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Safety 2008: A Great Success

ASSE does it like no other—and the record number of attendees (more than 4,000) and exhibitors (representing more than 400 companies) who came to Las Vegas for ASSE’s recently completed Safety 2008 professional development conference and exposition are a testament to that.

“Not many disciplines are so diverse and multifaceted [as safety],” says Joel Haight, Ph.D., P.E., an associate professor at Penn State. “ASSE’s conference brings together so many different types of companies, industries and other entities.” Ashok Garlapati, CSP, QEP, G-IOSH, the immediate past president of ASSE’s Kuwait Chapter, echoes those sentiments. “ASSE’s conference stands apart and is very unique.” And, more than anything, says Frank Baker, CSP, CFPS, ALCM, field services manager, ESI AMS, “it’s where safety people from all disciplines go to learn and network.”

Professional Contacts

Networking has long been a strength of ASSE and that was on display during the conference. Haight, who served as editor-in-chief for ASSE’s recently published The Safety Professionals Handbook, had the opportunity to meet several of the book’s contributors—colleagues with whom he’d previously only exchanged e-mails or phone calls. “This is an example of what most people say is most valuable about ASSE’s PDC—the chance to network with so many from our profession. . . . There is a valuable exchange that occurs even from short visits.”

Those interactions were a highlight for Frank D’Orsi, CSP, ARM, vice president, risk control service, Countrywide Insurance Services, Commercial Division, as well. “Meeting new people, sharing ideas and experiences, and learning about new opportunities to advance within the profession in the industry sectors in which I practice most was key,” he says.

2007-08 ASSE President Michael Thompson, CSP, also believes the chance to make connections is what made Safety 2008 a success. “Through­­out the conference, I saw people connecting—in the general and plenary sessions, in the expo hall, during concurrent sessions and at lunch. Our attendees are clearly engaged, committed people.” And the organization’s global outreach is only helping to expand that network, he says. “We had attendees from more than 36 countries. This diversity of professional and personal ex­perience adds to our collective body of knowledge.”

Most attendees also appreciate catching up with their peers and old friends. “It’s an opportunity to reconnect on an annual basis with my global network of SH&E colleagues,” says Kathy Seabrook, CSP, CMIOSH, president, Global Solu­tions Inc. “It’s also an opportunity to contribute to the safety profession through involvement in ASSE committees and activities.”

Networking also appeals to Kimberlie Johnson, CSP, CFPS, owner of Serious About Safety. “Our conference is about new ideas for helping to prevent future illness, injury or death. It is about being part of the oldest profession—that of taking care of each other.” Adds Garlapati, “The greatest thing is the excellent professional contacts. This has opened communication channels to share the latest information and updates, which is really helping to im­prove safety in my workplace.”

Educational Opportunities

This year, attendees had more than 200 sessions to choose from, as well as an array of special events such as technical tours, common interest group meetings and roundtables. “The technical sessions cover so many different topics and viewpoints,” explains Haight. “If you can’t find something to explore or learn more about or that interests you, you probably haven’t looked hard enough.”

Seabrook agrees that the educational opportunities set the conference apart. “The conference provides the best, most focused professional-level development for industrial safety practitioners.” And, like Thompson, she points to the impact of the growing international contingent. “This provides U.S.-based professionals with the opportunity to benchmark best practices with our counterparts around the globe.”

Garlapati also lauds the increased diversity at the conference, pointing in particular to the international lounge. “The concept of the lounge is unique to ASSE and it has helped me interact with people from places like Singapore, Nigeria, India, the U.K. and Australia.”

Hearing from business speakers such as Robert Cialdini and a panel of corporate executives (see “Executive Summit” sidebar below) was another important factor for many. During his general session presentation, Cialdini told attendees that to move people in your direction you must “do more than give them information. You have to mobilize people to interact with and employ that information.” He also noted that people are “mobilized by the idea of losing something. Besides telling people what they will gain, explain what they will lose if they don’t take a certain action.” Cialdini’s message resonated with attendees, many of whom lined up to have him sign a copy of his book.

For some, gaining new perspectives was a real plus. Linda Rhodes, CSP, appreciated the insights shared during a presentation on the conflicts between safety and production. “The speaker thoroughly explained why safety professionals must understand that safety strategies cannot succeed if they exist just for safety’s sake,” explains Rhodes, general manager of system safety for the Chicago Transit Authority. “Understanding how production environments encourage risk-taking behavior is a topic I’ve heard numerous times, but this presentation was done better than others I’ve seen.”

Comprehensive coverage was a key takeaway for Steve Minshall, CSP, CIH, CHMM, director, health and safety, Ash Grove Cement Co. “I thoroughly enjoyed the 3-day seminar on corporate safety management and the opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of knowledge among the other attendees.” Minshall says this points to what distinguishes ASSE’s conference—“the amount of practical, usable information available—from the keynote speakers, the session speakers and the seminar instructors.”

As Thompson sums it, “One attendee stopped me to say, ‘No other conference is so comprehensive and offers access to so many subject-matter experts. I will encourage others to choose this conference.’ Clearly, attendees looked at Safety 2008 as time well spent.”

Executive Summit

The leaders on hand for this year’s Executive Summit agreed that safety is a key factor in how their companies are perceived—by employees, the public and investors. Even one mistake can damage a company’s reputation and make it difficult to compete. That, they said, is a huge motivation to be sure safety is taken seriously.

“Safety is not an offshoot,” said Len Rodman, chair and CEO of Black and Veatch Construction Co. “It’s what we do. Safety and reliability to clients is integral to our success.”

That philosophy has to start at the top, according to panelist Anil Mathur, CEO of Alaska Tanker Co. “It is our responsibility, corporate management, to set the safety mindset,” he noted, observing that for him, safety really starts with the individual. “You have to have a personal passion for it and you have to understand how important relationships are in making safety happen.”

Business leaders also see the value of safety in employee retention. “If you don’t provide a safe and healthy work environment, you will lose employees and it will be harder to recruit employees,” said Alan Feldman, MGM Mirage senior vice president of public affairs. “This is bad for business since the cost of turnover is extremely high.”

Customer service is another area affected by safety—or lack of it. As Diane Wolf, vice president of shared services for Kraft Foods, said, “You can’t deliver a quality product if you aren’t doing safety right.” Feldman added, “If you provide a safe work environment, employees are happier. For MGM, that translates into providing a greater guest experience.”

With respect to measuring safety, the panelists mentioned the usual variety of leading and lagging indicators, but Mathur cautioned attendees not to overanalyze. “You can measure and analyze everything and understand nothing,” he said. “Too much analysis loses the personal aspect. The mindset has to be that this [lack of safety] is unacceptable.”

To deliver the safety message, the panelists called on SH&E professionals to continue their efforts to speak the language of business, know their audience and be creative. “We look to you to take us beyond the expected when it comes to safety to explore and present new ways to increase workplace safety in this day of globalization,” said Rodman. Mathur also called on practitioners to keep it real. “Safety professionals should understand that the leader manages the corporate mindset. Influencing that mindset takes authenticity.”

Foundation Thrives at Safety 2008

ASSE chapters and regions, individual members and organizations made monetary donations, totaling more than $226,000, to the ASSE Founda­tion to help support education and research in the SH&E field. In addition, the Founda­tion’s silent auction raised nearly $9,500, while the golf outing raised more than $16,000. See a complete list of donations made during Safety 2008 in the July 2008 issue of Society Update.

OSHA/NIOSH at Safety 2008

OSHA Adminstrator Edwin Foulke Jr. and NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D., were on hand for several events during Safety 2008, including a plenary session panel discussion. During the session, the two exchanged views on their respective agencies’ accomplishments and challenges. Foulke noted that “making OSHA relevant” has been a welcome outcome during his tenure, while Howard pointed to his agency’s r2p (Research to Practice) initiative as an important achievement. They agreed that each agency must continue to build the business case for safety—whether it’s helping small businesses become “more comfortable” with OSHA, Foulke said, or showing companies that safety activities can help increase business margins, Howard explained.

Asked what SH&E professionals can do to interact more with the federal government, Foulke said practitioners need a better understanding of the “complex rulemaking process” and called on attendees to be more involved. “The strength of the process is public involvement,” he said. That carries over to NIOSH as well, Howard said. “SH&E professionals can help NIOSH conduct and disseminate its research. Your participation validates the research we are doing.” He also believes that SH&E professionals can expand their roles by looking beyond compliance and building their skills with respect to work/life balance and related human resource issues.

Looking to the future, Howard said there is a need to examine the way U.S. industry counts injuries and illnesses, particularly since these statistics are often used to chart the course in SH&E. “Very often, they are used to assess performance despite the questions about their accuracy,” he concluded, adding that those questions need to be resolved.

The two also met with the Society’s Safety Professionals and the Latino Workforce common interest group. They discussed safety and the Spanish-speaking workforce as well as the two agency’s ideas, concerns and initiatives in this area. “They spoke about how the safety profession is truly ‘good work’ and how safety professionals can be happy that the work they are doing is saving lives and bringing people home to their families,” says Jay Brakensiek, M.S., M.A., CSP, Brakensiek &?Associates. “This was such a good thing to hear.”

Alliances Renewed

Following the panel discussion, ASSE renewed its alliances with the agencies. The OSHA/ASSE alliance will focus on ergonomic hazards, musculoskeletal disorders and motor vehicle safety. The two groups will also address issues affecting non-English-speaking and young employees, and will continue to promote North American Occupational Safety and Health Week each year. “The alliance has resulted in a more open OSHA that has honed its ability to reach out to our members and their employers,” says 2007-08 ASSE President Michael Thompson.

With NIOSH, ASSE will work to advance worker protection, promote best practices, and encourage employers to implement safety and health management programs and effective prevention strategies. Outreach, communication and professional development opportunities will continue to be key goals of the partnership. “This agreement signals a significantly increased understanding of the valued relationship between the work our members do every day and the research and educational opportunities that NIOSH offers,” Thompson says.

Awards & Honors

During Safety 2008, ASSE recognized many members and chapters for their outstanding contributions. Emory Knowles III, CSP, CIH, was named the 2008 Edgar Monsanto Queeny Safety Professional of the Year. Seven members—Doug Cook; Trish Ennis, CSP, ARM; Joseph Feldstein; Joel Haight, Ph.D., P.E.; Lynne Seville, CSP; Christine Sullivan, CSP, ARM; and Randy Wingfield—received a Charles V. Culbert­son Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, while nine individuals received a President’s Award—Tom Cecich, CSP, CIH; Darryl Hill, CSP; Cindy Lewis; Mike Messner, CSP, CFPS; Jim Morris; Linda Rhodes, CSP; Tim Fisher, CSP, ARM, CPEA; Dave Heidorn, J.D.; and Terry Wilkinson, Ph.D., CSP. ASSE also presented its first-ever Diversity in the SH&E Profession Award to Thomas Johnson. For more on the award winners, read the July and August issues of Society Update at www.asse.org/societyupdate/archive.