Setting the Example: ASSP’s Road to Safety 2021

Editor Sydny Shepard sits down with ASSP to talk about the long journey to planning for ASSP Safety 2021.

Traditionally, each year the American Society of Safety Professionals invites safety and health professionals from across the country to their Professional Development Conference and Exposition. The interactive and collaborative conference offers attendees the ability to earn Continuing Education Units, network with other professionals and have access to products and services.

When COVID-19 became a very real threat to Americans in March of 2020, ASSP had to make a very important decision. Do you continue to offer this in-person show to members and safety professionals?

The answer was then, and continues to be, “Yes.”

“Education is one of our four pillars of the society,” said Deb Roy, the immediate past president of ASSP and President of SafeTech Consultants Inc. “It’s a major part of our mission and strategy to provide education to our membership, so not doing it really wasn’t a choice.”

The ASSP Board of Directors and staff quickly and efficiently made the switch from an in-person show to a full virtual program that boiled the conference down to its simplest form: education. The virtual event was wildly successful, with over 2,300 safety professionals choosing to attend digitally.

Following the 2020 virtual event, ASSP shifted their sights to their next big project: Safety 2021. From the beginning, the staff knew that they’d want to provide a hybrid event to attendees, the biggest question would then be how to do it in the safest way possible. It started with finding a venue that would be flexible and understanding with the Society.

“We had decided up front that September was the right date,” Roy said. “Part of that was looking at the other safety related conferences and when they were going to be happening, and of course, everything was fluid at that time. It came down to these were the best dates, and we could be by ourselves in the conference center, meaning we were the only show happening at that time.”

When ASSP talked with the Austin Convention Center, they were given the ability to apply guidelines that reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission the most. These guidelines included having attendees wear face coverings and provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test but it also meant improving ventilation in the convention center and opening up registration for a full day before the show started to cut down on crowds and lines.

“From a safety standpoint, we weren’t gonna just dump a bunch of people in a building and call it good,” said Lauren Bauerschmidt, Manager of Standards Development at ASSP. “We know, as safety professionals, what the standards and guidelines should be. We knew from early on what we wanted the show to look like, so we had a lot of discussion about it within our staff and with our Board of Directors. It was ultimately very easy to land on the version of the show attendees saw this week.”

When it came down to it, ASSP realized they were really providing two different shows for the attendees. Virtually, attendees were seeing recorded sessions and chatting live with speakers while also streaming general and plenary sessions that were happening at the show. In Austin, attendees buzzed around the expo floor, bee lined in and out of sessions and—finally—networked with colleagues in person.

“It didn’t take us long after that virtual experience in 2020 to realize we have two audiences here,” Roy said. “First, the audience that is online—those that generally are not able to come to the in-person show but can afford the online version—and then those that are able to come to travel.”

The hybrid conference option appears to have proven successful for the Society, as the early numbers show that approximately 2,400 safety professionals picked up their show badges in Austin and another 2,500 attendees logged in from their computers to access the virtual side of the show. For now, the hybrid model looks to be something that might stick around.

“We will most likely move forward with a hybrid model because of the benefits that it brings our attendees,” Bauerschmidt said. “There are so many people who have been members of ASSP for 15 years or more but for one reason, or another, they haven’t been able to come to our in-person conference. The virtual option gives these professionals the ability to log in from anywhere and get all this education, and access to people like Deb Roy through the session chat.”

For now, though, ASSP is going to celebrate their accomplishments when it comes to Safety 2021.

“I’m proud of all of the staff and the board,” Bauerschmidt said. “We’re really running two shows, a full group of people running everything virtually in Illinois and a group here [in Austin]. We are all helping... it’s been awesome from that perspective, so I think that’s been great.”

To learn more about ASSP’s Professional Development Conference and Exposition, please visit safety.assp.org.

For OH&S’ live coverage of the show, visit ohsonline.com/CSU.

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