Achieving Excellence in Safety Culture: Q&A with Chris Curtis, Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric is the 2011 recipient of the National Safety Council
Green Cross for Safety Medal

Chris Curtis

CEO in North America

Schneider Electric

Chris Curtis has more than 15 years of experience guiding the strategy, growth and evolution of Schneider Electric. In 2008, Curtis was named president and CEO of the North American Operating Division, assuming responsibility for all operations in the United States, Canada and Mexico. He also joined Schneider Electric’s Executive Committee and assumed leadership of the Buildings and Renewable Energy activities across the globe.

Curtis sits on the Board of Governors for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the Metro Chicago Board of Directors for the American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate.

He has a bachelor’s degree from LeMoyne University and resides in the Chicago area.

Safety+Health: What does safety leadership mean to you?

Curtis: Safety leadership means we’re doing everything possible to ensure our people come to work and leave work without injury. It’s a leadership imperative, in my opinion – to continually show our people, in our words and actions, that their safety is our No. 1 priority.

It means putting safety first in everything we do. Our people know if we cannot complete the job safely, then we will not do the job. We are very clear that we will never conduct business in a manner that would put our employees at risk.

S+H: Why is safety a core value at your company?

Curtis: First, safety is at the heart of what we do as a business. We help companies and individuals make their energy safe, reliable, efficient, productive and green. It’s our business to make safe products, and we also need to make, sell and service these products safely.

We’ve always had a very good safety record, but for us, the breakthrough came in 2003. That year, our new president, my predecessor, set a goal of zero injuries. Today, I am proud to say our safety culture is stronger than ever, and safety is part of our DNA. From an unwavering focus on accident prevention to extending our message of safety beyond the workplace, keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy at work and home has become definitive of our culture. It really comes down to a responsibility and obligation to our people. Compared to our starting point, we are avoiding more than 500 injuries every year. That’s 500 more people going home safely to their families at night than when we started this journey.

S+H: How do you instill a sense of safety in your employees on an ongoing basis?

Curtis: Creating a safety culture requires continual communication and reinforcement at every level of the organization. Every communication we do, from all-employee meetings to our daily production supervisor meetings on the factory floor, starts with a message on safety – how we’re doing, how important it is, and everyone’s role in creating and maintaining a safer workplace. For example, several times a year we do a satellite broadcast with all employees to let them know how we’re doing, what our priorities are and to answer their questions. We always start these broadcasts with our safety performance. During our last broadcast, I brought up one of our employees from the audience – she didn’t know I was doing this, by the way – to make the point that when it comes to safety, this person has as much authority on the topic as I do. She can point out a safety issue, stop a production line or do whatever is necessary to ensure employee safety. That’s the mindset we want and continually reinforce.

We also walk the talk every day. Our people realize there is never a question of investment when it comes to safety or who’s in charge. And that they have a personal responsibility to help create a safe work environment for themselves and the people they work with.

S+H: What is the biggest obstacle to safety in the workplace, and how do you work to overcome it?

I am honored to present the 2011 Green Cross for Safety Medal to Schneider Electric and its CEO in North America, Chris Curtis.

Read National Safety Council President and CEO Janet Froetscher’s statement on the Green Cross for Safety Medal and this year’s recipient.

Read More

Curtis: No doubt it’s complacency. We need to assume an accident can occur at any moment. When one does, we need to quickly understand why and put the right procedures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We have mandatory safety training every year for our employees. We also do yearly onsite safety assessments at all our facilities, and spot site assessments regularly. But the best thing we can do is ensure our 25,000 people in North America are our safety eyes and ears. They’ve done a fabulous job of letting us know where things can be improved. Conditions change, plants and offices change, people change. It’s an ongoing effort.

S+H: How do you measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe you are, and where do you see room for improvement?

Curtis: We measure our safety performance by tracking cases that require medical attention beyond first aid. We call it our Medical Incident Rate, and it’s very similar to the OSHA recordable rate used in the United States. In addition, we track lost-time accidents, lost-time days and our safety training hours per employee.

