Green Cross for Safety Medal dinner

Green Cross for Safety Medal Dinner 
National Safety Council

rex tillerson
Rex W. Tillerson

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Speech April 2, 2013

Green Cross for Safety Medal dinner

It is truly an honor to accept this medal, with a deep sense of humility, on behalf of the men and women of ExxonMobil who produce the results I have the great privilege to represent day in and day out.

This award is a very special one — one we will hold in high esteem. It is special because it recognizes the deep commitment of our company and our people to a culture of safety. This is a passion embraced by every employee at ExxonMobil, as you saw in the earlier video.

I am especially pleased to receive this honor here in Houston. This city feels the pulse of the energy industry, and that pulse is strong — reverberating throughout our nation, increasing investment and jobs, and powering an American manufacturing renaissance.

These are extraordinary times in the energy business.

It is especially appropriate, then, to remind ourselves that even in the midst of such success, there is no room for complacency. There is never a time when we can allow our focus on safety to relax.

Today’s culture of safety at ExxonMobil is the result of a long and ongoing corporate journey. It has been a journey we have shared with the National Safety Council since its beginnings in the early 20th century. It is a journey we also share with every Green Cross for Safety Medal honoree, as well as those of you in this room tonight.

In the 38 years I have been with ExxonMobil, I have personally witnessed and walked this journey. I have seen ExxonMobil’s approach to safety become an example for others. Tonight, I would like to walk you through that journey — to explore what we have learned about safety and the challenges that we see ahead.

The Journey to a Safety Culture

Every aspect of ExxonMobil’s culture today rests on our clearly stated corporate vision of a workplace where “Nobody Gets Hurt.”

Safety is a value that governs everything we do — from our planning and facility construction, to our drills and emergency response exercises, to the way we operate the business every day.

We accept no compromises in this area.

When I was a young engineer, I was asked to investigate serious incidents, including fatalities. When you are 27 years old and investigating a death, the scenes you encounter have a lasting impact on you.

Much later, we all witnessed the impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a turning point in our company’s history. It was a profound shock, one that caused all of us at Exxon to take a big step back, to examine how we were operating, and how we were managing risk.

Up to that time, we had managed risk like most industrial companies. We believed, as our safety credo at the time stated, that all accidents and injuries were preventable. Like many companies, we had worked hard to meet or exceed industry safety standards. We had trained our employees in safety procedures. And we had tracked metrics that measured our success.

But we obviously did not have a comprehensive systems view of safety. It is not enough to make safety a priority, or the focus of a specialized team. It must become a value and a part of the organizational culture that infuses all activity every day.

The Need for a Comprehensive View

In the early 1990s, ExxonMobil’s management undertook a fresh approach. The vision was to wholly reorient the company to put safety — of people, facilities, and the environment — at the heart of everything we do.

We realized that to achieve this, the impetus had to come from the inside out, not the outside in. No one could mandate it for us. No one could sell it to us off the shelf. We had to do it ourselves.

So we created a system — the Operations Integrity Management System, or OIMS — a rigorous 11-point set of elements designed to identify hazards and manage safety, security, health, and environmental risks. I was in operations in the early 1990s, so I was a part of the rollout of this system and a witness to its progress and success.

We started out, however, not with systems management in mind, but with people in mind. Even the best safety systems are ineffective unless they exist as part of a broader culture of safety that lives in the minds and hearts of all.

Building a Culture of Safety

Simply put, OIMS is enabled by the belief that leadership influences culture, and culture drives behavior. Therefore, leaders have to set expectations, build structures that support safety efforts, and teach others to do the same. And that is why the first of the 11 OIMS elements is “management leadership, commitment, and accountability.”

OIMS today guides the activities of each of ExxonMobil’s almost 80,000 employees, as well as hundreds of thousands of third-party contractors around the world. Over time, this safety system has become embedded into everyday work processes at all levels.

Through OIMS, ExxonMobil monitors, benchmarks, and measures all aspects of our safety performance. Our safety system’s structure and standards are shared and communicated the world over.

By instilling the value of safety in our employees from the first day that they are hired, ExxonMobil strives to create a working environment in which safe behaviors are consistently reinforced and rewarded.

We have learned, however, that a cultural change only becomes real when values become pervasive. Our employees and contractors fully share those values by taking ownership and accountability for their own and each other’s personal safety. The workforce is empowered and expected to intervene when a colleague — whether peer or superior — appears to be at risk.

