Safety Speakers Series 3: Rod Courtney
“The biggest hazard in all industries is people’s attitudes toward safety”
We would like to welcome you all to the next installment of the Kwema interview series! In this blog posting we were lucky to be able to speak with Rod Courtney. He shared with us his experience working with the military as well as shared his work in company construction safety, and told us about owning his safety consulting business. Rod shared how he lives his life through the motto of “The biggest hazard in all industries is people’s attitudes toward safety” as is shown through his responses to our interview questions!
Kwema: Let’s talk about your safety background. How did you start in this field?
Rod: I started my career in the US Military. I was an Army Combat Medic from 1990–1998 (4 years active duty and 4 years reserve duty). I didn’t realize it at the time, but the medic is the “Safety Guy” for the Army. So, I was in this line of work and didn’t even realize it at first. After the Army, I went into law enforcement. I started working at a Maximum Security State Prison in Reidsville, GA. I was selected to work at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. From there I went to the Police Academy in Savannah, GA. I was a Patrol Officer for a couple of years when I decided to move back home to Louisiana. While I enjoyed being a Police Officer, I decided to change careers and went to work in the Safety Department for a scaffolding company in 1998. I went to college at night and online to get my degree in Occupational Health & Safety. And the rest is history.
Kwema: We found that you have experience in multiple disciplines of the energy industry such as renewal and electrical energy, and as oil and gas. What kind of hazards are people in these industries exposed to?
Rod: That is correct, I’ve worked in many different industries. Chemical plants, Oil & Gas, Power Generation (Nuclear, Coal, Natural Gas, Combined Cycle, Wind & Solar) Electrical Substations & Electrical Transmission & Distribution.
All these industries fall under two sections of OSHA. 29 CFR 1910 (General Industry) and 29 CFR 1926 (Construction). Every Industry has similar hazards such as Fall from heights, Confined spaces, Material handling, and Equipment operation. And while these can all be dangerous, in my opinion, the biggest hazard in all industries is people’s attitudes toward safety. That is a very broad statement, but basically, anything can be done safely if you have the right attitude.
Kwema: Could you tell us about a particular project that was challenging for you and what did you learn from it?
Rod: From 2003–2006 I was one of the Health, Safety & Environmental Managers for Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) in Iraq. This was the largest construction project on the planet. We were tasked with building/rebuilding military bases and supporting the US troops and coalition forces. The LogCAP III project worked over 2 MILLION man-hours each month and all in an active combat zone. We worked with local nationals (Iraqis) and third-country nationals (workers from all over the world) to build small cities from the ground up. Everything from housing, dining facilities, restaurants, electrical grids, drinking water, wastewater, material and supply transport, fuel distribution, and Rest/Relaxation facilities for the troops.
This project was especially difficult for the obvious reasons like daily mortar/rocket attacks on our bases but we still had to work safely. And like I mentioned earlier, attitude is everything. Most of our labor force had never been trained in construction work or construction safety. Throw in the cultural and language barriers and you can see how this could be quite difficult. But we did it. It took patience and truly breaking things down to their most basic steps. Not just telling someone what to do but explaining why. And earning their trust by showing them that their health and safety was important to us.
Kwema: You have led multiple HSE projects. What are some of the most important skills you have developed?
Rod: Over the years I have mentored numerous people to become a safety professional. I’ve told them all “I can teach you the OSHA regulations, I can teach you all of the federal and state requirements. But I can’t teach personality. You either have it, or you don’t.” The ability to communicate is the most important skill any safety professional can have.
Kwema: What advice would you share to our audience in order to be better safety leaders in their industry?
If you want to have a successful safety program first, learn to communicate. And next create a “Just” Safety Culture. How? I’m glad you asked…
1st — Stop the Blame Cycle
- The “blame cycle” is urged on by the belief that human error occurs because people are not properly motivated. In reality, no matter how motivated an individual is, active errors will continue to occur, occasionally. Events will continue, if event investigations stop prematurely at the active human error.
- The true causes (typically organizational weaknesses) will not be discovered — will remain latent or hidden — and errors and events will persist. Unless a just culture is established. REMEMBER BLAME SOLVES NOTHING
- You have two choices: Get Better or Get Even
- You can blame and punish, or you can learn and improve, but you can’t do both.