We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve seen more than 75 percent improvements in all these measurements since 2003. Our employees also tell us in quarterly surveys that they appreciate our commitment, and it makes them proud to work at Schneider Electric.

Most importantly, though, this means 500 fewer injuries per year. That’s what it’s all about. Every accident is preventable, every injury is preventable. There is always room for improvement.

S+H: How important is off-the-job safety to your company’s overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety programs does your company offer to employees?

Curtis: It’s very important. We recognize that habits have to be developed and reinforced 24/7, whether it’s at work, home or play. The training programs we have give our people skills, insights and information on doing any task safely.

We’ve expanded our program over the years to include more off-the-job training. A good example is our SafeStart program, which focuses on how things like rushing, stress, fatigue and complacency lead to increased risks of injury, no matter where you are. This also includes good family practices like safety belt usage and no cell phone usage while driving.

S+H: How does safety “pay” at your company?

Curtis: It’s really not about the dollars; it’s about people. Knowing that more than 500 people each year are safer than when we started is a great payment. It shows our employees and their families that we care; and when we say one injury is too many, we mean it. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Schneider Electric to be honored at Green Cross for Safety Dinner

The National Safety Council will present its 2011 Green Cross for Safety Medal to Chris Curtis, CEO in North America of Schneider Electric, on April 14 in Chicago.

Read More

Undeniably, our safety improvements also have been good for the bottom line. Our improved safety performance has generated more than $10 million a year in direct savings to our company. We call this our safety dividend. We use it to reinvest in our people through programs like free health assessments, personal fitness subsidies, onsite fitness centers, “green” teams and other programs that encourage our people to be safe, healthy and community-minded.

S+H: What advice would you have for other CEOs who want to “get it”?

Curtis: Make it personal. It starts at the top and you have to be personally committed. You need to set the standard, take responsibility on a day-to-day basis and ensure your leadership team models these behaviors as well. Make it visible. Set goals and communicate regularly on your progress. Recognize and reward success. Just like other investments, safety, health and environmental performance must be measured, reported, evaluated and continuously improved. It should be part of your company’s regular review process.

Most importantly, it comes down to people and our obligation to them as leaders. We’re successful because safety isn’t just a program, it’s a way of life for us. I know our safety obsession has saved lives.

Story Courtesy of the National Safety Council


Second Infant Death Prompts Re-Announcement of 985,000 Delta Enterprise “Safety Peg” Drop-Side Crib Recall to Repair

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Delta Enterprise Corp., of New York, N.Y. are re-announcing the 2008 recall of more than 985,000 drop-side cribs with "Crib Trigger Lock and Safety Peg" hardware. In January 2011, CPSC and Delta learned of a 2009 death in which 7-month-old girl from Colorado Springs, Colo. became entrapped and suffocated between the detached drop-side and mattress of her recalled crib. The crib was purchased secondhand and re-assembled without safety pegs in the bottom tracks.

Missing safety pegs can create a situation where the crib’s drop-side rail disengages from the track. This can create a hazardous space in which an infant can become entrapped and suffocate.

At the time of the October 2008 recall, CPSC notified consumers about the death of an 8-month-old girl who became entrapped and suffocated when the drop side of the crib detached. The crib involved in this incident also was re-assembled without safety pegs. At the time of the October 2008 recall announcement, there were reports of two entrapments and nine detachments in cribs without safety pegs.

"Buying or accepting cribs second hand can be risky," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Second hand cribs may not come with all of the necessary parts that are needed to make sure your baby is safe. We urge parents and caregivers to use caution and to be aware that new rules established by CPSC will bring safer cribs to the market this summer."

This re-announcement involves cribs that were made in Taiwan and Indonesia. The cribs were sold at major retail stores including Kmart, Target and Wal-Mart between January 1995 and December 2005 (through September 2007 for model 4624) for about $100.

