This year I had the opportunity to attend Safety 2013, the annual professional development conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers – my first safety conference as a college intern and my first visit to Las Vegas.
During this rewarding trip I was able to see what it's like to be a true environment, health and safety professional. Attending sessions helped me appreciate how important it is for us to not just deliver services, but to put ourselves and our personal commitment to safety into the equation.
Safety 2013 began with an uplifting introduction. Safety leaders from other nations were introduced and invited to speak briefly about safety and health in their country and their plans to effectively reduce work-related injuries and fatalities.
Becoming agents of change
Peter Sheahan, author of six books and global thought leader on innovation and behavior change, gave a keynote presentation on “creative strategies for turning challenge into opportunity and change into competitive advantage.” He discussed three common ways people cope with change:
- Recognize change is inevitable but do nothing to adapt to it
- Constructively recognize the need for change and prefer to adapt to it
“Being open to change is not enough” he said. “You have to start with the assumptions you are making about what is changing.”
He noted that conditioning has a lot to do with the ability to change in a constructive way:
- Ego – if your ego is creating attachment you are probably not keeping the best interests of your business at heart
- Scope – avoid too narrowly defining your value
- Proof – failure to test testing. Testing procedures that could change your business are a necessary risk.
- Comfort – escape the gravity of success
According to Sheahan, enduring success depends on your ability to separate from an old strategy and implement a new one.
“Tweet your way through an accident”
Pam J. Walaski, CSP, CHMM, of JC Safety and Environment, spoke about how it is no longer a matter of whether an organization should consider the use of social media to inform audiences during a crisis, but how? She said the benefits of social media are well aligned with crisis communications by allowing:
- Unique messages to be delivered to targeted channels
- Frequent messaging as new information about the crisis unfolds
- Communities of followers to become engaged before a crisis occurs, giving individuals and organizations time to developing trust and credibility
“What are the odds?”
Part of the safety 2013 experience for me in Las Vegas involved a little gambling to see firsthand if “beginners luck” is as real as everyone swears it to be (based on my time in the casino, it’s not true). I was reminded of this during a session featuring Victor J. Sordillo, CSP of Chubb Corporation, who talked about gambling with safety and when it becomes necessary to pull the plug on an operation. He described a baseball game in a rainstorm with sounds of thunder, but no visible lightning. One coach wanted to call the game but the opposing coach wanted to keep playing. In this case, what were the risks? When, if at all, should the coaches call off the game?” Sordillo asked the audience.
He suggested applying the “measure of predictability,” which is based on reducing the probabilities we’re aware of and making them measurable. He went on to remind us about the difference between people who are either risk tolerant or risk intelligent. For example, athletes and members of bomb squads might need to have a higher tolerance for risk, but people in certain professions, such as – roofers, electricians, doctors and pilots would not be well served to have high risk tolerance.
Safety 2013 provided great insight into workplace health and safety. As a young professional, it was very helpful to me to hear stories and views on the evolution of safety how it transformed into what it is today. More importantly, I brought home these takeaways:
- Safety is a practice not just an idea – Ensuring that workers understand the risks involved in their work is key to getting them to practice safe work habits.
- Networking – Especially as an intern, meeting people and having meaningful conversations can open many doors.
- Traveling to new places – Las Vegas was an ideal setting for me to learn about putting myself, and my budget, at risk.
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