If you visit the web site www.mergernetwork.com, you'll find more than 9,400 businesses for sale. There's no end to the buying frenzy, creating new challenges for hundreds if not thousands of safety pros.

Ron Kitson, CSP, director of worldwide safety management services for Corning, Inc., is one of them. In the past 18 months, Corning has completed 14 major acquisitions, adding more than 80 locations to the companies previous 40 sites. Ron shared the following thoughts about safety and health considerations during mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures in a presentation at the American Society of Safety Engineers meeting in June:

  • Safety and health professionals must understand the acquisition process that their companies use. At some point your expertise must be solicited in the deal-making process. Earlier participation is better than later, but later is better than none at all. On-site participation is better than document review, but document review is better than no review. Accept the reality that safety and health has never been a dealmaker or dealstopper.

  • You need to know who makes the deals in your company. If you don't know, find out and introduce yourself. If they are not comfortable with your participation, work through surrogates in staff groups who are involved, such as environmental, legal, or human resources.

  • Your job is to accurately assess the impact of the acquisition, and to give all parties a realistic estimate of safety and health resource needs.

  • Corning's safety and health assessments of acquired locations include a document review, site visit, due diligence investigation, benchmark comparisons, a check of the innovation process and identification of a liaison person with the new company.

Keys to success

Safety and health activities that Corning shares early and often with acquired companies include:

  • Genuine, continuous and personal "felt leadership"

  • Constant and varied communication

  • Work processes that emphasize teams, collaboration, and a caring environment

  • Strong operating discipline through standards and procedures

  • Relentless pursuit of deviation and incident root causes

  • Training: physical skills, thinking skills, and behavioral

  • Wide use of leading and current indicators/metrics

  • Frequent management and team audits to identify and eliminate unsafe conditions and at-risk behavior

  • Frequent and widespread use of positive recognition and rewards

  • Very strong individual and team responsibility and accountability with clear and well-accepted consequences

Lessons learned

1) Thorough due diligence saves money and provides focus for subsequent programs.

2) Clear expectations are critical.

3) Resource needs must be acknowledged.

4) Be straightforward regarding consequences.

5) Relentless follow-up and repeated face-to-face dialog during most interactions is essential.

6) Expect significant resistance and push back.

7) Be caring in interactions, help build upon the acquired company's strengths.

8) It's highly desirable to have an experienced safety and health person present at each site.

9) Facilitate, don't take over, the safety and health process at the new site.