leadershipWe ended the Tuesday e-briefing from the National Safety Congress and Expo in Philadelphia with a reference to the current holy trinity of hot safety topics:  culture, leadership and engagement. Over the night (wonder what keeps editors up at nights?) we thought: where is the empirical evidence?

So we read the descriptions of all the educational sessions being held Monday through Wednesday.  Now here on Wednesday, the third and final day of the expo, we present our findings:

Culture – 11 sessions with “culture” somewhere in the title

Engagement – 10 sessions if you include training and incentives as topics of engagement

Work at heights / fall protection – 6

OSHA – 6

Leadership – 5

Arc flash protection – 4

Risk – 4 if you count risk management systems, perceptions, reduction, assessments

Metrics – 4

Human error -3

Behavior-based safety – 2

Ergonomics – 1

Habits – 1

This list by no means represents the entire slate of education sessions at the Congress. But we wanted to focus in on the critical core components of work in the safety field in 2011, at least by using the field’s largest meeting as a barometer.

Any surprises?

The holy trinity

OK, OSHA had a nice long run as the hottest topic in safety, from 1970 up into the early 1990s, when the Democrats of all people (via the Clinton administration) tried to reinvent OSHA as more customer friendly.

Not by coincidence, as OSHA standards became fewer and further between, the non-regulatory, definitely outside the beltway issue of behavior-based safety began to take off. For years in the mid to late 90s and into the new century, behavior based safety was everywhere at safety and health conferences. You can talk about the money made by consultants, training companies, and professional societies using BBS as a drawing card for BBS symposiums, etc. Talk about a herd mentality in industry. You can talk about the incremental shift to leadership behaviors brought about largely by irate unions.  But a larger paradigm shift was occurring: safety as primarily an engineering science centered on equipment shifting to the so-called soft side of safety: people, the psychology of safety promoted endlessly by Dr. E Scott Geller.

Now in 2011, why are the hot topics culture, leadership and engagement? The holy trinity.