When people at a trade show find out you’re a journalist, they tend to ask, “What’s the theme of the show?” While that’s a fair question, often times there isn’t an easy answer. There are so many industrial trade shows these days—with both regional and national locations, it seems as though there is one every month or two. Often times, all my booth visits seem to consist of sales staff telling me that they’re just showing off the same old products. Maybe, if I’m lucky, they launched a new product 6 or 8 months ago, and they have it displayed there with the same booth they drag out to every show.
So, it’s refreshing to attend a show where a single topic comes up over and over. And the thing that kept jumping out at me at last week’s massive PackExpo Las Vegas was safety.
Over the past decade or so, safety has big a bigger issue in Europe than in the United States. I had a great, long talk with Ronald Hudson, an applications engineer at Festo Corp. in Livermore, Calif. Ron explained that safety in Europe is the responsibility of the machine builder, while here it’s the responsibility of the user.
“Safety is driven by legislation in Europe, and by litigation in the U.S.,” Hudson said.
That was a fascinating way to put it, and it makes sense. In the EU, dozens of countries need to have equal standards, while the American attitude sometimes, is, sadly, “What can we get away with?” In Europe, he said, safety issues are addressed based on:
1. The potential to eliminate the danger,
2. The severity of a possible accident, and
3. The chance of an accident.
Hudson thinks safety will evolve rapidly here in the U.S., but pushed along by multinational companies like Nestle, who will demand the same safety standards for equipment in their plants worldwide. It doesn’t matter to them whether the plant is in Topeka or Tallinn. They want their people to be safe and their plants to have a minimum of downtime. Properly designing safety into the industrial environment can accomplish both.