If businesses learned anything during the pandemic, they learned that the safety and health of their employees is not just a luxury, it is a necessity. Employees who feel unsafe or who are ill can cripple a business and jeopardize not just the company’s bottom line but its overall survival.
In recognition of this reality the Florida Chamber of Commerce is hosting its inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort today and tomorrow.
The conference is hosted by the Chamber’s new Safety Council. An incubator for research, leadership and education, the council is the first of its kind to serve as the statewide resource for fostering safety, health, and sustainability among Florida businesses. According to the Chamber, as the official Florida chapter of the National Safety Council, the Florida Chamber Safety Council fulfills Florida’s need for a leading organization focused solely on preventing workplace injuries and deaths, and proactively fostering health and sustainability through research to track benchmarks, private and public trainings and this new annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability.
“The Florida Chamber Safety Council serves a powerful role for all businesses, but particularly small to mid-size businesses that often don’t have full-time safety, health and sustainability expertise on staff,” said Florida Chamber Safety Council President Katie Yeutter.
Today’s first full day of in-person and virtual meetings were kicked off with the introduction of the Council’s new Executive Director Jason Mozo. Mozo is a graduate of Barry University’s School of Law where he earned his Juris Doctor Degree. Throughout his career, Jason has assisted in the development of safety trainings and programs for a variety of companies, including Honeywell, Nestle, Red Bull, Lockheed Martin, Tropicana, Budweiser, and United Rentals.
Following Mozo, experts provided attendees with guidance on building a culture of safety.
The conference’s first keynote speaker was Mike Massimino, a retired NASA astronaut who is the veteran of two space flights to service the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 and 2009. He told attendees that safety was paramount at NASA and they taught everyone — from the rookies to the seasoned veterans — to speak up if something wasn’t right. He said it was also very important for a leader to be receptive to these observations and respond with a “thank you.”
He said they were trained to “look over each other’s shoulder, especially at the end of the day when accidents are the most likely to happen.”
He said this level of accountability builds trust in an organization, especially in a dangerous environment, such as space.
Massimino also advised to always remember you are not alone. He said he had inadvertently caused a problem while working on the Hubble telescope and momentarily felt very alone as he floated through space trying to figure out how to correct his mistake. But then, he heard his friends and coworkers’ on Earth speaking to him through his helmet.
“My friend’s voice in my ear kept me going. I felt alone, but my team was still there. Everyone is still there. When you have a problem, reach out. Reach out to Mission Control and be Mission Control for others. You’re gonna make mistakes. Give yourself 30 seconds of regret and then it’s done. Move on. Your team needs you,” he told the conference attendees.
Safety through trust of the team was a theme echoed by speakers who followed Massimo.
Retired U.S. Navy Captain Robert Roncska, the current Executive Director of High Reliability and Unit Culture for AdventHealth, carried the “Nuclear football” for President George W. Bush while serving as the Naval Aide to the President of the United States. He repeated Massimo’s advice to say something if you see something.
“Be the person to create the culture of safety, even as a lower employee,” he said. “Seamen at all levels are expected to say something and the leaders have to have buy-in to that culture. They must follow up their words with actions to build that trust.”
Roncska said that trust, purpose and standards were essential for building a culture of safety in any organization. He also said that integrity, accountability, and the ability to say, “I screwed that up” built trust within the team.
Panelist U.S. Navy Captain Nirav Patel managed, supervised and trained a department of 50-plus engineers, supervisors and technicians in nuclear plant operations, training, qualification, maintenance and maintenance planning on a nuclear submarine.
He offered the following advice, “Be a vulnerable leader. Build a culture that allows feedback. Figure out the weaknesses and get better. Ask yourself how does the team react to problems.”
He said, “Leaders set the tone of how mistakes are handled.”
The lunch keynote speaker, Eric Silagy, President and CEO of Florida Power and Light, told attendees that being safe is good business.
“Safety is core to our culture and success. Changing culture is not a sprint. It’s a march. It has to start at the top. No injury is acceptable. It costs money to do all this, but eventually it saves money and affects lives,” he said.
He agreed with previous speakers that lower-level workers must feel empowered to call out those above them for unsafe acts, even the CEO.
“Every single person is responsible for the safety of each other,” he said.
Silagy said the steps FPL have taken to move from coal to natural gas and solar have reduced emissions, which is healthier for everyone. But he also said it cuts down on the number of employees, which reduces injuries. He also said the use of drones, instead of people in helicopters or people working around radioactivity reduced the chances of significant injury or death.
“Technology is a game changer,” he said.
Silagy reiterated, “Safety has to be top of mind. I have zero tolerance for accidents. Every accident is preventable. We are never satisfied. We are continuously improving and looking out for each other.”