One of the New England Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund’s (NELHSF) most important goals is to educate Laborers and charter school students about the dangers of substance abuse and other job-related health and safety concerns.
“Health and safety education is critical to the long-range success of LIUNA,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and the New England Regional Manager, “because the cost of injuries on the job as well as preventable illness off the job drives up the cost of insurance and disrupts production. The abuse of drugs and alcohol is a particular concern. We invest a lot of resources in wellness education. Every student, apprentice and Laborer must become more responsible in their personal health behaviors.”
To address Laborers, the Fund works hand-in-hand with the New England Laborers’ Training Academies in Hopkinton (MA) and Pomfret (CT) to educate apprentices and members enrolled in classes at the facilities.
Health information is provided by the NELHSF’s Medical Program Director, Dr. Noell Woolley. While the program addresses all the major dangers of construction work, it gives strong emphasis to the hazards associated with drug and alcohol use. In fact, the Medical Program’s primary aim is to educate LIUNA members and apprentices about the importance of a drug-free work place, the policies and procedures regarding work site drug and alcohol testing and the help resources available under the Member Assistance Program (MAP). The Fund’s goal is to reduce the use of illegal drugs and to discourage workers from using adulterants in an effort to mask drug use.
The drug awareness education provided gives an overview of the different classes of drugs abused, the specific signs of substance abuse, behavioral indicators, the short and long term physical/health indicators, the circumstances under which workers encounter drug testing and the nature of the testing. Discussion topics include the requirements of contractor policies, owner policies, collective bargaining agreements, federal requirements and state laws. Special attention is given to the three actual phases of drug testing – collection, testing and medical review. An open discussion is encouraged to evaluate the pros and cons of on-site testing – hair, saliva, and sweat testing as well as the more standard urine and breath testing. The program also covers the negative aspects of a “positive” drug test and the avenues of help available to those seeking medical assistance.
“For those entering apprenticeship training,” says Woolley, “substance use and abuse education provides the knowledge base needed to meet the standards set by the mandatory apprenticeship drug-testing program.”
The NELHSF also is responsible for the health education curriculum provided to the students at the Construction Career Academy, an innovative charter school established just two years ago by the New England Laborers and the Cranston Public Schools. The curriculum addresses health and safety issues relative to the construction industry as well as the students’ everyday life.
Classes focus on the emotional, physical, intellectual and social attitudes pertaining to family-life, nutrition, disease prevention and control, personal health, injury prevention and substance use and abuse. Students are introduced to the many health and safety aspects encountered daily on construction job sites while in-depth efforts are made to foster patterns of health related behavior that will have a positive effect on the students’ personal, family and community well being. Alcohol, tobacco and other substance abuse are a key focus of the program.
The NELHSF’s Field Health and Safety Specialists are a third part of the Fund’s educational equation. Three specialists visit work sites and LIUNA locals daily in an ongoing effort to foster increased awareness of health and safety issues on and off the job. These toolbox talks are one of the most valuable methods for educating members on the inherent dangers of construction as well as the precautions needed to avoid the hazards.
[John Anatone is the New England Region’s Tri-Fund Field Coordinator.]