Labor Secretary Solis addressing opening session crowd of 3,300 professionals.

We asked new ASSE President Chris Patton to reflect on some of the meeting’s highlights amid scorching hot late June days in San Antoine.

What was your reaction to the speeches of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and OSHA head Jordan Barab?

First, let me say, it was an honor to have them both speak at our conference. Whether you agree with this administration’s approach, it is important for safety professionals to hear what is happening. Secretary Solis was clear and direct about her position on regulating safety and health. Mr. Barab echoed her position and it is certain that this administration will be working hard to ensure strong enforcement. Over the last eight years, the regulatory pendulum has swung to the right. It is not surprising that a change of party and administration would send the pendulum in the opposite direction.

Both speakers, especially Barab, recognized the contributions of the safety professionals in the audience. It was refreshing to hear that recognition for our members, and for their employers. The challenge for OSHA will be to identify the companies that deserve strong enforcement, without wasting time and energy on those who already manage safety and health to a level beyond compliance.

What were attendees saying about the affects of the recession on their jobs?

Everyone is definitely concerned, but most of the attendees were simply focused on their jobs and their careers. Despite the troubled economy, those with jobs are still very busy and committed to their calling. ASSE is working hard to get the word out to business that these difficult times are exactly when they don’t want to reduce their commitment to safety.

How would you describe the overall mood or attitude or “climate” of the ASSE convention, given the lousy economy and new OSHA regime?

The mood seemed, to me, to be very excited and upbeat. We saw an increase in the number of attendees who paid their own way because of employer travel restrictions. I think this resulted in a focused and committed group of attendees who understood the benefits of professional development.

While most safety professionals can’t do much about the economy or federal OSHA policies, they do have some control over their jobs and their careers and they are focused on what they can control. For those whose employers paid their way, this is a testament to their recognition of the benefits of attending the conference and bringing back strategies to further enhance their companies’ safety and health processes, even during difficult economic times.

The PDC is a gathering place for some of the most successful, professional and committed SH&E professionals. The mood is likely to be more positive among people investing in themselves and their careers. Attendees tell us that networking with peers is itself an attitude-boosting activity.

On the exhibit hall, the feeling was that those in attendance were serious about safety and their professions. All the comments I received from exhibitors were positive. Yes, some could sense attendance was down, but it still exceeded their expectations.

Chris Patton, CSP, is Principal HSE Engineer for Covidien in Hazelwood, MO.