For nearly fifteen years, a small group of construction safety and health experts from around the world have met each year to discuss their current work. Their focus is not on the latest research on construction safety, but rather on practical ways to better prevent construction accidents and health problems.

The group began in 1989 with a small meeting in Miami involving representatives from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. The U.S. contingent included representatives from the Center to Protect Workers’ Rights and the LHSFNA. The German and Dutch contingents represented joint labor-management construction industry associations in their respective countries. All three contingents were using a cooperative, labor-management approach to address construction safety and health problems. The German and Dutch contingents had been very successful in reducing construction fatalities and injuries, and the U.S. participants, facing much higher rates, hoped to be apply lessons learned from their European colleagues.

Gradually the group expanded to include representatives from other countries including Canada, Japan, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, France and Portugal. Some of the participants represent governmental safety and health agencies while others represent private insurance or labor-management organizations.

This year the group met in Lisbon, Portugal and included for the first time representatives from Latin America (Chile and Brazil). The one-day meeting was held in conjunction with a larger conference on construction safety and health research. The focus for this year’s meeting was on successful efforts to reduce construction fatalities and injuries.

Belgium reported on a national television and media advertising campaign designed to increase awareness of construction site hazards; construction fatalities and serious injuries in Belgium dropped over 40 percent after this effort. Ireland reported on success with requirements for mandatory safety training for all construction workers; this requirement for safety training, similar to our 10 hour OSHA course, reduced construction fatalities and injuries in Ireland. England reported on efforts to reach out to very small construction employers with meetings and advertising; a construction worker paralyzed in a jobsite accident is the program’s spokesperson. Sweden, Germany and other European countries have instituted a coordinated effort focused on fall prevention. Holland has had good success with negotiated agreements between unions, construction companies, owners, suppliers and equipment manufacturers to reduce the weight of concrete block and the size of sheet rock panels. Representatives from the United States reported on construction safety training initiatives.

“The success of this roundtable has been the willingness of people from these different countries to openly discuss their successes and failures in trying to reduce construction safety and health problems,” said Dr. Jim Melius, LHSFNA Research Director. “We all have the same problems – construction techniques are very similar in all of these countries. However, we can learn a lot from each other about different ways to institute better safety practices throughout the industry.”

According to Melius, “Asphalt paving provides a good example of the value of these meetings. While the LHSFNA was working with the American paving industry to address health concerns, I learned that the Germans had a similar effort underway. I was able to contact our colleagues in Germany and arrange a meeting between the German and U.S. paving contractors to help coordinate our efforts. The Germans also briefed us on their efforts to develop lower temperature asphalt paving products that sharply reduce asphalt fume exposure.”

[Steve Clark]