Delta’s name and address is printed on the mattress support boards and the Delta logo is on the crib’s top teether rail. Model numbers are located on the top of the mattress support board. This announcement includes the following 49 crib models with "Crib Trigger Lock with Safety Peg" drop-side hardware:

  • 4320, 4340;
  • 4500, 4520, 4530, 4532, 4540, 4542, 4550, 4551, 4580;
  • 4600, 4620, 4624 – production dates 01/06 thru 11/07, 4640, 4660, 4720, 4735, 4742, 4750 – production dates 01/95 thru 12/00;
  • 4760, 4770, 4780, 4790;
  • 4820, 4840, 4850, 4860, 4880, 4890, 4892; and
  • 4900, 4910, 4920, 4925-2, 4925-6, 4930, 4940, 4943, 4944, 4947, 4948, 4949, 4950, 4958, 4963, 4968, 4969, 4980.

CPSC urges parents and caregivers to immediately stop using cribs that are missing a safety peg on either leg of the drop side and contact Delta to receive a free, easy-to-install repair kit. Call Delta toll-free at (800) 816-5304 anytime or visit the firm’s website at to order the free repair kit.

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to find a safe, alternative sleep environment for their child until the repair kit, with new safety pegs, is safely installed on the recalled cribs.

Important Message from CPSC: CPSC reminds parents not to use any crib with missing, broken or loose parts. Make sure to tighten hardware from time to time to keep the crib sturdy. When using a drop-side crib, parents should check to make sure the drop side or any other moving part operates smoothly. Always check all sides and corners of the crib for parts separating that can create a gap and entrap a child. In addition, do not try to repair any side of the crib. Babies have died in cribs where repairs were attempted by caregivers. Crib age is a factor in safety. At a minimum, CPSC staff recommends that you do not use a crib that is older than 10 years old. New, mandatory federal crib rules take effect on June 28, 2011. All cribs manufactured and sold after that date must meet new and improved safety requirements. Older cribs do not meet the new standard and can have a variety of safety problems. Check if your crib has been recalled at


CPSC is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to this product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. Please tell us about it by visiting

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. The CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed significantly to the decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call CPSC’s Hotline at (800) 638-2772 or CPSC’s teletypewriter at (301) 595-7054. To join a CPSC e-mail subscription list, please go to Consumers can obtain recall and general safety information by logging on to CPSC’s Web site at

Safety Comic of the Week – March 31, 2011

One of the reasons a “Job Hazard Analysis” is a great tool to assess your safety program!

To Frack or Not to Frack, That is the Question.

Some Say NO………………..

Some Say Yes………………..

Shareholders say: Tell the truth about fracking


No form of energy–not solar, wind, hydropower, obviously not coal or oil–comes without environmental tradeoffs.

One promising new energy source–a vast supplies of natural gas, trapped in shale deep beneath the earth’s surface–is getting renewed scrutiny these days, and for good reason.

While natural gas is often called a “bridge” to a clean energy future, critics are bombing the bridge with a frack attack, says energy policy analyst Kevin Book of Clearview Energy Partners.

Book was referring to the drumbeat of questions being raised by environmentalists, community activists, reporters and  members of Congress about  hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process during which water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground at  high pressure to cause tiny fissures in rock and force natural gas to the surface.

In the weeks ahead, new pressures will come from activist shareholders of a dozen energy companies. They’ve filed shareholder resolutions asking the companies to take a hard look at fracking and its risk, and they will raise the issue at annual shareholder meetings.

“Investors support natural gas drilling, but we want to make sure that it’s done right,” said Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network. a group of investors and NGOs who focus on the financial and public health risks associated with corporate use of toxic chemicals. “What we are pushing companies to do is to implement the best management practices.”

In a news release announcing their campaign, the investors say:

Investors and investor advisors including As You Sow, Green Century Capital Management, Miller/Howard Investments, Catholic Healthcare West, First Affirmative Financial Network, the Mercy Investment Program, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Shareholder Association for Research & Education, Pax World Management, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the Sustainability Group, and Trillium Asset Management have begun to engage approximately 20 companies, and have filed shareholder resolutions with 12 companies including Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation (COG), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), ExxonMobil (XOM), Hess Corporation (HES), EOG Resources (EOG), and Range Resources (RRC) over these risks.

