.”)

Clients choose the type and scope of assistance, including seminars and safety boot camps. The assistance is provided by specialists who are not simply consultants, but “practitioners who have lived the Milliken process.”

Improvement is rooted in what Milliken calls the “nine immutable principles.” They are:


Midwest Generation is an independent power producer that’s part of California-based Edison International. In 2006, the company was facing an increase in the severity of injuries, including fatalities, at its coal-fired plants. They asked DuPont for help.

During a 3-year engagement, DuPont specialists helped the company identify gaps in its safety process. Among actions identified to help fill the gaps:

  • Make safety at least as important as production and quality;
  • Gather greater input from stations and include it in the process for setting goals and defining action plans;
  • Expand safety leadership by involving all levels of employees and management;
  • Identify, analyze, and safeguard all, not just some potential safety hazards;
  • Create a comprehensive auditing system;
  • Eliminate the potential to hide injuries; and
  • Require everyone at each site to comply with a consistent set of policies and regulations.

Working with DuPont, Midwest Generation reduced its incidence rate by 73 percent, its days away, restrictions, and transfers (DART) rate by 68 percent, and its lost work day case (LWDC) rate by 72 percent.

  • Leadership expectations and communication;
  • Measurement and review;
  • Organizational structure that addresses compliance, auditing, and subject matter expertise;
  • Reporting;
  • Standardization of safety efforts;
  • Time and resource commitment;
  • Education and training;
  • Strong case management that helps injured employees get back to work quickly; and
  • Awareness to ensure that the workforce is actively engaged in safety.

Learn from the experts

DuPont and Milliken are safety icons—both have won numerous awards and are active in OSHA’s VPP. Like other organizations with well-developed safety processes, these companies know that the way to worker protection is to change the way people think and what they believe about safety.

It’s valuable guidance whether you’re in the market for a safety and health consultant or working internally to improve your program. The experts say the smart money is on culture change. No single policy or program can do it. Changing outcomes is a result of changing attitudes, behaviors, and expectations.

Learn more about the DuPont offering at Enter “sustainable solutions” in the search box. For details on the Milliken process, go to

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