Good Monday morning

We are reporting live from the sprawling McCormick Place expo hall in cool, sunny Chicago at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ annual Professional Development Conference and Exposition. Chicago is home of ASSE HQ (Des Plaines actually) and the Windy City is replete with street corner banners heralding ASSE’s 100th anniversary.

ASSE was founded in 1911, in New York City as the United Association of Casualty Inspectors with 62 members, seven months after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in lower Manhattan killed 146 garment workers, some youngsters and most women.

First look

Coming up the escalators in the expo hall Sunday afternoon the first thing we notice is the familiar green and yellow BP sunburst logo on the welcoming banner. Yes, BP is one of three “centennial” sponsors. You know the rest of the story…

Warm up

The expo opened Sunday afternoon for two and a half hours for a “kickoff welcoming reception.”

Egyptian Spring comes to Chicago

Ahmed S. AZZAM, QHSE Country Manager for Ideal Standard Eqypt, told us an almost unimaginable crisis management story on Sunday at the conference. Ahmed is VP of the ASSE Egyptian Chapter, which has 260+ members. He is attending the conference with the chapter’s president and treasurer.

During the uprising, “phenomenal, a shock to everybody,” says Ahmed, he contended with curfews, blocked roads, downed communication, the release of criminals, a police force that vanished, and day to day, hour by hour anxiety, tension and confusion. Ahmed oversees seven facilities and 3,000 workers who produce bathroom ceramics and acrylics. For two weeks the company operated at about 40% capacity, he says. It never shut down completely. Ahmed spent most of his time on security, not safety, ensuring the security of facilities and trying to account for the workforce. Only locals close to operations were able to travel to work; a number had to work three shifts consecutively due to curfews that forced workers to stay on the job once at work. Still, Ahmed shakes his head and says, “No, no, there was no spike in injuries, no more accidents.”

Operations have ramped back up and Ahmed shares several lessons: crisis management scenarios must be in place, without dust, and must anticipate the worst, communication breakdowns and multiple unknown security risks. Systems must be regularly tested. Security and safety need to be integrated at the operations level. A system needs to be in place to relocate expatriates to safety (Ahmed says BP’s system enabled 180-200 expats to be quickly relocated to secure areas.) And he makes a good point: “Look at the natural disasters happening around the world. What are you going to do?”

Ahmed looks us square in the face: “It is a miracle,” what happened this spring. He shows us on a computer screen in the press room an aerial photo of thousands rallying in Tahrir Square. The revolution without blood in the streets.

Going global

The Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals and ASSE Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate education and training collaboration and the sharing of best practices between the two groups. ASSE is spanning the globe in the same manner the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the National Safety Council are expanding internationally. ASSE is the administrator for the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the International Standards Organization (ISO) on ISO standards for risk management, fall protection, and road safety, through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI is the U.S. voting representative to ISO.

ISHN thought bubble

The economic doldrums in the U.S. has thrown a very heavy wet blanket on OSHA standards-setting efforts (OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels spends more time these days explaining how OSHA regs don’t kill jobs than talking future plans). But look for ISO safety and health standards to pick up the slack in coming years as a way to harmonize regs for multinationals manufacturing in China, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, elsewhere in the Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, South America, and at an increasing pace in Africa.

Hilda Solis says hello

It’s a staple of every convention… a fed official offers official greetings. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis swooped into San Antonio at the 2009 ASSE conference and introduced herself to safety and health pros by asserting OSHA the cop was back on the beat.

Two years on the economy still can’t get traction and the DOL Secretary’s letter of greetings and congratulations to ASSE focuses on her vision for the DOL “to provide Good Jobs for Everyone.” With the2012 presidential campaign off and running it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs.

Women make a difference

ASSE’s Women in Safety Engineering (WISE) on Sunday honored 100 women in safety from around the world for making a difference in occupational safety, health and the environment. Women such as Frances Perkins, the first woman Secretary of Labor, who was an eyewitness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Also honored: Terrie Norris, a self-proclaimed tomboy and daredevil growing up who is ASSE’s incoming president; Margaret Carroll, ASSE’s first woman president (1995); and Kathy Seabrook, who started her own company, Global Solutions, Inc. to assist multinational firms with managing safety and health globally.

No "Aha! moment"

Terrie Norris’s career path to professional safety is a familiar story for many safety pros. Terrie didn’t start out wanting to be a safety professional; she wanted to be an accountant when she was younger. There wasn’t an “aha” moment when Terrie decided that she would dedicate her professional life to the safety of others. She just fell in love with the safety profession from the time she was first introduced to it as a safety & training associate, a job she took to the pay the bills while in school.

Terrie has had a varied career like many in the EHS field. She has worked in industry and as a consultant. Currently, in her job, she works with a group of cities to reduce their workers’ compensation and liability losses.

Off and running

The ASSE conference officially opened early this morning with a flourish, band music and flags and a keynote address by Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” We’ll have more on that subject in tomorrow’s e-news from the conference.

Also, we’ll tell you of OSHA chief Michaels’ speech, along with that of NIOSH head Dr. John Howard. And the launch of the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability. And ASSE’s new draft legislation to reform federal occupational safety and health laws sent to members of Congress.

Well… we’ll leave you with a summary of ASSE’s draft reform law: OSHA coverage of public sector employees; updating permissible exposure limits; relocating NIOSH within the Department of Health and Human Services; increased criminal penalties for those responsible for safety culture in an organization.

CULTURE, by the way, is by far the biggest education topic at the conference.