The center's director, Lamar Reinsch, said in a Feb. 12 interview that he called off the summit for financial reasons. DuPont sponsored the first summit in 2001, but thereafter the Center for Business and Public Policy, a part of the McDonough School of Business, organized the annual event with the help of McDonough and a number of corporate contributors.
"We have solicited a large number of corporations to support the summit and the center," Reinsch explained. "Over time, our success has diminished and we reached the point where we cannot continue to operate at the same level given the revenues we have." He added that the summit is by far the most expensive activity in the center's budget, primarily because the event requires rental of a large space and attendance is free.
"I'm saddened, but not surprised, because this initiative hasn't gone forward the way we originally intended," commented Ron Hayes, founder of the FIGHT project, an organization devoted to helping the surviving family members of those killed at work. Hayes, along with many other FIGHT members, was intimately involved in organizing the first safety summit, and attended the second, but he skipped last year's event.
"As time went on, instead of trying to include people from all walks of life, it looked like it was just corporations," said Hayes.
Hayes appeared to agree with Reinsch that money was the root cause of the summit's demise, although Hayes differed with the center's approach toward the problem.
Hayes pointed to a dispute he had with the sponsors over whether to charge corporations up to $10,000 to sit on the summit's executive advisory committee. "I wanted people to serve for free so we'd have a free exchange of information from people who can't afford to pay," Hayes explained. "They said they have to pay expenses, but I argued people should pay their own way. If they want to come, they'll find a way to get there."
Hayes said many of the workers' families he is in touch with are very disappointed with the turn of events.
At the same time, Hayes questioned the value of recent summits. "You can have parties and it's fun, but in the end what does it accomplish?" he asked.
Other participants believed the Georgetown summits provided a unique opportunity for dialogue among different groups active in occupational safety.
"I think there is value in having people come together and talk," commented James Forsman, president of DuPont Safety Resources. "I think it's critical that there be a forum for the different stakeholders in safety, and this is one reason why we supported the summits." Forsman said he hoped there would be a forum resembling the Georgetown summit in the future.
Reinsch said that currently the center has no plans to hold a summit in a future year, but that it would continue its other activities, such as promoting safety education at business schools, sponsoring seminars and research into workplace safety. Despite the cancellation of the summit, promoting dialogue about safety among leaders in government, business, labor and academia remains a key part of the center's mission, according to Reinsch.
"We believe the first three summits made a difference in workplace safety," said Reinsch. "Our center grew out of the first summit and we come to this transition with some sadness, but we remember with great gratitude the things done for us and with us."