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The Paul O'Neill Challenge Shows Safety Is Not Proprietary

Dec 03, 2018

ZERO logoPaul O’Neill knows how to inspire people.

Throughout his career as the chair and CEO of the Pittsburgh-based industrial giant Alcoa and later as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush, he developed a reputation for prioritizing safety and making cultural change by leading through example.

“Paul O’Neill is the greatest leader alive today,” says Todd Welch, co-founder of safety software company ZERO. “In fact, I’d take it a step further and say he’s one of the greatest people I’ve gotten a chance to meet in my life.”   

In June 2018, at our annual professional development conference in San Antonio, ZERO took the stage and presented a message direct from O’Neill himself. A video played on a large screen, accompanied by an infectious drum beat. He welcomed the audience to the event. In his view, O’Neill said, the tools, techniques and ideas that are necessary to create an injury-free workplace are the same that are necessary to become the best in the world at everything you do. He challenged every safety professional in attendance to take a pledge to share their stories.

This call-to-action marked the official start of ZERO’s Paul O’Neill Challenge, a one-minute video contest with first-, second- and third-place prizes of $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000. But the money was never meant to be the primary incentive, Welch says – more of an added bonus.

“The challenge was for safety people to share knowledge with each other that could improve conditions and practices for people all around the world,” he continues. “Paul asked people to take some of the things they knew and share them via video, which is the way people exchange information today.”

Between June and September, 46 individuals added their brief videos to the ZERO Safety Library, an online collection that will remain accessible for reference. Developing this on-the-go resource was the immediate goal of the Paul O’Neill Challenge, according to Quinn Cosgrave, a marketing and product innovation specialist at ZERO.

“I think sometimes in the safety world it’s easy to get bogged down by processes, requirements and concepts that are complex and challenging,” Cosgrave says. “We wanted to encourage people to look at safety differently for a moment and use simple storytelling techniques to communicate their ideas.”

Three of our most experienced members evaluated and ranked the submissions: Michael F. Murray, national risk control leader at Gallagher Global Brokerage USA; Kathy A. Seabook, CSP, CFIOSH, EurOSHM, president of Global Solutions Inc.; and Pam Walaski, CSP, CHMM, director of health and safety at GAI Consultants Inc. Once their decision was final in October, ZERO traveled back to our annual Leadership Conference in Chicago and announced the winners. Keith Kluiter, a marketing specialist at the Trafford, Pa.-based engineering and manufacturing firm Cleaveland/Price, took the top prize for his video, “Overhead Crane Near Miss.”

“Keith actually interviewed some people at his organization, incorporated props and took us around his work environment,” says Welch. “I thought that was particularly interesting.”

Second place went to Maverick Meighan, a student at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvinia, whose portable ladder safety video included an easy-to-follow demonstration of best practices. Matthew Brand, also a Slippery Rock University student, won third place for his video that included quick tips for assisting someone who goes into cardiac arrest in the workplace.

The 2018 Paul O’Neill Challenge video contest may be over, but ZERO is still accepting one-minute video submissions for its ever-growing library. It’s all part of honoring O’Neill’s dedication to protecting workers, Welch says, and continuing what ZERO believes is a critical dialogue for preventing workplace incidents.  

“Safety is not something that is proprietary,” he continues. “It’s useful to everybody; and it’s important for diverse organizations to openly discuss the unique ways they solve problems.”


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