Live from Safety 2008: Opening Session Highlights Politics, Globalization

The American Society of Safety Engineers’ 47th annual Professional Development Conference got underway in earnest this morning here in Las Vegas with an opening General Session in the Hilton’s Barron Ballroom that was equal parts song and dance, business, and politics, complete with confetti from the rafters. Vegas entertainer Clint Holmes got the audience of more than 3,000 on their feet to start things off, which was no small feat, considering the session began at 7:45 a.m. ASSE President Michael W. Thompson then took the stage to recap many of the society’s activities and accomplishments of the past year, making special note of how the global marketplace is changing the business of safety and how ASSE is changing accordingly, seizing the opportunity to forge new alliances and capitalize on emerging technologies.

One such alliance that has continued in recent years is the society’s partnership with OSHA, which Thompson said would be renewed again here today. Thompson also noted the addition of two new international ASSE chapters since last year, one in Papua Indonesia and one in Nigeria. “As we approach 100 years as a society, we continue to grow and change,” Thompson said. “We are continuing to improve our technological capabilities, and we are continuing to make a business case for safety on a global scale.” He cited the society’s focus on interactive Webinars and its outreach program to college students, encouraging interest in the SH&E profession, as ongoing commitments. Past-president Eddie Greer, CSP, OHST, a trustee of the Texas Safety Foundation, made a special presentation on behalf of the ASSE Foundation, presenting Thompson with a check for $100,000.

In the spirit of the event’s global message, Ray Hurst, president of the United Kingdom’s Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and Eldeen Pozniak, president of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers, made brief presentations. Hurst said that despite the sometimes different approaches to workplace problems in the United States and the United Kingdom, safety professional in both countries share a common bond. “One thing that binds us together is the passion we all have that individuals go home alive and well at the end of the workday,” he said. “Here we are in what many see as the gambling capital of the world, but one thing we won’t do is gamble with the lives of our work forces. . . . We have more in common that keeps us together than keeps us apart,” he added, echoing Winston Churchill.

Similarly, Pozniak emphasized the advantages to be gained from working together and focusing on common ground. “Networking between our organizations is key to our success,” she said, encouraging attendees to not let what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas where new knowledge, skills, and contacts are concerned.

Time magazine’s Jay Carney delivered the event’s keynote presentation, “A View from Washington,” offering his take on the 2008 presidential campaign and politics in general. With tales gleaned from years covering the nation’s capital and all major political players since 1993 as the magazine’s Washington Bureau Chief, Carney regaled the ballroom with often humorous and poignant anecdotes. For example, he was on Air Force One with President George Bush on Sept. 11, 2001, has been to the “Hanoi Hilton” in Vietnam with Senator John McCain, and standing in line in front of Monica Lewinsky at then-President Bill Clinton’s White House Christmas party.

On Senator Hillary Clinton’s recent withdrawal from the Democratic primary, he said, “In a way it’s sad, because there goes that great dream of having a two-impeachment family.” On Senator Barack Obama’s ascendancy as the Democratic nominee, he joked that the candidate is currently looking for a new church—one in which “everyone there has to take a vow of silence.” He noted that despite Bush’s high approval rating in the years immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, he has now sustained the lowest approval rating of any president ever, which meant that even at his daughter’s recent wedding in Texas, a sizable portion of the guests did not agree with the job he’s doing.

”The 2008 presidential election has already made history,” Carney observed, “and it will continue to right up through November.” He added that despite lopsided numbers in the press showing Obama with a significant advantage over McCain, he sees it as a closer race. “If I were to find a bookie here who would take a bet on the presidential election right now, I’d say it’s pretty darn close to 50-50.” That said, he also noted that all eyes will be on the candidates’ selection of vice presidential running mates, and in those choices, Obama has a much wider open field than McCain, whose task is “more complicated.”

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