Safety Offers Sustainability Benefits

Safety is always critical, but it also can go beyond itself, securing a home within larger productivity and sustainability efforts. "Safety, sustainability and productivity are all weaving together," said Michael Douglas, senior manager for new technology and standards at General Motors ( He also is global leader responsible for implementing GM's global health and safety designs and programs, such as the company's Safety 21 effort throughout the lifecycle of its production systems. Douglas delivered his keynote presentation, "How Safety Impacts Sustainability," at the second annual Safety Automation Forum the day before the opening of Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair 2009 in November at the Anaheim Convention Center in California.


"Safety, sustainability and productivity are all weaving together," said GM's Michael Douglas as he explained how the company's safety efforts have become an integral part of the company's culture in his presentation at Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair 2009.

To successfully implement a sustainable safety and productivity program, Douglas explained, participants must use a method to balance their efforts separately or together; use a tactical, staged approach for recommended solutions; employ a communication process for risk assessments; use a method for knowing at a glance where they are and where they need to go; and identify enabling technologies to support the tactical actions. Meanwhile, sustainability can include compliance with standards, reducing consumption of non-renewable resources in the supply chain, using eco-friendly products and implementing new business models or next-practice platforms.

Consequently, in 2005, GM developed a two-stage approach to capture the multiple actions required for safety applications. The first stage of GM's iterative approach seeks to eliminate hazards by changing tasks, functions or locations or by substituting materials. The second stage reduces risks to a safe and acceptable level by balancing a combination of actions in engineering controls; awareness, including warnings, signs and other devices; safe operating procedures; training of operators, maintenance staff and others; and personal protective equipment. Douglas added that the two-stage approach can be applied to everything from training to sustainability and productivity. "Fortunately, engineers trained in the two-stage approach bring their experience to each of their next projects or programs," said Douglas. He added that GM has completed 14,000 risk assessments for itself and its suppliers since 1997.

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