We have also learned to reach out — to guide and protect anyone who comes onto one of our sites. We actively manage our contractor relationships much like we manage our employees. After all, if you are going to manage a site, you need to address all of the risk on that site.

I have read that some in other businesses resist this approach because they are afraid of taking on legal liabilities. The greater risk — moral as well as legal — is not taking responsibility.

At ExxonMobil, we record not just our injuries. We record our near misses, our potential hazards, and our work performance.

Our goal is not to analyze safety incidents after they happen, but to identify hazards and at-risk behaviors before they lead to a safety incident.

And yet I do not want anyone to think — inside or outside of the company — that pride in our safety systems means we can become complacent or comfortable. The exact opposite is true. To get to where we need to be with regard to safety, continuous improvement is essential.

This approach flows as much out of our culture — a culture of caring for one another — as it does from our systems approach. Such a value of caring is not found in written rules, standards, or procedures. While those are important and necessary, what also matters are the unwritten standards and norms that shape mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors.

We found that devising a safety system and building a culture cannot be accomplished in a year. In fact, we have been on this journey now for more than two decades — and we have not arrived yet.

Our goal is to go beyond compliance — to create a farsighted culture in which employees are not only meeting safety requirements and procedures but working to identify where they can be further improved.

The Business Case

As we have moved forward on our journey, we have ultimately come to see that a concern for safety is always tied to a deep and abiding sense of personal and professional integrity. Integrity is a commitment to do the right thing, the right way, every time — from business and technical challenges to the way we manage our operations.

In recent years, the world has been reminded of the costs when companies and leaders fail to uphold the highest standards of performance. We have all seen crises in various industrial sectors, and yes, unfortunately, in the energy industry — crises that were caused by a lack of safety leadership, many of which cost billions of dollars, harmed lives, and undermined the credibility of our industry.

Simply put, safety must be a personal commitment — reinforced by a culture, exemplified by leaders. It has been my experience that corporate leaders who place safety above any business priority are also those who, in the long run, enjoy the greatest business success.

Sharing the Lessons of Safety

In our journey, we have also learned that safety is too important to be considered proprietary. Industry leaders must continue to work together to share all that we know about safety, and develop as many ways as possible to share lifesaving information and techniques.

For our part, ExxonMobil strives to share our best practices within the energy sector, and across all industries. There should be nothing “close-hold” about potentially lifesaving measures. This spirit of sharing must be instinctive. After all, a major incident in any industry now affects the standing of all industries with consumers, regulators, and the media.

We must also have the humility to listen. Over the years, we have learned from municipal leaders and first responders in keeping communities safe. We have welcomed the role of state and local government regulators in communicating best practices and standards of accountability. And we have collaborated and learned from many of our industry peers in a common commitment to safety.

Our ongoing work has highlighted the importance of flawless execution for well-known, higher-risk activities.

We have also learned that we can gain knowledge from investigating and analyzing incidents and near misses based on their potential versus their actual consequence.

With this information in hand, we can then plan more robustly to manage these potential consequences.

Ultimately, as we apply these lessons and practices, we are driven by the confident belief that we can eliminate fatalities from our industry.

It is this unwavering belief that makes us proud to work with the National Safety Council to support the Robert W. Campbell Award.

This award recognizes organizations that achieve excellence through the integration of environmental, health, and safety management in business operations. And as you may know, the successful Campbell Award program has now resulted in the launch of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council, which is dedicated to improving safety, environmental, and health performance across industries.

I want to take this moment to thank the National Safety Council for taking a safety approach that encompasses all of society — from the need to change the batteries in home smoke detectors, to fighting the tragic toll in lives lost caused by distracted driving.

As a result of the National Safety Council’s leadership, I am sure that thousands of adults and children are at work and play today who would not otherwise be with us. The National Safety Council knows better than anyone that this is the real payoff, the reason we do what we do.

This evening is a tribute to all of the sponsors of this event, to your shared commitment and leadership in safety — as well as to the great benefit your funding and personal involvement bring to support the National Safety Council’s vision of “Making the World Safer.”

The safety journey is one without rest, but one that allows everyone to make it home: The mother who is there for graduation day, the father who is there for the soccer tournament, the college student who comes home to proud parents for Thanksgiving. This is what we have in mind at ExxonMobil when we say “Nobody Gets Hurt.”

I thank you again for this honor, one to be treasured by all of the men and women at ExxonMobil who live safety every day — at work and at home.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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