What I’ve Learned From the Tragic Death of My Friend Roger
You’re going to be hearing a lot about on-the-job safety in the months ahead as CoolSys launches a major initiative to improve our culture of safety. This topic is important to me in a deeply personal way, and I want to share my story with you.
Many years ago, I was a field service technician for General Electric Healthcare in Michigan. (Bill Clinton was in his first term as president at the time, so it probably feels like a thousand years ago to many of you!) My job was to do preventative maintenance and provide emergency service coverage for CT scanners and MRI machines at hospitals in virtually the entire “hand” area of Michigan* outside of metro Detroit. Servicing this huge area sometimes required us to spend half our shift in a truck, driving from one side of the state to the other. In the spring, summer and fall, we dodged deer who dashed across the road, and in the winter, we added the complexity of driving in snow, sleet and ice.
One night, my partner Roger and I were discussing a call to Lansing, the state capital. A level-one regional trauma center was having to divert ambulances to other hospitals because their CT and MRI were both down. I normally serviced this customer, but that night, I needed to go up to Michigan’s “thumb” area to cover some scheduled maintenance we had committed to. Roger volunteered to head toward Lansing while I went to Bay City. On our way home after completing our assignments, Roger and I spoke on the phone.
The next day, as I drove toward Lansing to do some follow-up work on the machines Roger had worked on the night before, I was listening to the news on the radio in my truck. I’ll never forget hearing the words “Last night, a GE field service engineer, Roger Perrone, was killed in an automobile accident by a drunk driver who had left a General Motors plant intoxicated and was driving on the wrong side of the freeway.” I was stunned. My partner in crime—a man with a young wife and seven kids at home—had lost his life while driving home from covering a job for me.
I was a pallbearer at Roger’s funeral. I remember how incredibly heavy his casket felt, and I remember seeing his wife, Kim, and all seven of his children mourning his loss. I’ve kept the clipping about him from the newspaper, and thoughts of his life and tragic death still suddenly come to mind from time to time.
Roger didn’t do anything wrong; in this case, the other driver was 100% at fault. But it’s a reminder to me that we have thousands of CoolSys employees who are driving trucks, working on jobsites, climbing ladders and standing on roofs. There are accidents every day in our company, sometimes resulting in severe injury—or even death. Tragically, nearly all of these accidents are preventable.
There is a human toll for these lapses in safety, but there is also a literal price we pay as a company. Our accident rates are so high that Walmart recently scored us an “F” for safety. There are certain jobs we cannot bid because our total recordable incident rate (TRIR) is too high.
This is unacceptable. We must change our corporate culture of safety at CoolSys, and we must do it now. We are investing over a million dollars a year to build out our safety team, which is led by retired Army Colonel Tim Clemente. Tim led safety efforts at Walt Disney, Service Master and Direct TV, to name a few. He knows how to keep our CoolSys team safe—both on the road and on the jobsite. Here’s a word of introduction from Tim:
There is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our employees. CoolSys is making significant investments in safety while embarking on our journey toward an injury-free workplace. Together, we will achieve a best-in-class safety culture that is on par with our operational excellence, designed to continuously assess and reduce risk in the workplace. We will leverage advances in technology to assist with employee safety on the job and while operating company vehicles. I am very excited to be a part of CoolSys and look forward to serving the needs of our company for many years to come.
The winds of change are blowing at CoolSys. I want to see every employee return home from their shift safely to their families. Safety at CoolSys is not an option. I am determined for there to be no more Rogers on my watch.
*The outline of the lower peninsula of Michigan looks like a left hand inside a mitten, with the “thumb” sticking out on the right (east) side of the state.