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Published: Winter, 2006; Vol 8, Num 4

 

Some LIUNA signatory employers do not take full advantage of the services offered by LIUNA and its Tri-Funds. In many cases, this is because they know little about what is available.

Yet, if they do not take advantage of these services, they do not fully appreciate what they get for their participation in the Funds. In the long run, that’s not good for Laborers, for contractors or for the relationships between the two.

“Last year, in Rhode Island and Nevada, [a Best Practice Safety Seminar] was used effectively to draw contractors to events where they learned more about some of the services of LIUNA and its Tri-Funds and found out how they could make better use of them.”           — Armand E. Sabitoni
                                  
 LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer

“One way to bridge the gap is a Best Practices Safety Seminar,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni, who also is the Labor Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA and LECET. “Last year, in Rhode Island and Nevada, this kind of program was used effectively to draw contractors to events where they learned more about some of the services of LIUNA and its Tri-Funds and found out how they could make better use of them.”

Each event, lasting for about four hours, focused on a particular range of site safety issues, so it attracted contractors with concerns in those areas. In Nevada, about 50 contractors came to learn about respiratory protection, worker visibility, site safety audits and OSHA enforcement. In Rhode Island, trench and roadway safety pulled in about 25 contractors. 

In Nevada, the event was organized at the initiative of the Southern Nevada LECET (the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust) while the New England event was convened by the Utility Contractors Association of Rhode Island, a state chapter of the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), with help from the Laborers and others.

“As the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Utility Contractors Association, I wanted to join forces with our state’s labor organizations to strengthen alliances that have been more adversarial in the past,” says Bob Lafleur. “Our members are utility contractors, so trenching and traffic control are major safety concerns. I talked with the Laborers, the Laborers’ training center, some other construction unions, the Associated General Contractors, Construction Industries of Rhode Island and OSHA, and we all decided to participate. Everyone kicked in to cover the cost.”

The event was staged at the Westin Hotel in Providence on April 12. Among the presenters were Jay Sabitoni, Training Director at the New England Laborers’ Training  Trust Fund’s Promfret, (CT) site, and Travis Parsons, Senior Safety and Health Specialist at the LHSFNA. NIOSH also made a presentation about the agency’s new trench safety training video, Trench Safety Awareness Training and others presented on drug and alcohol awareness, confined space and fall protection.

Training Director Sabitoni’s remarks reported on the extensive, multi-faceted, state-of-the-art training programs run by the New England Laborers Training Academy at the Pomfret and Hopkinton (MA) facilities. “It was a chance to showcase our services, to explain who we are and what we have to offer,” he says. He urged the utility contractors to use these programs to upgrade or reinforce the skills and safety training of their workers. 

Sabitoni also touted the services of the LHSFNA and introduced Parsons who explained the award-winning Roadway Safety Program that the Fund and its partners developed. 

“The symposium was very good,” says Karen Capaldi, a RI utility contractor and past president of the Utility Contractors Association. “I’m one contractor who is making arrangements to take advantage of the training that the Laborers offer.”

“We only had three weeks to organize the event,” says Lafleur. “We needed more time to get out the word. We definitely will be doing it again.” He says that in New England, where winter brings a lull to most construction activity, an early spring event is a good way to provide a “refresher” course on key safety topics just as the new construction season is about to open.

In Nevada, Southern Nevada LECET Director Joe Taylor used six weeks for his mobilization, reaching out to 600 contractors with ten sets of emails, three mailings and four successive faxes. Fifty-two attended, including four non-union contractors.

“The reviews were astounding,” says Taylor. “We got a 100 percent response, 100 percent positive. They were asking, ‘Why haven’t you done this before? When will you do it again?’”

According to Taylor, the vast majority of the contractors who attended were small to medium-sized operations. “Most of these outfits don’t have the resources to hire safety consultants,” he says, “yet they need more information about safety. They don’t know that the Health and Safety Fund exists or what it does, so they don’t realize that this information and other safety services are an important benefit of their collective bargaining agreement with LIUNA. At LECET, we want our signatory contractors to know about the Fund and rely on it for safety information and assessments. Then, at contract time, they’ll better appreciate LIUNA and its services.”

The October 4 event was co-sponsored by 3M’s Occupational Health & Environmental Safety Division, which gave presentations on some of its safety products. Parsons participated on behalf of the LHSFNA, explaining the site safety audit services – also known as walk-throughs – that the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division performs for requesting contractors and local unions. An OSHA representative also presented on the agency’s enforcement practices.

Taylor is planning his next safety seminar for January. Since the September event, he has been in touch with several LECET offices around the United States and Canada that are considering similar efforts.

“Contractors are under tremendous pressure to finish the project and get on to the next,” says Noel C. Borck, the LHSFNA’s Management Co-Chairman. “Under these conditions, it is difficult to keep abreast of the latest thinking and developments in safety. Yet, contractors know they must find a way. Best Practice Safety Seminars fill a real need, and that’s why they can be an excellent way to mobilize and engage contractors. We urge local unions, training centers and local LECETs to consider more of this kind of outreach in the future.”