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The Principles Driving Safety & Reliability: A Look at the History of DuPont

Beginnings as a Gunpowder Manufacturer

To begin to understand the safety culture at DuPont, you must understand a bit of the company's history. The DuPont company began operations as a family owned and operated gunpowder manufacturer in 1802 on the banks of the Brandywine River in Delaware. For the next 170 years, members of the DuPont family were actively involved in running the company. Many family members worked in the early powder mills, built their homes and sent their children to school buildings within sight of the mills. This made safety more than just a program at DuPont; it was a way of life that kept loved ones and personal property safe.

Early Incidents that Galvanized the Focus on Safety

The production of gunpowder in the early 1800's was a dangerous business. Fires and explosions were not uncommon. One of the earliest safety innovations used by the DuPont powder mills involved the basic design of the mill buildings. They were constructed of three strong, stone walls, a weak fourth wall made of wood facing the river, plus a weak wooden roof that acted as a "safety valve". If an explosion occurred in the powder mill, the wooden roof and fourth wall would be blown out. The rest of the factory, and people within the factory, would be protected from the blast by the stone walls. The wooden wall faced the river so the boats were locked to the dock when production was in progress; DuPont's first lock out procedure. While this might not sound very impressive by today's safety standards, it was an extraordinarily innovative safety design at the time.

A series of incidents during the first 100 years of operation kept safety concerns in the consciousness of the DuPont family and employees. In 1815, an explosion cost the company $80,000, more than double the original investment in the entire company. In 1817, they were faced with a more significant loss. Seventy-seven year old Pierre Samuel DuPont, the financial founder of the company, died after working all night to help fight a fire in the mill. The following year, an explosion killed 40 workers and injured many children who were in the school building on the grounds at the time. Later, the death of one of the young favorites of the DuPont family, Alexis DuPont, in an explosion while fighting a fire on the wooden roof of a powder mill in 1857 also had a significant impact.

The first safety rules in DuPont were established in 1811 and even at that time, DuPont saw line management as responsible for Safety. DuPont first started collecting safety statistics in 1912. The belief that all injuries were preventable didn't actually develop until the 1940's. The "off the job safety" programs began in the 1950's. The standards for safety continued to evolve and became more demanding all the way to the 1990's at which time DuPont adopted the goal of zero injuries. Management had wrestled for years with the idea of setting this zero injuries goal but finally decided that if it was to be believed that all injuries are preventable, how could there be a goal of anything higher than zero. To put DuPont's excellent safety record into a personal perspective, if you as an individual want to beat DuPont's safety rate, you have to work an entire career without getting even a single minor injury. One would be too many.

The Key to Success

The key to success in the DuPont Safety Program is the deeply held belief that safety is everyone's responsibility - not one designated individual, team or department. Each person must be individually responsible for safety based on the position they hold and according to the circumstances they face. It is not good enough for a plant manager to search for people not wearing proper safety equipment. The plant manager must look at his duties and make judgments about what policies will lead to safe behaviors. This also includes policies about hiring, firing, and development of people along with policies on standards for design of equipment. Operators and mechanics also have individual safety responsibilities. They should not expect to wait for their boss to tell them to wear proper safety equipment. Discharging that responsibility takes courage to do what is right, integrity to not use safety as an excuse to avoid work or other unpleasantness, and to recognize that an incredible amount of persistence is required. Safety is never finished; you have to do it again and again, every day. This is something that must be learned through experience, but you don't have to wait until someone is hurt. It is important to create places to practice and drill people in safe behaviors like the training of fire fighters.

Applying the Principles to Reliability

Companies that have achieved high equipment reliability have learned that similar to safety, reliability must be everyone's responsibility. Each person, from the plant manager to the engineers, purchasing agents, operators, mechanics and other support personnel, must be individually responsible for reliability based on the position they hold and according to the circumstances they face. Focused reliability teams and dedicated reliability engineers can be used to make dramatic improvements in concentrated areas, but they will not be able to develop the kind of reliability culture within the entire organization that is the essential ingredient to significant improvement. In addition, there must be a belief that all failures are preventable, just as DuPont acknowledged that all injuries are preventable when they adopted the goal of zero injuries.

Fig 1

The managers must look at their duties and make judgments about what actions and policies will lead to improved reliability. Managers must increase the urgency around improving reliability. They are responsible for developing and effectively communicating the business case for reliability to all levels within the organization. They must decide which issues get their attention. Focusing on the most urgent events, typically the breakdowns, sends the unintended message from the management team to the workforce - that reactive work is the most important. For proactive behaviors to become a prevalent, normal part of the daily routine, managers must actively seek ways to recognize, reward and publicize such behaviors. Operators and mechanics must recognize that defect elimination is an integral part of their daily job. They should not wait for an engineer or manager to tell them to take action when equipment, processes or practices are not functioning properly. Instead they should actively recruit others to help them eliminate identified defects.

For reliability improvement efforts to be successful, the organization must create an environment where the workers can practice proactive behaviors. Most workers have years of reactive habits that cannot be expected to disappear overnight. Creating new habits requires repetition of the new desired actions. The Manufacturing Game® workshop uses Action Teams for this purpose, giving the participants the opportunity to work as a cross functional team to eliminate a known defect. The behavior of managers must also change to support performance in the Improved Precision Domain. The old "I tell, you do" approach that can be extremely successful in the Reactive Domain will no longer be appropriate since everyone in the organization participates in decision making in the Improved Precision Domain. The role of the manager changes from "boss" to "leader". Their responsibilities need to include encouraging self-generated Action Teams for continued elimination of defects, determining and communicating a vision of the organization's future and developing the needed support systems for front-line decision-making. Accomplishing these objectives is the goal of the Leadership Forum Series, a set of monthly meetings that each address gaining commitment to a specific leadership issue.

In DuPont, we recognized that safety was the responsibility of each individual and required the participation of everyone. Thus the slogan - Safety, I have to do it myself, but I can't do it alone. Many organizations are now realizing that the same is true for reliability. Each individual must take personal responsibility for reliability and take appropriate action based on the position they hold and circumstances that they face - through defect elimination activities and the setting of policies and procedures. And it will take the participation of everyone within the organization to achieve higher reliability and the resulting improved performance results.

Reliability, I have to do it myself, but I can't do it alone.

by: Winston P. Ledet
The Manufacturing Game

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