Van Halen has a reputation for a lot of things, but a commitment to safety typically isn’t one of them.
The legendary rock band is known for its high-energy songs, spandex-and-leather wardrobes and epic performances full of pyrotechnic lightshows. They have millions of fans around the world. Among them is one safety engineer at ExxonMobil who admires the band for more than their hard-driving guitar riffs.
Jack Toellner spends his days ensuring that safety remains core to ExxonMobil. He has great respect for the innovative ways that Van Halen ensured a similar culture of safety at their shows.
To protect both workers and their investments, the band members came up with the now legendary “No Brown M&M’s” rider that was a part of every contract with concert venues.
The rider stipulated that a bowl of M&M’s with all the brown candies removed must be provided in their dressing room. If there were any brown candies in the bowl, the band would know that the venue might have missed something more important, necessitating an additional safety check. On one occasion, a venue where Van Halen planned to perform suffered significant damage when the stage proved too heavy for the floor and collapsed — something that would have been caught if the venue’s managers had read the contract thoroughly.
Of course, bold action in the name of safety isn’t limited to rock ’n’ roll.
One of the first jobs Toellner had with ExxonMobil was as a field construction manager for Exxon’s operations in South Texas. One day in 1981, long before the company’s merger with Mobil, he received a call from the district engineering manager of the Kingsville district. The manager explained that he had just taken on a slew of new engineers fresh out of college and that those new engineers should spend some time at Toellner’s project learning how to stay safe while around field construction. The manager felt that Exxon had an obligation to new hires and their families to keep them safe. They had, in essence, all joined the Exxon family.
“I was moved by the conversation that showed real care for our team and right away my response was ‘absolutely!’” Toellner said. “How could I not be part of our commitment to safety and caring for our people? Years later that conversation weighed in on my decision to become a safety engineer, which has proved to be personally fulfilling.”
That engineering manager out of Kingsville 35 years ago was none other than Rex Tillerson, the current chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil.
But how do you even measure company safety, given its innumerable variables? There is actually an equation to measure it, referred to as the total recordable incident rate, or TRIR. ExxonMobil’s TRIR is below 0.3 — the average rate for all U.S. industries is 3.2, which means that ExxonMobil employees are 10 times less likely to get injured than employees in any other industry.
Taking it a step further, ExxonMobil’s TRIR is even more impressive when compared to high-risk industries like heavy civil and construction work. Compared to the TRIR of those industries, employees at ExxonMobil are 25 times safer.
“Of course preventing all injuries is the goal. ‘Nobody Gets Hurt’ is our vision, and it reflects ExxonMobil’s core values of caring about our team,” said Toellner.
In addition to its own culture, Toellner says the company also promotes safety externally.
“We put a lot of energy into creating some really incredible safety strategies, then we share those openly with everybody that we can, including our competitors,” said Toellner. “ExxonMobil’s philosophy is that safety is not proprietary, and success is not only continuing to improve the safety of our workers and contractors while at work, but also their safety while at home.”
So you see, safety can be a sweet gig, much like brown M&Ms, and not only for a hardcore rock band.