Made in ChinaHalloween morning in sunny, cold Philadelphia. It’s 9:30 am and in the elevator leaving our hotel a young couple, man in orange dreadlocks and pajamas, woman in leather jacket, tights and wearing a Joker’s daft hat and bells, seem to planning for a long Halloween. Or they might just be two more eccentrics heading to the Occupy Philadelphia tent  city surrounding City Hall.

The “Occupiers” are camped out only a block from the gleamimg glass and steel Philadelphia Convention Center, where the National Safety Congress and Expo kicked off officially Monday morning.

One the first things we see: a Convention guide in dark blue uniform, clipboard  in hand, stands at the base of possibly the longest  escalator ever made. She politely but continuously shouts at a man gliding down to “look up” from his cell phone chatter so he doesn’t trip coming off. “These technology things are great but boy they are dangerous,” she says. Are you enforcing a cell phone ban on all escalators here? we ask. She grins. Ah, about that clipboard, are you doing behavioral observations? “Doing what?”

The man, by the way, paid as much attention to her as guys hugging onto their cellphones and ignoring flight attendants that they must disconnect before take off.

Exporters galore

The world of workplace safety has come to unseasonably chilly Philly to connect. Globalization is on full display. Eight hundred-plus companies are stretched out on the expo floor, taking up more than 35 aisles. Vendors come from 27 different countries, from Austria and Brazil to Sri Lanka and the Russian Federation.

In the east end of the expo floor it appears the Chinese have set up their own occupation village. It is dominated by a “Made in China – Welcome to China” Pavilion. It is really more than one pavilion; there are by our count 67 bare-bone booths, stalls really, with white pegboard walls selling everything from Gracetex Rainwear to Yangsun Safety Products to “NPANT, a leading PPE manufactory and exporter from China who will now enter the USA market.

Fourteen vendors are from Taiwan.  Safety gear from Turkey, Hong Kong, Malayasia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mexico, Japan is also on display.

“Are you afraid the U.S. PPE market will have the quality barrier lowered by all these commodity exporters?” we ask an executive of a multi-billion dollar U.S.  PPE manufacturer  at an afternoon press conference.

 He smiles. “Well, there were 600 Chinese booths at the A+A Safety Trade Fair in Germany a few weeks ago,” he says. He is assured and confident. “We sell to the major global corporations, here in the U.S. and in the Asia Pacific, where we see tremendous PPE sales growth potential. These companies have valued safety for decades. They are not going to put their workers at risk wearing fall protection harnesses of questionable testing, or wearing products where possible contamination issues arise.”