ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, US — CHS, Inc., the largest farmer-owned cooperative in the United States, recently hired Tom Brower as its new vice president of environment, health and safety, a position in which he will work with leadership to develop and implement a safety culture that supports the company’s values.

Brower also will lead the company’s EHS Center of Excellence, a partnership designed to address enterprise safety topics, while also dedicating time and attention to unique challenges posed by CHS’s specific business areas. This group engages, educates and creates ownership for safety initiatives across the enterprise, which employes nearly 10,000 people serving customers in 65 countries.

Brower brings over three decades of experience in a variety of industries to CHS, a diversified agribusiness operating in agronomy, grains, foods and energy. In a Q&A with World Grain, Brower discusses his background and some of the challenges and his goals for employee safety at CHS as he embarks on his latest role.  

WG: What is your background/education in Environmental, Health and Safety?

Brower: I have a bachelor’s in environmental management and am a certified safety professional (CSP).  I have been a practicing EHS professional for over 35 years, working at global Fortune 100 companies in the oil, gas, agronomy, food production, chemicals, mining and transportation industries. I have led global EHS teams across a variety of companies.

WG: How did you become interested in EHS and specifically within agriculture?

Brower: Safety, as a mission, is aligned with my values. The protection of people is a noble calling that attracted me from a young age. Protecting others is a strong value for me and I have a knack for helping others protect one another. Supporting agriculture and farmers around the world is another essential and noble pursuit that I admire, so helping those involved in that pursuit stay safe was attractive to me.  

WG: What are you looking forward to most as you start at CHS? What are your goals?

Brower: I am excited to meet the people at CHS who support the farmers of this country and create connections that empower agriculture. I am also passionate about preparing the next generation of leaders who will continue to shape our culture of safety and environmental stewardship. I look forward to bringing my expertise to the company to help strengthen our safety culture.

Overall, my team and I will be working with our leaders to align around a strategic path forward for environment, health and safety excellence at CHS, and deliver the road map that makes that a reality. 

WG: How do you define a safety culture and what makes it successful?

Brower: In my experience, culture is driven by a set of unwritten rules and beliefs present in a company that naturally guide behavior. When an organization holds favorable beliefs around safety, then people can naturally work in a safe manner, protecting themselves and others. 

WG: As a global agribusiness, how does CHS instill safety culture/training across all its segments — grain, energy, agronomy and foods?

Brower: CHS, as an enterprise, has identified safety as a core company value — along with integrity, inclusion and the cooperative spirit — and our EHS team and company leaders are accountable for helping employees understand and operate with safety in mind.

As with any large company, we need to continue to help all our employees establish and maintain positive practices and beliefs around safety. And, we need to empower our leaders to create a culture that not only supports but naturally makes safety a core value. 

WG: Can you share an example of a success story or a training program that has proven effective at another stop in your career? 

Brower: Throughout my career, I have helped leaders align their organization around a shared vision of EHS excellence where they collaborate with their teams to identify the hazards that they face when performing work and control that exposure in a way that builds trust and strengthens the culture.  

When I was with one Fortune 100 company, I helped establish a culture that identifies and controls worker exposure in a way that built trust and collaboration. In the six years I was there, the company implemented techniques like soliciting employee feedback about safety and listening to what challenges they experienced, so we could work to remove barriers and help employees identify and control exposure. This approach allowed the company to reduce employee injuries by 77%.  

WG: What are some of the safety challenges unique or specific to grain handling and storage?

Brower: All organizations have their own unique set of risks. The key is to create a culture that identifies the risks involved with the work being performed, whether that involves grain handling, driving, oil production or other functions, and work to ensure employees have controls in place to protect themselves and others against safety risks.

WG: Has EHS planning/training changed much during your career? How so?

Brower: One significant shift in EHS planning has been the recognition that not all safety risks are equal. Research has shown that preventing serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) requires a different approach than the tactics traditionally used to prevent lower-severity injuries. There is a subset of hazards that are responsible for SIFs that companies should focus specifically on if they want to be successful in preventing these types of events. 

Additionally, it is becoming more universally recognized that an essential role of company leadership is to align the organization on the safety journey and set the culture that naturally delivers safe behavior. Therefore, helping leaders understand how to shape the culture by making safety a true value is an emerging and key role for EHS professionals.