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Published: Fall, 2004; Vol 6, Num 4

 

 

OSH Staff Assist Signatory Contractors

Every construction site has special health and safety issues and concerns, but most of them are not unique. They've been encountered elsewhere, and solutions have been found. But how can any one signatory contractor know what's worked somewhere else and if someone else's solution could be implemented on his site?

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The professional staff of the LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division can answer these questions.

"One of our most important services is site visits," says OSH Division Director Scott Schneider. "When we visit a workplace, we're bringing the broader experience of the construction industry to bear. Unfortunately, only a handful of our participating contractors take advantage of this resource. We encourage them to give us a call."

A "participating" contractor is one who makes a contribution to the LHSFNA through its collective bargaining agreement with LIUNA. Site visit services are one of the benefits of participation.

”The Fund did a real good job for us. They got our hearing program off the ground...They performed a service we really needed.”

Diane Shinker, A&B Asphalt (Washington)

LIUNA regional health and safety funds also have site visit programs. "The impressive part of the safety business," says John Condis, Safety Officer for the Midwest Region Laborers' Health and Safety Fund, "is that everyone shares insight with everyone else. Any contractor can benefit from a safety audit."

In New Jersey, Ken Hoffner conducts site visits for the NJ Laborers' Health and Safety Fund. "This is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job," he says. "If there's a specific safety concern, I'll go out and provide an evaluation. Recently, for instance, a contractor had a disagreement with a sub on a trenching issue. I was asked to make a recommendation, and it was followed.

"Another way we get out for site visits is through the Construction Industry Safety Partnership between the Building Contractors Association of New Jersey (BCA) and OSHA," Hoffner continues. "Under their agreement, the companies submit a red, white or blue site safety status assessment, and we check to see that their assessment is accurate. We help ensure the validity of the partnership."

The New England Laborers' Health and Safety Fund has three full-time field representatives who visit construction sites on a regular basis, according to LIUNA Tri-Fund Field Coordinator John Anatone. "They are goodwill ambassadors. They conduct toolbox talks, provide health and safety information and distribute personal protective equipment samples provided by manufacturers. We visit a lot of sites and serve a lot of contractors every year."

That contact is an important aspect of site visits because it stimulates a constructive relationship between Laborers and LIUNA signatory employers. However, "there seems to be a disconnect going on," says Hoffner. "In companies with safety directors, the directors know us and frequently call us. But smaller companies without full-time safety staff don't use us. Then, as they grow and really could use our help, they don't know about our service. Through the BCA and a new initiative with heavy and highway contractors, we hope to get the word out."

Nationally - when asked by a contractor, either directly or through the LIUNA local business manager - the LHSFNA OHS Division will send a seasoned safety and health specialist to the contractor's worksites for a first-hand look at conditions. Together with company supervisory and safety personnel, the specialist will investigate any specific problems or review the general situation, conducting tests or sampling as necessary. He or she will provide immediate feedback and prepare a written report with recommended actions. All information gathered is confidential, shared only with the contractor and the local union.

"The Fund did a real good job for us," reports Diane Shinker of A&B Asphalt in western Washington state. A&B hoped to bid for government contracts but needed a hearing conservation program to be eligible. "They got our hearing program off the ground, doing sound tests on our equipment and hearing tests on all our employees. They performed a service we really needed."

The service has nothing to do with government regulation or OSHA inspections. "We have no intention of reporting problems to OSHA," says OSH Division Associate Director Walter Jones, who has visited scores of company worksites and investigated a host of actual or potential problems. "Our job is not to report problems to OSHA. Our only interest is improving worksite safety and health. However, if a company has been cited by OSHA, we can help it correct the problem."

Keith Kline, President of Kline Construction in West Virginia, had such a problem. "We needed a respiratory program to address an OSHA citation. The Laborers' training center put us in touch with the Fund, which responded right away. The men who came to our site were professionals - knowledgeable, well trained and fully equipped. They answered all our questions and got our respiratory program up and running."

While a LHSFNA site visit can address a problem cited by OSHA, it will not trigger an OSHA inspection, nor can it guarantee that a particular worksite will pass an OSHA inspection. However, "If our recommendations are implemented, the chances of failing an OSHA inspection will be reduced," says Jones. "More importantly, the recommendations will make safe work more routine, thus avoiding injuries and improving productivity."

Site visits lead to better safety programs, fewer injuries, less lost workdays and lower costs associated with injury and illness. Improved safety programs mean stronger morale, and they can improve a company's reputation and capacity to win contracts in bid situations. In many states, the establishment of safety programs can result in a direct discount on workers' compensation insurance, and reduced injury rates lead directly to lower experience modification rates and, thus, lower premiums in the long run. "The written documentation we provide is one more thing a contractor can give his insurer to show how hard he's working to control injury and loss. This can earn a lower premium," says Condis.

"Another result of a site visit," says Travis Parsons, the OSH Division's Senior Safety and Health Specialist, "could be specific safety training for company personnel. We have a program to train safety officers and supervisory staff so that they can develop and manage the on-going safety program. Of course, we can also provide specific safety training to Laborers on the site."

"I was very pleased with the eagerness of the Fund's staff," says Don Marks, President of FormWorks, a Ft. Lauderdale (FL) signatory contractor. FormWorks, along with a couple of other south Florida contractors, signed with LIUNA in early 2003. After site visits by LHSFNA staff, the new contractor association asked for safety officer training. "The Fund provided 30 hours of professional jobsite safety training for four of our safety officers who had previously taken the OSHA 30-hour course," says Marks. "I felt the jobsite training was very effective, providing a real-world application of classroom lessons to actual worksite situations."

Because site visits are voluntary activities, they must be requested by a contractor. And because good safety necessitates cooperation between labor and management, the LHSFNA notifies the LIUNA local when it plans a site visit. Ideally, the contractor and the local union will work together to ensure a thorough evaluation of safety concerns and the successful implementation of recommended procedures.

"A site visit is a good way to assess what you need to do to make a difference in your company's injury and lost workday rates," says Schneider. "It will get you started in the right direction, and it will improve your bottom line."

[Steve Clark]