1. Stop naming, blaming, shaming and retraining. It doesn’t work.
2. Remember, we shape how our organizations learning, by how we respond to failure.
3. Learn from every event. Learning is a strategic and operational choice toward improvement.
4. In a just culture, everyone wants to be accountable because repercussions only happen when someone is found to be culpable.
5. Fix the work, not the worker. Systems should be built to allow for failure.
“The ability to communicate is the absolute most important skill and safety professional can have”
Kwema: What does the future look like for you career-wise?
Rod: I ran my safety staffing and consulting firm for almost 8 years. It was extremely rewarding although it kept me away from home for 10–11 months each year. I have two grandchildren now (and a third on the way). It is more important to me, to be at home and see them grow up. So, my wife and I decided to close the company and accept a full-time position with a local company. I entertained numerous offers and even interviewed for a few different positions, but for one reason or another, it just didn’t work out. That is until Ampirical called me. Now, I have found a place where I will retire. Ampirical is a great company and from the owners down, everyone truly believes safety is a never yielding value. I was hired as the Corporate HSE Manager in June of 2019 and was given the freedom to create a human performance-based program from the ground up. Our program is value-driven and operationally based. Here is how we do it:
1. Clearly describe what people are expected to do for safety.
Every level of employee, from the most senior leader to the newly hired worker, clearly understands what is expected. There are specific, demanding standards for each person in all major work activities. Without adequate standards, there can be no meaningful measurement, evaluation, correction, or commendation of performance.
2. Make safety the responsibility of Operations.
Safety is better served when it is so ingrained into every activity that it becomes impossible to ignore it. There is little talk of doing things the safe way and more talk of doing things the right way. The health and safety of our employees is a value when other considerations of production, costs, and quality are priorities. This is reflected in performance appraisals, salary adjustments, and promotions.
3. Incorporate safety into the business process as an operational strategy.
Leaders around the world increasingly recognize that a well-managed safety system provides an operational strategy to improve overall management. But in recent years a significant number of major organizations have discovered that applying the tools and techniques of good safety management gives them not only reduced injuries and illnesses but also measurable improvements in efficiency, quality, and productivity. This means that HSE will be involved early in the business process and throughout, until the completion of the project. Everything begins and ends with safety.
4. Use proactive health and safety measurements.
The heart of safety management is measuring performance in quantifiable, objective terms. Leading companies constantly assess their processes to determine if they are adequately controlling risk. Although they include in their “safety” measurement after-the-fact consequences such as recordable rates and lost time rates, they do not rely solely on trailing indicators. We at Ampirical Solutions will focus our attention on “Left of Zero” which means focusing on leading indicators rather than lagging indicators.
What are our leading indicators? Human Performance Tools, site visits by all levels of leadership, proper training for everything that we do, positive reinforcement, hazard Identification, hazard correction, safety committees, true leadership commitment, and enforcement of the safety policies and procedures.
5. Have a Leadership team that “Leads” Health and Safety not “Manages” it.
Scaling the heights of health and safety excellence requires the same leadership skills as attaining excellence in any other area. Health and Safety performance is a reflection of corporate culture and senior leadership influences that culture more than any other group. As in other areas, executive leadership will get the kind of safety performance it insists on. Ampirical will only accept an incident and injury-free environment.
Kwema would like to thank Rod Courtney for not only sharing his expertise in safety but also his leadership learning and former experiences working in the industry. We are excited to have spoken with Mr. Courtney, and hope that his knowledge can not only help our readers but encourage them to take safety seriously. We hope that our readers are getting as much benefit out of this series as Kwema is! We are excited to hear your feedback in the comments!
About Rod Courtney
Occupational Health and Safety Executive with world-class experience leading and supporting health, safety, and environmental (HSE) initiatives. Leads large-scale operations to align business environments with safety standards, including OSHA (Federal and State), EPA (Federal and State), and MSHA. Experience includes leading the development and implementation of HSE policies and programs for global energy development, national defense, and large-scale construction initiatives.
To get in contact with Rod
LinkedIn: Rod Courtney