Recession, what recession?

ASSE officials were ecstatic with attendance at this year’s annual meeting in Las Vegas: 4,100+ professional members, an all-time record. Another milestone: registration for pre-conference workshops reached an all-time high. And a third record: exhibit space exceeded 60,000 square feet, besting the past high of 57,950 square feet set last year at the conference in Orlando. More than 400 exhibitors participated this year.

Asked about the meeting’s apparent exemption from the country’s economic malaise, one ASSE official simply grinned, eyes looking heavenward, nodding her head. For an organization of more than 32,000 members founded almost 100 years ago in 1911, ASSE shows pulsating vital signs.

Five forces of change

Five forces of change Here’s how we analyzed the signs of the safety marketplace:

Bottom line — in 2008, workplace safety is becoming more and more: 1) humanized; 2) knowledge-based; 3) technology-driven; 4) management and business focused; and 5) global.
  1. Humanized in the sense of the emphasis on people, their attitudes, awareness and accountabilities, organizational cultures, PPE comfort, off-the-job healthy lifestyles, and an increasing emphasis on the values of trust, caring, teamwork and integrity. Sure safety pros have forever been involved in the human side of their responsibilities, but never with the backing they’re now receiving from upper management in many cases, and the products available on the market.

  2. Knowledge-based in terms of harnessing, collecting, evaluating and acting on the intelligence and experience of the workforce. Also the knowledge and insights and solutions that are delivered through automated management systems that track, record, report, assess, store, distribute and benchmark data relating to a wide variety of safety program activities and processes.

    More than one-fourth of all exhibits (141) related to some aspect of safety management activities or services. If there was ever any doubt, EHS professionals certainly epitomize the modern knowledge worker.

  3. Technology-driven in terms of an increasing array of tools offering wireless solutions; digital solutions; virtual reality simulations; management systems software; automated tracking and monitoring of audits, incidents, driver behaviors, online training, and networking toxic exposure detection and assessments.

    Many of the knowledge-based management services and products wouldn’t be possible without the technology advances driving them. And the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s is ancient history in the safety world; today Web-based or online training, distance learning and webcasts are taken for granted.

    When technology substantially alters the organization of work in different professional fields, the result is more responsibilities handled by fewer people. Support staff disappears in headcount reductions to get “lean.” Where have all the office managers and print typesetters gone? Who makes your business travel plans? Who makes your PowerPoint presentations?

    The safety and health profession has not escaped this techno tipping point. Just ask regional S&H managers covering a dozen countries, or VPs of EHS who fear they have only shallow and sketchy knowledge of what’s going on in their global supply chains.

  4. Management and business focused in terms of integrating safety and risk management into enterprise-wide management system platforms and data reporting and auditing processes. That’s on the technology side. On the human side, as benchmarking databases, research, and performance metrics grow, cogent and evidence-based arguments are now made for the business rewards that superior safety performance can deliver: enhanced brand equity, better reputations with consumers and shareholders, a more engaged and talented work force, reduced downtime, increased productivity.

    The convergence of technology advances (survey tools, enterprise software, etc.) and the growing management/business integration of safety and health have produced another result: greater sharing or distribution of safety and health data than ever before, both within and between organizations.

    Third-party consultants offer benchmarking research accessible online; industry-specific trade groups swap best practices, now on a global scale; and injury/illness stats, employee perceptions, observation scores, audit findings, close call reporting, etc. can be easily collected and compared across companies large and small. Slowly but surely, safety and health’s longtime (and isolating) silos within organizations are crumbling.

  5. Global in terms of the increasing number of consultancies promoting their international reach in combination with local expertise around the globe. Management systems are engineered to ensure global operational consistency and reliability of safety and health performance. An ever-increasing number of training courses translated into foreign languages is available. Attendees in Vegas came from 36 countries. International safety and health had its own track of education sessions — 15 in all. Three sessions were presented in Spanish.

Safety that Soars winners honored in Vegas

ISHNrecognized the “best of the best,” its 2008 Safety that Soars winning company and two certificate of merit recipients at the Aquaknox Restaurant during the American Society of Safety Engineers annual conference & expo, held this June in Las Vegas.

ISHNPublisher Randy Green presented the bronze soaring eagle trophy to Monica Kembel, Safety & Health Director, CH2M HILL Hanford Group, Hanford, Wash. Accompanying Monica from CH2M HILL was Lou Alcala (Electrician and Union Safety Representative), Jerry Long (Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer), and James Tole (Industrial Hygiene Technician).

Kent Spaulding, a General Motors employee for 34 years and current United Auto Workers Health and Safety Representative for GM’s Spring Hill Manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., was on hand to receive Spring Hill’s certificate of merit. Frank R. Cain, Jr., risk manager for the Lee County (Fla.) Electric Cooperative, Inc., (LCEC) was unable to attend and receive LCEC’s certificate of merit.

