Virtual NSC Congress kicks off with ode to safety pros
OH&S professionals are 'nation's secret weapon in the fight to save lives'
The 2021 Global NSC Safety Congress & Expo kicked off March 3 with one eye on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the other firmly on the future of work.
Virtual programming opened with a keynote address from U.S.-based National Safety Council (NSC) president and CEO Lorraine Martin and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) director John Howard.
The annual congress and exposition is the flagship event of the NSC, an American non-profit safety advocate with headquarters in Itasca, Ill. The event runs until Friday, March 5.
Martin opened the event with a nod to American essential workers and OH&S professionals, for their diligent work and increased attention to safety through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Safety pros are the nation’s secret weapon in the fight to save lives,” she said.
‘Year of the safety hero’
In light of the past year’s pandemic struggles, the NSC has dubbed this year the “Year of the safety hero,” Martin said.
“Safety professionals have been the unsung heroes,” she said. “It’s time to recognize the vital role that safety professionals play in every industry, every day.”
“(They’re) shouldering great responsibility as the entire world focuses on human safety, particularly at work.”
NSC data indicates organizations have spent US$5,208 per employee to increase protections through the pandemic, according to Martin.
Safety leaders are the human face of America’s trust in their employer, she said.
Encouraging employees to receive vaccinations when available will be critical when it comes to the full reopening of the economy, said Howard.
“We want to encourage employees to get vaccinated,” he said. “Clearly, this is extremely important for the country, for the future of the nation’s economy, for your business.”
COVID-19 is not expected to pass quickly, said Howard. Rather, he expects it to linger as an endemic disease where booster vaccines may be necessary as a result of variant strains.
“We’re not going to get rid of it; coronaviruses don’t disappear. It’s not just an emergency that will pass tomorrow,” he said. “We have to look at increased surveillance.”
Trending towards robots, surveillance
The pandemic has accelerated technological trends and automation advancements, said Howard.
“Work is shifting,” he said. “It’s becoming way more cognitive than it ever was before.”
“Robots have a lot of advantages over us humans — not only their cost, because you don’t have to pay benefits for them — they’re just a lot better or routine or repetitive tasks.”
Their ability to enter hazardous environments where a human cannot is also of high value, he said.
Going forward, the work of OH&S professionals will be much more data driven — similar to “data-decision scientists,” according to Howard.
He expects wearable trackers to become more commonplace in the workplace, despite privacy issues.
“Clearly, they are a new future that we may see more and more.”