• Japanese


  • Message from the President. Corporate Vision.
  • Special Feature
  • Dialogue 1
  • Dialogue 2
  • Dialogue 3
  • Dialogue 4
  • Dialogue 5

Dialogue 5 Discussion between the Chairman of the Japan Society for Safety Engineering and the President

download PDF
Higashi Ito (Chairman of the Japan Society for Safety Engineering) and Tsutomu Tannowa It is my hope that we can foster a culture that is based on safety and become a company that contributes to society through safety.

We must never forget the tragic accident that happened three years ago.

Three years have passed since the tragic accident at Iwakuni-Ohtake Works. In the three years following the accident, a number of very small and minor problems and accidents have occurred. One could argue that these minor incidents could quite easily lead to a major disaster. We must therefore not let the memory of the Iwakuni-Ohtake Works accident fade. We must renew our commitment to never forget. I ask this of all our employees and of myself.
While safety as a top priority is a clearly defined management policy of the Group, I believe that fostering the safety culture necessary to ensure that concrete steps are taken to put this policy into practice is an absolute prerequisite to securing our existence as a going concern.
There is an increasing number of companies that use the words “Safety Comes First,” but, Mr. Tannowa, I think you are the first CEO to place such importance on “fostering a safety culture.” It is crucial that top management makes sure its attitude of prioritizing safety spreads throughout the Company, and that management and workers onsite implement measures in line with it.
Corporate activities are based on the need to safely manufacture products and contribute to society through the delivery of products. Safety is a part of everyone’s work. It is important for each individual to understand that corporate activities are grounded equally in production and safety.
Everyone needs to think of safety as their own issue. You are absolutely right when you say, safety is a part of everyone’s work.

Common backdrop of recent accidents

In the past few years there has been a series of serious accidents in the manufacturing industry, including in our Group. What do you think are the causes?
I think there are three main characteristics of these accidents that we need to look at. The first is that these accidents occurred at companies that have been passionate in their implementation of safety programs and that have received certification for high-pressure gas. This means that there are problems unique to the process that cannot be discovered just by complying with a set of regulations like those for high-pressure gas. The second characteristic of these accidents is that they occurred during non-routine work, such as when emergency devices were activated. In each case, there was enough time to rectify the problem between the onset of the abnormal conditions and the actual accident, but the accidents still occurred. Behavioral psychology has introduced the concept of “normalcy bias,” which is a mental state where people see minor abnormalities as normal, which, in turn, delays the discovery of a problem. The third characteristic is a lack of competency in responding to emergency situations and insufficient human resource training.
The accident at Iwakuni occurred during an emergency shutdown amid non-routine circumstances. Problems that should have been detected were overlooked. We need to heighten our sensitivity to hazards and raise the level of awareness. There are no shortcuts, we must go back to the basics and every day make a conscious effort to consistently and stubbornly pursue issues no matter how repetitive.
At the same time, as a Group, we must also properly respond in areas where improvement must be prioritized.
After the accident, we formed the Fundamental Safety Committee with the participation of external specialists. The committee interviewed employees from each level at the Works to confirm and organize issues. They identified three priority issues (listed below). In responding to the first priority issue, for example, we are improving our organizational structure and systems so that line managers can focus on managing safety in the workplace by reducing detailed operations to lessen the burden on these managers.
Common backdrop of accidents. 1. Problems unique to processes that cannot be discovered just by complying with a set of regulations. 2. Non-routine work and normalcy bias. 3. A lack of competency in responding to emergency situations and insufficient human resource training.
Mitsui Chemicals’ priority issues to ensure fundamental safety. 1. Allowing line managers to focus on the worksite and to properly manage it. 2. Improving technical capabilities and securely passing down skills to the younger generation. 3. Ensuring that safety is the top priority and cultivating a sense of professionalism.
Reducing the workload of managers is an interesting idea. I think it is important to make improvements so that organizations and their members can function properly.
On the second issue of passing down skills, we are creating educational and training opportunities to bolster skills. We are currently in the midst of a generational shift, so no matter how careful we are, the accident risk is heightened. Turning to the third issue of ensuring that safety is the top priority, I believe we need to create a system that instills a sense of accomplishment in workers.
Looking at the conditions that led to recent accidents, I feel that at the core of all these accidents are social, educational, and industrial changes. Particularly with industry, technology is becoming increasingly advanced and varied. This causes hazards in the processes themselves. At the same time, operations are becoming more fragmented, making it difficult for workers to see the entire picture. Meanwhile, veteran employees who understand the history and flow of the entire plant and have an understanding of the “know-why” for each operation, are reaching retirement age.
Workers need knowledge of both the entire picture and individual techniques in order to respond in an emergency. One effective employee training method is hazard prediction (KY)* for emergency scenarios. What happens during a power outage? What would happen if the agitator or cooling device stopped? You set up various scenarios like these for hazard prediction and create thought patterns that look at the entire picture. This way, workers learn to respond by predicting outcomes. Workers need to understand the entire picture and individual techniques. * KY: Kiken yochi—An initiative aimed at enhancing safety by predicting and reconfirming risks and sharing information

There are no shortcuts in fostering a safety culture.

