Georgetown Summit: Making the Business Case for Safety

It remains to be seen whether it is coming of age or losing momentum, but the Third Annual Workplace Safety Summit, held April 10-11 in Washington, DC, appears to be charting a somewhat different course from its predecessors.

Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business has always hosted the event, but this year the school took the lead in organizing the summit as well. The result was a conference that sought pragmatic proposals to reach business leaders and mass media with the message of safety.

Making the business case for safety appeared to be a major theme of the 2003 summit. In previous years organizers sought to "put a human face" on workplace safety and the event was marked by the fiery speeches of the AFL-CIO's Peg Seminario and victims' advocate Ron Hayes.

The keynote speaker this year was the president and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC), Alan McMillan, who addressed attendees about the safety lessons to be learned from "CEOs who get it."

McDonough and NSC are collaborating on producing a course that will teach safety professionals to convert the message of safety into the financial language spoken by CEOs. The course is slated to be unveiled at the NSC's Congress in Chicago later this year.

Another telling first for the summit: the National Association of Manufacturers sent a representative, Chris Tampio, director of employment policy, who addressed attendees from the podium about his organization's devotion to the cause of safety.

The summit began with the signing of an alliance between OSHA and McDonough's Center for Business and Public Policy (CBPP). The alliance is intended to promote the linkages between workplace health and safety and the economic performance of companies.

To be sure, the safety summit was not only about reaching out to business leaders. This year, as in past years, the Laborers' Health & Safety Fund of North America helped sponsor the event, along with DuPont, the American Trucking Association, Behavioral Science Technology, Delta Airlines, and the American Red Cross.

"We don't have many tri-partite forums like this, where business, labor, government and others can meet," commented Jackie Nowell, director of occupational safety at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. "I think it's a worthwhile effort."

Nevertheless, while representatives from labor groups participated in working groups, this time around none addressed the entirety of attendees.

"Our major focus this year was to come up with better final ideas that will lead to concrete actions," asserted Lamar Reinsch, director of CBPP, in an interview near the end of the summit. As a result, this year much time was devoted to work groups that met around specific topics. At the close of the summit, the various groups reported their ideas back to the larger group of attendees.

"I'm delighted we're coming out of this with what seems like a pretty high level of agreement around two or three pretty big ideas," asserted Reinsch.

What seemed to connect these ideas, he concluded, was attracting the attention of mass media to the message of safety.

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