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Regardless of industry, title, years of experience, and differing roles and responsibilities within their organizations, safety professionals are united in their focus on ensuring that their organizations’ people go home safe. To accomplish this, safety professionals are always looking for ways, resources and tools that they can leverage to help make that happen. With more than 190 in-person and online education sessions and an expo that featured over 450 exhibitors of cutting-edge products, services, and technology, “Safety 2022” — the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) annual conference held this year in Chicago from June 27th - 29th — provided attendees with learning and networking opportunities that they can use to promote workplace safety cultures. 

Relationships and Communication

The importance of relationships and communication was a major theme of sessions at this year’s conference. For example, in “Leadership and Influence: Attributes of the Top Performing OSH Professionals,” session leader Jason Kunz, Global HSE at 3M, emphasized the importance of empathy and personal connection as practices that set the most successful — or “future-ready” — organizations apart from others.  .

Based on over 160 interviews with safety leaders, Kunz found that when engaged effectively, workers can be problem solvers who identify systems that have failed and can help design systems that can contribute to preventing human error. Getting can be heavily influenced by making safety relatable and by asking open-ended questions such as, “If you could change one thing, what would it be and why?” in order to identify potential risks and hazards.

Leadership

Of course, there is also a time and a place for a more traditional, top-down approach to safety. As highlighted in the panel discussion “Influential Safety Leadership: Research to Practice,” the best example of this can be seen in successful responses to the COVID pandemic. When COVID initially swept through the US, there was a need for transactional leadership — or, safety leaders telling the rest of the organization what to do. 

In his session, Kunz asked the following question: “The pandemic has given safety a seat at the table, but what are we doing to maintain the seat?” That is, how will EHS professionals continue to take a strong leadership role in maintaining the safety of workers? Where safety professionals find themselves now is different from their situation at the start of the pandemic, which may call for a more empathetic or collaborative leadership approach, meaning that EHS professionals must adapt their leadership style to the situation.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Another topic at the forefront during this year’s conference was diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Given that data from the ASSP indicates that while a large proportion of safety professionals are male and over 55 with over 20 years of experience, the changing demographics of the US and its workforce means that EHS professionals must adapt to meet new challenges,  This was covered in detail during the plenary session titled  For example, in one of the conference’s plenary sessions, “How Equity Drives Safety Forward: Exploring the “E” in DEI,”  panelists spoke to the need to adapt communication with workers based on their demographics — be it a disability or cultural difference. As an illustration of why it is important to have an inclusive leadership style, the panelists discussed data showing that businesses and industries that employ higher proportions of people of color (e.g. grocery stores, nursing homes, construction, transportation, and warehousing, to name just a few) have higher injury rates. If workers don’t feel empowered and comfortable speaking up, transparency and reporting are reduced and, as a result, risks and hazards cannot be proactively identified.

The topics of communication and leadership addressed at this year’s ASSP conference are covered — along with other components that factor into strong safety cultures — in our newest whitepaper, The Makings of the EHS Leader of Tomorrow.  They will be discussed further in our upcoming webinar, Keys to Success: How EHS Leaders Can Be More Effective in Getting Workers Home Safe.

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