What’s the problem with fracking? The process, which uses millions of gallons of water and unknown chemicals,  has been linked to a range of health and environmental problems, including contaminated drinking water in Pennsylvaniaa massive fish kill in a creek along the border between Pennsylvania and West Virginia and a chemical spill that killed cows in Shreveport, Louisiana, as the Wall Street Journal has reported.

If you want to know more, let me recommend an excellent series of prize-winning stories published by the investigative news site, Pro Publica, and written by Abrahm Lustgarten, a former colleague of mine at FORTUNE. Abrahm has spent more than a year investigating hydraulic fracturing. While the industry insists that gas drilling is sage, he  writes that:

…the issues are far less settled than the industry contends, and that hidden environmental costs could cut deeply into the anticipated benefits.

For example, it remains unclear how far the tiny fissures that radiate through the bedrock from hydraulic fracturing might reach, or whether they can connect underground passageways or open cracks into groundwater aquifers that could allow the chemical solution to escape into drinking water. It is not certain that the chemicals – some, such as benzene, that are known to cause cancer – are adequately contained by either the well structure beneath the earth or by the people, pipelines and trucks that handle it on the surface. And it is unclear how the voluminous waste the process creates can be disposed of safely .

“This is a field where there is almost no research,” said Geoffrey Thyne, a former professor at the Colorado School of Mines and an environmental engineering consultant for local government officials in Colorado. “It is very much an emerging problem.”

The natural gas industry’s response to the allegations hasn’t helped its cause. EOG Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas both went to the SEC, asking that the shareholder resolutions be taken off the ballot. That failed. Chesapeake Energy has also challenged the resolution.

Worse, companies refuse to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process, calling them trade secrets. The 2005 energy bill, spearheaded by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, exempted natural gas drilling from disclosure requirements of  federal clean water laws. Critics call that the “Halliburton exception” because Halliburton, the company where Cheney was once CEO, helped pioneer fracking.

Last month, Congressman Henry Waxman asked eight oil and gas companies that use fracking to provide information about the chemicals they use.

Rich LiroffRich Liroff

The IEHN’s Rich Liroff says owners of the companies can’t get the information they need to assess risk:

This is a sector-wide problem. There is virtually no meaningful disclosure from any of the companies about what safeguards they are employing and what efforts they are making to implement best management practices.

If you are an investor who wants to invest in the natural gas sector, and figure out what the risks are and the rewards are for any individual company, you just don’t have enough information to make an informed judgment.

Larissa Ruoff, director of shareholder advocacy at Green Century Funds and a leader of the investor coalition, is also calling for more transparency and engagement from the companies.

An industry website, Energy in Depth, says the concerns of critics are overblown. It notes that fracking is now responsible for about 30% of the U.S.’s domestic oil and natural gase, and that 60 to 80% of wells drilled in the U.S. in the next decade will require fracturing. As for the safety issues, the industry says:

Hydraulic fracturing is a safe, well-regulated, environmentally sound practice that has been employed over one million times without a single incidence of drinking water contamination.

If that’s so, why fight the critics? Why not engage with them?

As Gil Friend, the CEO of a consulting firm called Natural Logic, writes in his 2009 book, The Truth About Green Business:

Your business can wait to be dragged, kicking and screaming…or it can lead the way…. If you’re constantly reacting, you risk losing market share to innovators, while you’re spending more time and resources adjusting. Being reactive is no way to run a successful business.

Smart companies will be open about their practices and get ahead of this controversy before it gets out of control–unless they really do have something to hide.

Former Kansas OSHA Inspector Charged With Falsifying Reports

A former OSHA inspector from Wichita, Kansas has been charged in federal court for submitting fake reports, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said today.

Douglas W. McComb, 64, is charged with three counts of making false inspection reports while he was working for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The crimes are alleged to have occurred in September 2009, October 2009 and March 2010.

The indictment alleges that McComb, while employed as a compliance safety and health officer, filed three reports that said he had conducted an inspection when in fact he had not. Those included:

* Reporting on Sept. 11, 2009, that he conducted an inspection at Cornejo & Sons Construction’s work site at 10333 E. 21st in Wichita.

