Workers comp lawyer help keep the workplace safe. It was just after 9 a.m. on an April morning when a French freighter with ammonium nitrate onboard caught fire while docked in the Port of Texas City. The subsequent explosions and additional fires shattered windows in Houston, some 40 miles from the site. The tragedy claimed nearly 600 lives, including those of the chief and 26 members of the town’s fire department, as well as 145 employees from one particular company. The year was 1947 and at the time it was described as the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history.
But the tragedy was not entirely in vain. The president of the company that lost 145 workers made a commitment to put greater emphasis on keeping his employees safe. According to the American Society of Safety Engineers, it was Edgar Monsanto Queeny’s dedication to improve safety operations at the Monsanto company that led to the annual award named in his honor. The 2015 winner of the Monsanto Queeny Safety Professional of the Year Award is Dustin G. Richartz.
The senior Loss Control Consultant with Kansas City-based Lockton Companies was honored for his work in “developing safety and health programs” during his 15-year career. The ASSE said the environmental health and safety processes he has developed have “reduced recordable incident rates and lost time incident rates.”
Richartz’s philosophy is fairly simple: make health and safety a component of the business, not just a regulatory requirement. It’s a change he has seen since he began his career, a move beyond just minimal compliance. “More organizations are understanding if they don’t do that, it will impact their business in a negative way.”
So how does an organization go from just meeting the bare minimum requirements to one that embraces injury prevention throughout the entity? Often it requires a cultural shift to change behaviors, something that is neither quick nor easy, but effective.
It’s something Richartz spends much of his time on these days. As he explains, it involves moving the needle from a regulatory mindset to one of leadership, especially among the highest ranking individuals in a company.
Middle managers can only do so much. It takes senior executives holding their operating teams accountable to really make the necessary changes.
It requires integration – through all departments in an organization. It means influencing workers – not just directing them – to work in the safest, healthiest ways possible. It means working with employees who take shortcuts because they are pressured to get the job done as quickly as possible. And it means understanding that workers are not robots, and whatever is going on in their lives outside of work may affect their performance on the job.
The change in mindset started when many of the OSHA regulations became outdated, he explains. Most were written in the 1970s and have not been updated since. Often they are not reflective of current workplace realities and were focused mainly on preventing fatalities rather than injuries too, he says.
But those regulations can at least be a starting point for creating an effective health and safety program. Richartz says once the foundation is set, the program needs to be built up and assimilated throughout the entity. That’s where the cultural change comes in.
It requires a deep understanding of people. That takes, what Richartz describes as soft skills: the ability to influence people and get them to buy into your ideas; in this case, safer ways of doing their jobs.
It’s true there is pushback from some organizations. But surprisingly, most of that comes from larger companies. He finds many smaller organizations, especially those that are family-run, are more inclined to adapt to the idea of cultural change.
Richartz is passionate about developing leaders to effect change. Upper and middle managers must understand what it means to lead in safety and become more involved with their front line employees. Just telling them how to do their jobs safer won’t get the job done. Instead, real leaders work with their employees to understand what’s causing accidents and how workers can avoid them while still meeting the needs of the company in a challenging economic environment. He advocates reading leadership materials on such things as personality types rather than just memorizing regulations.
Richartz also believes in focusing on workers as real people – with outside lives and distractions that may need to be addressed. He believes in wellness programs and helping employees overcome challenges going on outside of work.
In addition to working with organizations, Richartz also spends much of his time working with people new to the health and safety profession. He says it’s important that they understand the soft skills and leadership qualities needed to change the culture in an organization to one where workers and managers work together for the safety of all. He believes the skills necessary to make cultural change within an organization can be taught.
“It’s not an easy profession to learn,” he says. “It’s not one where you have experience right off the bat. It was ingrained in me early on and I want to continue giving back to the profession.”