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I jump out of bed every day. I’m not kidding – after 20 years in Boeing EHS, I love going to work in the morning. Because we are making a difference for our teammates, their families and our communities, and it’s too exciting to miss.
When I started my career, I had to explain what an ergonomist did and even help pronounce it (“er-gone-o-mist,”“er-go-nom-ics”). Since then, we’ve made countless safety improvements to our vast portfolio of industrial processes.
Boeing’s safety vision is rooted in our culture. Building on our core values for product safety, Boeing’s workplace safety initiative, called “Go for Zero – One Day at a Time,” codified four guiding principles as the foundation of all we do:
We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly. In addition to our efforts directly related to safety, as one of the National Business Group on Health’s “Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles,” we emphasize well-being beyond workplace injuries. Often, employees’ safety risk can be minimized through stress management and a healthy lifestyle, and I appreciate Boeing’s proactive measures to improve employees’ overall health.
All incidents, injuries and workplace illnesses are preventable. Boeing strives to apply its engineering and design expertise to greatly reduce safety risks for our employees, particularly those employees who work in manufacturing. One of my favorite programs is at Boeing in South Carolina. It places engineers “in the shoes” of the manufacturing technicians to identify and make improvements in how work is performed. Through this new perspective, engineering design teams have developed new ergonomic tools and improved standard work processes that are eliminating hazards.
We are personally accountable for our own – and collectively responsible for each other’s – safety. Boeing encourages its employees to “own” their safety and look out for their teammates. Some employees, such as quality test specialist Roger Grenier, excel in modeling safety leadership and personal accountability. I am in awe of his commitment to safety. In one year alone, Roger shared hundreds of safety tips and improvements, mitigated a number of potential safety risks, and developed badge extenders with emergency care information. As a result of his exceptional leadership, Roger was honored as Boeing’s first “Safety Champion” in 2016.
By committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost and schedule. Producing mammoth flying machines in a manner that meets our customers’ needs requires a full-time commitment to safety, quality and productivity. On the 777 jetliner production line, a team of engineers and factory mechanics developed a revolutionary solution for moving and installing heavy power panels, a contributor to employee injuries. Using rail systems to transfer a heavy load through a tight space without manual lifting, this improvement substantially lowered the risk of injuries and generated significant gains in productivity.
During safety culture workshops, teams develop lists of reasons why we cannot reach our zero-injury goal, detailing why the challenge is too difficult. Next, they develop a list of why we will be injury-free. I am always inspired by the reinforcement of a commitment to safety as they discuss their shorter, but incredibly meaningful list of the values that outweigh the obstacles we face.
What we do as EHS professionals is challenging. After 20 years in safety, I look at each challenge as an invitation to recommit to my work. It has been my privilege to witness – and sometimes participate in – many safety innovations. When I started at Boeing, ergonomics was just beginning to re-engineer the workplace. Today, we champion other safety transformations, like automation. The decisions we make today can make a real difference as our next chapter unfolds, for generations to come – and that’s worth leaping out of bed for every day.
This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.
Amy May is the director of workplace safety for The Boeing Co., a member of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council. May is a Certified Professional Ergonomist.
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