* Reporting on Oct. 6, 2009, that he conducted an inspection at Dondlinger & Sons Construction‘s work site at I-135 and 47th Street South in Wichita.

* Reporting on March 10, 2010, that he conducted an inspection at Weigel Construction’s work site at 19945 W. 161st in Olathe.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count.

With so many people out of work and business being as fickle as it is, this is uncalled for. If you can’t do the job with credibility and honesty, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the Safety profession!


Illinois Senator Durbin Questions Nuclear Experts at Senate Hearing

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today questioned the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, and the Department of Energy’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, Dr. Peter Lyons, about the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States and the prospect of renewing the U.S.’s interest in research into the reprocessing of nuclear fuel – as is being done in countries like France, Britain and Russia.

Last week, Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) held a hearing in Chicago on nuclear power plant safety in Illinois.

“Senator Kirk and I had a hearing last week because, in Illinois, we are so nuclear power dependent with half of the electricity in our state generated by nuclear power,” said Durbin. “Additionally, 4 of the 11 generators in Illinois are the same design as Fukushima. At the hearing, we had a long conversation about many things including the nuclear waste on site. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether or not the United States should renew its interest in researching the reprocessing of nuclear fuel.”

Today’s hearing was held in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, of which Durbin is a member, and entitled: “A review of Nuclear Safety in Light of the Impact of Natural Disasters on Japanese Nuclear Facilities.” There are 23 U.S. nuclear plants that have designs that are similar to those in Japan. In Illinois, both the Dresden and Quad Cities plants are the same design and age as the reactors in Fukushima. To date, many entities have initiated a review of our nuclear energy facilities.

Text of Durbin’s remarks submitted for the record at today’s hearing are below

I want to thank the Chairwoman for convening this hearing to look into the safety at our nation’s nuclear power plants.

Let me begin by extending my heartfelt condolences to those affected by the recent tragic events in Japan.

The devastation of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami has caused the evacuation of over 350, 000 people.

As we speak, crews of nuclear engineers, fire fighters, and plant workers are working around the clock to place the plant’s reactors into a stable, cold shutdown and protect millions of people from the harmful releases of radioactive materials.

The question before us now is: what can we learn from the disasters in Japan and how might those lessons apply to the safety practices at our own plants and our own emergency planning?

US Nuclear Generation:

There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United State, providing 20% of our electricity.

My own home state of Illinois ranks first in nuclear power generation with 11 reactors at 6 plants—accounting for one-tenth of the nuclear power generated in this country.

Given the amount of electricity it produces, we cannot maintain our standard of living without nuclear power.

And, as Secretary Chu has stated, nuclear energy will undoubtedly be a part of future electricity generation in our country.

Therefore, we can’t ignore issues surrounding the safety and reliability of nuclear reactors and our readiness for accidents at these facilities.

Fuel Cycle :

Beyond ensuring the safety of reactors and on-site spent fuel pools, fuel management needs to be re-evaluated. The ‘once-through’ fuel cycle currently used in this country may not make economic sense anymore.

Because a lot of our power is generated from nuclear sources, Illinois has more commercial nuclear waste than any other state and is home to the only fuel conversion plant in the country.

We are acutely aware of the need for safe and efficient policies handling spent nuclear waste.

I’d like to see a renewed interest in research into the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. This technology is being used in France, Britain, and Russia and I think offers some potential for this country.

In addition, we are awaiting the report of the Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to provide us with a road map on how we should proceed.


The catastrophic damage done to Japan’s nuclear power plant on March 11th has raised many concerns about the safety of nuclear energy generation.

Four of the 23 nuclear power plants in the U.S. that have the same design as the ones damaged in Japan are in Illinois.

Last week, Senator Kirk and I held a public forum with stakeholders and experts in nuclear energy from the regulatory, industrial, government, and scientific sectors to discuss this issue.

I would like to submit the testimony from that forum for today’s Subcommittee hearing record.

In closing, I look forward to learning more today about what safety standards and practices we have in place to handle a natural disaster at any of our nuclear power plants, and, importantly, what Japan’s ongoing challenges can tell us about our own planning.

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