Hersman Opens 2014 Congress & Expo

In her first keynote address, the council's new president and CEO cited the aviation industry as an example of all-out safety dedication.

SAN DIEGO --The most compelling part of Deborah A.P. Hersman's first speech at an annual conference of the National Safety Council, an organization the former NSTB chair now leads as president and CEO, came when she explained what triggered her passion for safety. The catalyst was a 1996 train collision outside Washington, D.C., when she was working on Capitol Hill, and several passengers on one of the trains died when the could not escape from burning cars -- they couldn't find the exits, and responders couldn't see which windows were exits because they weren't marked on the outside, Hersman explained Sept. 15 during tthe opening session of the 2014 National Safety Council Congress & Expo. Hersman said she heard a congressional briefing about that incident and dedicated herself to learning more and finding out how to prevent such tragedies.

Eventually, exits were clearly marked both inside and outside. "There's no way to know how many lives have been saved, how many injuries have been prevented, she said.

Hersman also cited the U.S. aviation industry -- an industry she knows very well -- and how it succeeded in reducing fatal accidents by 83 percent within a decade after being challenged in the 1990s by a series of fatal crashes.

She mentioned several current safety challenges: contract and temporary workers' safety, occupational illnesses, workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals, and the sheer number of occupational fatalities in the United States alone. "We should be outraged that 4,000 of our colleagues are dying every year from causes that are preventable," Hersman said.

She urged her overflow audience at this 102nd annual NSC Congress & Expo to "seize the day," as actor Robin Williams memorably told his students in the movie "Dead Poets Society."

"After his [Williams'] death, the outpouring of emotion showed how just one person can inspire others," she said. "Seize the day -- because every minute counts, every life counts, and every single one of you counts. You can improve the human condition."

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