Grassroots approach flattens the safety curve

Two Dow colleagues in hard hats talk in a plant

Safety is the number one priority at Dow. We want every person to return home safely every day. Safety also is a business proposition. Strong safety performance usually translates to greater operational reliability, which means more satisfied customers.

To achieve great safety performance, you need every person on board. At Dow that means 35,700 employees and tens of thousands of contractors. Every person needs to personally own safety and look out for their co-workers, every hour of every day.



Safety hazards and incidents can have varying degrees of severity. In the first quarter of 2020, our severe injury performance was trending in the wrong direction. We needed to turn it around to avoid new incidents. A typical response might have been Operations and Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) leaders convening an urgent safety stand down meeting to inform people in the manufacturing sites of the situation and the actions that needed to be taken. But was this the best way to address the situation? A team in EH&S decided to flip the model on its head to flatten the severe injury curve.



To really change the traditional approach of running the global safety meeting, what if it was the people on the frontlines who led the safety session? There are many leaders in our company, and we find them in every job role and level.

We introduced Flatten the Curve in April of 2020 with an intentional grassroots flavor. We featured people on the frontlines telling their stories, talking about fatalities and severe injuries they had experienced, and how these events changed their lives forever. The stories were substantial in content but also emotional. What it was like to get the call in the middle of the night that a colleague had a fatal accident. Hearing a co-worker standing in the safety shower trying to wash his eyes clean of a splashed chemical, pleading to be able to see his children again (his eyesight is fine today). These were unforgettable moments. And as panelists spoke, the chat function of our virtual meeting platform exploded with comments, support and best practices.

The first mandatory session in April 2020 was held virtually and attended by 450 people. Every session after that was optional, yet topped out at more than 1,000 people – the maximum capacity of our virtual tool's capabilities at the time. After each session, a link to the recording and transcription of the chat – many pages long – was sent to thousands of employees worldwide. They were expanded to our contractors as recognized partners in our safety journey. And unlike the typical safety programs with top-down instructions, these sessions had no prescribed solutions. Instead, people took to heart the suggestions of colleagues around the world and acted upon their own will. As a result, Team Dow flattened the curve going eight months without another severe injury.

What’s the Worst that can Happen?

In 2021, Flatten the Curve evolved into WWH – What’s the Worst That Can Happen? We are heightening our focus on preventing fatalities and building our inclusive “Lifeguard” culture – a culture where we look out for one another and intervene, when needed. Not because we’re trying to police each other, but because we don’t want our friends and colleagues to get hurt.

The sessions remain highly interactive, seeking the voices of Dow employees and our contractors on the frontlines. We encourage – and receive – engagement by the thousands of people who attend. Because, in our industry, before a person takes any action, they must ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and be prepared to take the smartest, safest next steps. Currently we are on pace to deliver the safest year in Dow’s 124 year-history, and the winners are the families and communities we serve.