Representatives of the awards competition’s two sponsors were also present: MCR Safety’s Chief Marketing Officer Larry Garner and Business Development Manager Don Mossman; and the Bureau of National Affairs’ (BNA) Mark Kozeal, Market Manager, Environment, Health & Safety Services, and Adam Wilson, EHS Renewal Specialist.

What’s in, what’s out

Here’s an admittedly subjective view of what we observed at the Vegas ASSE meeting:

  • Fall protection equipment (Remember that “Defy Gravity” slogan? There were 56 fall protection exhibitors at the expo.)
  • Deciphering ANSI Z359 fall protection standards
  • Vehicle/driver safety
  • Combustible dust (Typical reactionary safety scenario #1: TV’s “60 Minutes” devotes a segment last Sunday to the dangers of dust after a Georgia plant explosion killed 13 people)
  • Crane safety (Typical reactionary scenario #2: After a series of fatalities relating to crane crashes this year in New York City, Sen. Clinton has asked OSHA to issue a new reg for cranes and derricks.)
  • Deciphering the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®
  • Management systems: DIY, VPP or OHSAS 18001
  • Emotional intelligence: leadership, courage, trust, listening, integrity
  • Values
  • Corporate social and environmental sustainability (no greenwashing please)
  • Software solutions
  • Online solutions
  • Flat screen monitors at vendor booths
  • Foreign languages heard up and down the conference hallways
  • All things culture
  • Casual: Sandals and shorts worn by many attendees

  • Price of a Las Vegas monorail rail pass
  • Cab lines at the airport
  • Walking the Las Vegas Boulevard strip at a snail’s pace through cattle chutes
  • Check-in lines at hotels
  • Any conversation regarding OSHA
  • Walking to the convention center (unless you were at the Hilton)
  • Bigfoot-size carbon footprint of the Las Vegas Convention Center, with its air-conditioned sub-freezing room temperatures
  • Car rentals with gas at $4 dollars a gallon
  • Jacket and ties worn by conference attendees (reserved only for speakers and magazine sales reps)
  • Fashion models, mascots and trinket freebies at vendor booths

Reading the market

You can discern a good bit about the direction or directions an industry is heading simply by traversing the exhibit floor of a major trade show, in this case the ASSE national conference. It’s a matter of stepping back and taking in the big picture, the mosaic of marketing slogans and keywords spread across booth banners, flat screen monitors and placards; and picking up select handout materials and brochures. Chuckle about clichés if you want, but these messages are targeted at the current needs of safety and health professionals.

For instance, check out the following marketing buzzwords from the ASSE exhibition and draw your own conclusions about what’s hot in workplace safety and health:

“Training the Global Workforce”
“eSolutions for Risk Control”
“The Power of the Web”
“Global Web-Based Compliance & Reporting Systems”
“Protecting Your People, Preserving Your Profits”
“Knowledge Is Power, Knowledge Management is Powerful”
“3-D Integrative Turnkey Virtual Reality Simulations”
“Enterprise Quality Management Software”
“Quality. Timeliness. Integrity. Risk Management.”
“Digital Safety”
“Wireless Solutions”
“Harness the Collective Intelligence of Your People”
“Increase Your Risk Awareness Culture”
“Optimum Comfort”
“Transform Your Culture”
“Global Expertise, Local Presence”
“ Manuals, MSDSs, Signage, Online Training”
“Country Profiles™”
“Asia-Pacific Health, Safety and Environmental Service”
“International Safety and Health Forum”
“European Union Health, Safety and Environmental Forum”
“Cognitive Bias in the Boardroom” (from Chief Executive magazine)
“Manage Risks; Lower Costs; Increase Productivity; Strengthen Business Advantage”
“Management Information System Platform”
“Solutions. Knowledge. Culture.”

Heard in the halls…

A long-time safety vet with many jobs on his résumé is beaming. “I’ve finally broken the VP (vice president position) glass ceiling. Finally made it,” he says. “Amazing the difference from being a director to being a VP. Directors squabble among themselves. VPs get things done. And VPs understand each other. It’s now a level playing field as opposed to talking up and selling up to a VP decision-maker.”

On the Las Vegas monorail to the convention center, a crowd of old safety vets joke and talk about the younger generation of pros. “Ah, they want to be stimulated. Want things to happen now. And they’ve got no field experience.” There’s a pause in the conversation. One guy laughs. “They’re the same as we were, actually.”

Seems these generation gaps never go away. “I resented the old guys telling me I didn’t ‘get it’ when I first came in.” He laughs some more.