The annual meeting of the American Society of Safety Engineers attracted 3,420 safety professionals to New Orleans, June 12-15.


What’s in, what’s out in the safety world…

IN - Performance metrics; OUT - Perception surveys

IN – Coaching; OUT - Supervisors

IN – Risk; OUT - Hazard

IN – Safety contacts; OUT - Observations

IN – Exposure events; OUT - Employee behavior

IN – Change; OUT - Status quo

IN – Feelings; OUT - OSHA regs

IN – Organizational life; OUT - Organizational systems

IN – Relationships; OUT - Enforcement

IN – Conversations; OUT - Discipline

IN – VPP Star; OUT - VPP Merit

IN – Great places to work; OUT - Policies & paperwork

IN – Culture; OUT - Operator error

IN – Assessing personalities; OUT -Blame game

IN – Trust; OUT - Shoot the messenger

IN – Management resources; OUT - Lip service

IN – Empathy; OUT - Punishment

IN – Voluntary; OUT - Mandatory


Slowly but surely “risk” is replacing “hazard” in the language of safety pros. ASSE’s conference presented sessions on risk assessment, risk auditing and risk management. “Isn’t everything in life a risk assessment?” asked one speaker.

Speaker Gary Lopez went so far to predict the death of the “safety manager,” replaced by the title, “risk manager,” which resonates more with loss-conscious management.

“Safety man” is obsessed with body counts, regulatory black magic, and hazards,” said Lopez. He argued that “hazard” is an imprecise term that causes pros to lose focus, chasing dangers that may or may not be significant. “Risk” sharpens the focus by quantifying and prioritizing hazards, he said.


The hunt for new measures of safety performance continues. Dan Petersen has published a new book on metrics. Organization Resources Counselors has produced a matrix of leading, trailing and financial metrics.

“The old OSHA recordables measure is an albatross on the profession,” said Skipper Kendrick, former ASSE president, at one session. “They don’t show you how to get better,” said one attendee.

But perception surveys, an alternative metric advocated by Petersen and ORC, scare many companies afraid of opening a can of employee complaints. “Responses are so anecdotal they don’t identify organizational causes of the perceptions,” asserts BST in a handout distributed at the meeting.


It’s 2005, what are you doing to keep yourself relevant? BST, a prominent ASSE expo vendor and pioneer in behavior-based safety, now espouses safety “as a foundation for excellence in reliability, productivity, quality, and profitability.”

Dr. Scott Geller attracted long lines at the meeting for autographed copies of his new book, “People-Based Safety.” Another BBS pioneer, Geller says in a handout: “Behavior-based safety is good, but People-Based Safety is great!”

Even the language of safety is morphing. Accidents are becoming known as incidents. Hazards become risks. Behaviors evolve into exposure events.


The verb of the hour is “engage.” Every speaker at ASSE seemed to work it into his or her presentation.

“EHS pros must get more engaged in global debates,” urged ORC’s Frank White in a session on what’s driving EHS activity today. Right now, noses are pressed up against windows.

The last thing you want: employees with disengaged brains, said Lawrence Waterman, describing the freeze-out effect of too many rules and codes.

Actually, the last thing you might want is to be known as an “enforcer.” Yes, there’s still a place in the EHS world for enforcement — even acting OSHA chief Jonathan Snare slipped enforcement numbers into his speech. But you heard much more at ASSE about coaching, facilitating, advising, coordinating and, of course, engaging.


Curt Coffman of The Gallup Organization kicked off the ASSE conference, describing how to “unleash human potential.” He quoted Henry Ford, who lamented that all he wanted for his assembly lines was a pair of hands, but he kept getting human beings.

One hundred years later, safety pros are still trying to figure out how to deal with the whole person. Sessions at ASSE discussed behaviors, of course, plus attitudes, personality traits and states, beliefs, values, emotions and egos. “People are messy,” said Coffman.

Still, most pros find it simpler and more direct to deal with “human factors” and “human error” than truly messy and Byzantine organizational structures and pressures.


Work world relationships are in. The most significant correlation to a company’s number of workers’ comp claims and incidents: whether or not employees say they have a best friend at work, according to Gallup’s Coffman.

But many CEOs aren’t faring well in the relationship game. CEO “disengagements” are up 300 percent since 1995, USA Today reports.

“I’m on my fifth president in five years,” said one attendee. “To be honest, I don’t know who’s calling the shots.” That makes long-term safety planning a shot in the dark.


“I want people feeling good,” shouted Scott Geller to several hundred attendees at his session.

You can’t duck discipline and malcontents, several speakers conceded, but clearly today the focus is on creating “great places to work” and “managing around weaknesses,” as Gallup’s Coffman said.

OSHA’s Snare spoke at length about “success stories” built on cooperation and partnerships, and the agency’s 349 alliances.

The “soft side” of safety is carrying the day, dominating EHS conferences like ASSE’s. “It’s time we got more personal,” said one attendee. “Engage hearts and minds before hands. Show genuine caring. That’s a more effective message to employees.”

Next year’s meeting

Safety 2006 ASSE Professional Development Conference & Expo — June 11-14 — Seattle, WA — “Meeting the Needs of Today’s Safety Professional” — for info: