1805 Core Values
Concern for the safety and health of employees is deeply ingrained in DuPont’s structure and corporate culture. From the time he began to build along the Brandywine River, E.I. du Pont kept safety foremost among his concerns. He insisted that powder mills be spaced apart to minimize the spread of fire or explosion, and the mills themselves were designed to direct a blast upward and out over the river. While these initiatives limited costly damage and minimized injuries, they also helped DuPont to retain its more experienced and safety-conscious workers – men better able to recognize telltale signs of danger and prevent disaster.
During the 19th century, DuPont sought to ensure workplace safety through both formal rules and personal stewardship. Safety rules had been put into writing and circulated widely by 1811. After an 1818 explosion, the members of the du Pont family, all of whom were away during the incident, agreed that one partner should always remain in the yards and that lower-level managers reside, as they did, on plant grounds. A ban on drinking alcohol, which had been implicated in the disaster, was also instituted. Technological improvements were also pursued with an eye toward improved safety. When Lammot du Pont moved to involve the company in dynamite production during the 1880s he realized that production risks would be greatly increased. He had hoped that mechanization at the Repauno plant would enable workers to avoid the most dangerous types of work, but he died before accomplishing that goal.
In the 20th century DuPont institutionalized safety measures further in an effort to cope with the challenges of diversification and increasing federal regulation. When Progressive-era reformers established occupational health and safety as a distinct field of endeavor, DuPont was quick to draw on their emerging expertise. Lewis A. De Blois, who encouraged DuPont to formalize its safety initiatives, headed up the company’s first safety office. In 1911 the company established a clearinghouse for the study and introduction of safety devices and also organized Prevention of Accident Commissions within each department. The following year the company began keeping full records of all accidents, which displayed a steady downward trend.
The demands of World War I led to some setbacks, however. As orders for powder from abroad and from the federal government skyrocketed, DuPont expanded tremendously. As employment levels soared, inexperienced workers and overtaxed facilities pushed accident levels to new heights, even though the company’s safety record still bettered that of its competitors. At War’s end, DuPont redoubled its accident-prevention efforts, instituting a series of employee safety incentive programs.