Great Expectations

The National Safety Council's Congress & Expo returns this month to Orlando with a lofty lineup.

Anyone who has participated in any of the National Safety Council's 95 previous annual Congresses might have a hard time taking literally the theme of the 2009 version of the event: "Beyond Your Wildest Expectations." That's because most in the industry already recognize it as the biggest show in the safety kingdom, and this year, despite the execrable economy, the preliminary numbers are setting up to maintain that tradition. Even if the turnout for the show, set for Oct. 25-30, falls short of its usual 16,000 safety, health, and environmental management professionals — including some 800 exhibitors showcasing their wares at the attendant Expo — more people will be making their way to Orlando's Orange County Convention Center to attend than for any similar event this year. We've come to expect that.

Given our previous Congress & Expo experiences, we also will be expecting the most luminous safety leaders in the land to be on hand, giving us insight on the state of the safety union and, hopefully, some inspiration to take home. The lineup for the Occupational Keynote on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 10:30 a.m.-noon should accomplish all that and then some. Titled "Occupational Safety and Health Under the Obama Administration," the presentation will feature CDC consultant and former NIOSH chief Dr. John Howard, former OSHA head John Henshaw, the University of Washington School of Public Health's Dr. Michael Silverstein, and, at press time, OSHA's acting leader Jordan Barab. Depending on how quickly the confirmation process goes, the latter could be replaced at the podium by Dr. David Michaels, the George Washington University research professor and epidemiologist whom, in late July, President Obama selected to take Barab's place at OSHA's helm.

Recessive Tendencies

Because of the current recession's reach and wrath, it is not surprising that this year's Congress & Expo is squarely confronting the economical issues on everyone's minds. Monday, Oct. 26, will be devoted to the topic, beginning with the Opening Session at 8 a.m. The session's keynote address, "Successful Strategies Through Turbulence," will be delivered by Howard Putnam, who, as the former CEO of Southwest and Braniff Airlines and group VP of marketing for United Airlines, should be well acquainted with both the literal and figurative sides of the subject.

The Executive Forum taking place from 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. the same day will continue the fiscal discourse, examining "The Role of the EHS Executive in an Economic Downturn — How Do We Deal with the Current Conditions of the Economy Strategically?" Gathering to answer that question will be a panel of safety experts moderated by Walt Disney Co. VP and Chief Safety Officer Greg Hale. Included in the panel will be Mike Murray, president and CEO for FirstGroup America Inc., which, incidentally, is this year's NSC Green Cross for Safety honoree.

Many of this year's 120 technical sessions will, in smaller groups, enlarge upon the subject matter of Monday's auditorium-size presentations. Tuesday's "Selling Safety in Tough Times," "Cheap Solutions for Fleet Safety," and "A Fearless Look at Reality" are examples. The technical sessions, along with the scheduled technical tours and 24 daylong or multiple-day professional development seminars add up to a full and memorable 96th Congress & Expo, an event verily bursting at the seams with educational and networking opportunities, as usual. But that's just it. The agenda is filled with timely and relevant topics delivered by top-notch industry professionals, but these are qualities NSC regulars have come to expect. Where does the "Beyond Your Wildest Expectations" motif come in?

Pirates & the Care of Beings

Meet Bill Williams. He is the vice president for Health, Safety, and Environment at Maersk Inc., a subsidiary of the Copenhagen, Denmark-based A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m., Williams will deliver a talk titled "Freed from the Pirates' Hands — Prepared for Crisis." Many in attendance will no doubt recall the dramatic tale from April of this year when the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by pirates and its captain was held hostage for four days. But few will know the details of the captain's rescue, nor how Maersk's crisis management system trains, communicates, and equips its employees to face such dangers and return to safety. Even for NSC, which has been holding these conventions for close to 100 years now, Williams' Leadership Keynote will likely exceed expectations.

Next year's Congress & Expo convenes on the opposite coast in San Diego, Oct. 3-8. In 2011, it will be held in Philadelphia Oct. 30-Nov. 4; in 2012, it will again be in Orlando, Oct. 19-26, before returning home to Chicago for the event's 100th anniversary in 2013. For more information, visit www.congress.nsc.org.

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Ronnie Rittenberry is Managing Editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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