Safety+ Conference Gets Safely Under Way

VPPPA's annual national conference apparently has dodged most of the Hurricane Harvey bullet. Now, thousands of attendees from VPP companies are in downtown New Orleans to learn, network, and share their expertise.

The 33rd annual national conference of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association, named Safety+, is under way in this Louisiana city that has seen heavy rain and some street flooding but appears to be largely unhurt by Harvey, formerly a hurricane and now a tropical storm. The conference began in earnest Aug. 29, a dozen years to the day that devastating Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and New Orleans officials were coping with flooding in some parts of their city only four weeks ago.

City offices and local schools were closed in New Orleans on Aug. 29, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked city residents to stay home and off the roads during the day because heavy rain was expected. The schools and city offices opened the following day, however. City officials had said they had nearly 40 boats and more than 20 high-water vehicles pre-staged along with other rescue supplies staged at fire and police stations and EMS headquarters, should the need for search and rescue arise, and the Police Department pre-staged 146 new barricades in flood-prone areas to prevent drivers from going into areas with high water.

Now, safety professionals from VPP companies across the country have arrived to take part in Safety+ -- to learn, network, and share their expertise at this national event, and the worst of the bad weather seems to be over.

Chris Lange, Industrial Scientific Corporation's director of marketing, Americas and EMEA, said the Aug. 29 evening reception to open the expo was well attended, and he's seen no street flooding in the city. "We've been walking down the streets. We haven't seen anything here as far as any water on the streets," although drainage repair work is being done now on many downtown streets, he said Aug. 30.

Harvey's impact didn't come up much in conversations he had during the reception, Lange said, but the storm had to be in everyone's thoughts. "We have a service center in Houston," he said. "Up to this point, we have checks on all our people. Our center is down, [but] all of our people are OK."

Larry Garner, chief marketing officer for MCR Safety, said the rainy weather had caused no problems for MCR's team at the show. MCR has no operations in Houston, he said Aug. 30, adding that his only disappointment thus far was that the flash flood watches and rain forecasts prevented him from riding his motorcycle down to New Orleans for the show.

"All the exhibitors were setting up [Aug. 28]. I would think some of my people who are coming in from Houston are unable to come because of the weather there," said Sarah Johnson, marketing event specialist for the 3M Personal Safety Division, who arrived in New Orleans about 1 p.m. on Aug. 28. She said she expects the storm to deter many people who would have attended the event. "I think a lot of the safety managers and safety professionals who would come to the show have other things they have to do right now," she said.

Some workshops took place Aug. 29, including sessions on avoiding employee complacency, ergonomics lessons from Cintas operations, getting and sustaining VPP Star accreditation, best-in-class contractor management, and the new ANSI/ASSSE Z244.1 lockout standard. The bulk of the conference's workshops are scheduled for Aug. 30 and Aug. 31.

Katrina inflicted major damage on New Orleans, of course. It is considered one of costliest disasters in U.S. history, with more than $100 billion in property damage attributed to it, but Harvey's flooding in Houston and surrounding cities and its wind damage in communities along the southeast Texas coast may yet rival that total.

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