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A Century of Safety Captured in New ASSE Film

Fri January 14, 2011 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

As many people begin their work day — some putting on their fall protection gear, saddling up to the computer and putting the monitor at eye level, clicking on that safety belt, and taking a drink of purified water — most will be oblivious to their workplace safety systems put in place to prevent injuries and illness. Many may not be aware of the many decades of work that went into developing and improving safety systems to prevent on-the-job injuries and helping businesses. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) released its film titled “American Society of Safety Engineers — A Century of Safety” that tells the story of work safety and tragedy through the decades and why we are safer today.

This film not only tells the story of how and why we are safer at work today, but the genesis of safety in the workplace and the occupational safety, health and environmental profession. It also is part of ASSE’s 100th anniversary. ASSE was founded in 1911 in New York City and now has more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members located worldwide committed to protecting people, property and the environment.

Narrated by Chicago-based actor Alan Wilder, the film walks the audience through tragedies and triumphs in the history of work safety. It spans several years and topics, from the horrific March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City that took the lives of 146 people unable to escape the fire due to locked doors and collapsed fire escapes — some jumping to their deaths from the high floors — to the successful building of large projects without worker injuries or fatalities. ASSE was founded just months after the tragic Triangle fire.

ASSE produced the documentary as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the importance of workplace safety and how it affects everyone in every facet of people’s work and daily lives. ASSE members and non-members are featured throughout the film discussing the past and the future of work safety whether in the office, the manufacturing plant, on the road, in the air, in the farm fields and more.

“It truly is a feel good profession. It’s hard work. It can be challenging. I think people can get discouraged, but at the end of the day you are helping people return home to their families safely, you are helping them earn a living and you are helping them to do it safely. And I don’t think it gets any better than that,” Sandy Smith, of Cleveland, Ohio, ASSE member and magazine editor discussing the importance of the occupational safety and health profession in the film.

ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, noted in the film, “One area that I’ve seen the profession change over the years is that it is beginning to focus on the business of safety. Whereas also demonstrating to the employer that safety is just not compliance or regulatory driven; that you as a profession or professional have to demonstrate the financial benefits to an organization.”

“I don’t know if its genetics because I’m a third generation safety engineer, but I know I’ve made a difference in the past and I know I can make a difference in the future and that’s a big driving factor,” Lawrence J. H. Schulze, past ASSE Gulf Coast chapter president, associate professor Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Houston, said in the film. “It’s a great joy when you know you can make a difference in somebody’s life.”

The documentary not only looks back on some of the tragedies and successes involving work safety and the development of the occupational safety, health and environmental profession, safety products, education, services and more, it also looks to the challenges of the future.

While millions of people go to work and leave work injury and illness free every day in the United States, 12 people a day are dying from on-the-job injuries. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths cost the United States $170 billion annually. This does not even take into account the untold grief family and friends go through. However, for every dollar invested in a safety program, four to six dollars are saved because injuries and illnesses decline or are prevented, medical and workers compensation costs decrease, along with reduced absenteeism, lower turnover and reduction in delayed production time and increased employee morale.

“This is not only our anniversary year, but the kickoff, the launch pad to the next 100 years,” ASSE President-Elect Terrie Norris, of Long Beach, Calif., said. “We have much more to do.”

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