Mr. Ito, from your perspective, what do you think of safety activities at the Mitsui Chemicals Group?
Mitsui Chemicals’ policy that “safety is for yourself, for your family, for your colleagues, and for society,” is the very definition of a safety culture. As you mentioned earlier, you are attempting to enhance safety by fostering a safety culture, and I think you are headed in the right direction.
However, when workers are given too many issues to tackle, they start to feel imposed upon.
To prevent workers from feeling imposed upon, it is important that they develop voluntary and proactive habits instead of being passive and receiving orders. It’s easy to just say “go forth and foster a culture of safety,” putting it into practice is actually very difficult. We must also consider incentives and motivation. At the same time, it’s important to cultivate a culture of giving compliments. At the Mitsui Chemicals group, including overseas affiliated companies, we changed the criteria of our group-wide Best Plants Awards to not just cover safety activities but also focus on processes. It would be nice to create more cases where we compliment our employees.
I am also an advocate for complimenting good safety efforts rather than just scolding them for their mistakes. When I was General Manager of the Chiba Plant at Denki Kagaku Kogyo, I received requests from the persons in charge of safety at each worksite, who all said they wanted to conduct safety activities. We assigned them as leaders, they deliberated with their colleagues and, by putting into practice certain proposals, we achieved five and a half years without accidents. This was all because I trusted the people who made the proposals and left it in their hands.
When things are left in your hands and you are complimented on your efforts, it gives you a sense that your presence is valued. This is an important factor that leads to a safety culture. I don’t think there is any big trick to fostering a safety culture. It’s the accumulation of little bits of attention and consideration that raise morale throughout the organization.
I think that workers, managers, and top management each have roles to play in ensuring safety.
To ensure safe operations, workers must conduct production activities safely, managers must improve equipment and operations, provide training, and inspect workplace activities, and top management must propose philosophies and policies and allocate human resources and funds. From the perspective of producing value, workers produce the value, managers provide support for the smooth production of value, and top management prepares worksites for producing value and leads the organization.
We must understand that while value is born in the worksite, the worksite is also where accidents occur. We must show our appreciation to the workers at production sites for their daily efforts, which create value, and establish teamwork based on a proper awareness of the division of roles.
Produce value based on a proper awareness of the division of roles regarding safety. Workers: Conduct production activities safely = produce value. Managers: Improve equipment and operations, provide training, and inspect workplace activities = support the smooth production of value. Top management: Proposes philosophies and policies and allocates human resources and funds = prepares worksites for producing value and leads the organization.

Contribute to society through safety

There is also the role of the Company in society. Mr. Ito, you are a leading proponent of safety in the chemical industry. What are your expectations for our Group?
Currently, the Japan Society for Safety Engineering is attempting to raise safety levels in the chemical industry in Japan. You can reach a certain level through government regulations, but since it is impossible to know all the hazards specific to each company, voluntary safety activities are essential. Serving an organizational function, the Process Safety Improvement Center conducts assessments of the safety capabilities of companies in the manufacturing industry that handle chemicals. A campaign is in place to promote improvements in safety activities based on the results of these assessments.
Mitsui Chemicals employees and former employees also participate in safety activities at the Japan Society for Safety Engineering. They all have extensive worksite experience, make on-target suggestions and possess a high level of understanding. We hope that Mitsui Chemicals will continue to act as a leader in safety activities in Japan.
Thank you very much. I am very grateful that our employees and former employees are given opportunities to contribute to society through participation in external activities. I hope that this contribution spreads to different industries. After all, there is no limit to the scope of safety.
In April we opened our Plant Operation Technology Training Center to external organizations and are making our equipment and knowledge available to people outside our Group. We hope that other companies will take advantage of our facilities and participate in experience-based training.
I had an opportunity to visit the Center. There are not many companies that can provide this sort of opportunity, and the significance of the Plant Operation Technology Training Center is well-known in our industry, so I am sure there will be many companies lining up.
Competition used to be about quality and cost, but society has changed, and the importance of safety will continue to grow. Being a safe company greatly affects a company’s reliability and the expansion of their business.
I hope that Mitsui Chemicals will contribute to improving safety levels in Japan.
It is my hope that we can be a company that contributes to society through safety.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Mitsui Chemicals Group lost a precious member in the accident at Iwakuni, and the incident greatly affected the residents and businesses in the local community. At that time, we were also unable to fulfill our responsibilities as a supplier of goods to our customers. We must always remember the impact accidents have and never forget the pain and sorrow they cause.
“Safety is for yourself, for your family, for your colleagues, and for society.” These words must never ring hollow. These words must be engraved in the hearts of all our employees and with this as our starting point, we must continue to reinforce our safety efforts.

What is the Japan Society for Safety Engineering (JSSE)?

It is a specified non-profit organization that contributes to the development of industry and academics in realizing safety and security in society through activities to improve and disseminate knowledge and technology to prevent various accidents.

Higashi Ito:
Chairman of the Japan Society for Safety Engineering

After attending the doctorate program at Tokyo University, Higashi Ito joined Denki Kagaku Kogyo (Denka) in 1969. After serving in various positions within the company, including as Director and General Manager of the Chiba Plant, Managing Director and General Manager of the Omuta Plant, Managing Director and General Manager of the Ome Plant, and Representative Executive Director and Director of Technology, he became the Executive Vice President of Denka in 2008. In 2010, he was appointed Special Advisor, and in 2014 he took on his current specially appointed temporary position at Denka. Additionally, starting from 2014, he was appointed the Chairman of the Japan Society for Safety Engineering.