“Mandating safety training for all construction workers and supervisors,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “is one of the best ways to cut the industry’s injuries and fatalities. Better OSHA standards and enforcement are vital, but providing the construction workforce with safety training is also important.”

Among the evidence cited by the General President is the dramatic impact (see Supervisor Safety Training Sharply Cuts Lost-Time Injuries) that supervisor training has had on lost-time injury rates in Ontario. 

More anecdotal proof comes from the experience of Laborers and LIUNA signatory employers in New Jersey. There, two years ago through the statewide building agreement, OSHA 30-Hour safety training was mandated for all Laborers, effective on January 1 of this year.

“At first, we were overwhelmed,” admits Don Howard, Training Director of the New Jersey Building Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Fund. “We had 18 months to train almost 4,000 members, many of whom, we knew, had no formal safety training but decades of on-the-job experience. We knew some of them had doubts about the value of the new requirement, but they had to do it and we resolved to make it the best safety training we could provide.”

They did it. Today, all building Laborers in the state have OSHA 30-Hour cards, and a new safety culture is spreading across the state. “With this training, our members are becoming on-the-job safety specialists, just as the union and the contractors’ associations hoped,” says Howard. Moreover, “our members are signing up for other courses at the training center in record numbers. This training requirement was an outstanding idea.”

Ken Hoffner, Assistant Director of the New Jersey Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund, agrees. “Since the members went through the training, I’ve gotten more calls than ever for site visits to help resolve safety issues identified on the job.”

Picking up on this success, mandated OSHA 10-Hour training was added to the recently negotiated statewide heavy and highway agreement in New Jersey. That training will be organized by the Local 172 and 472 Safety, Education and Training Trust Funds.

These collective bargaining agreements in New Jersey boost a national trend of state and local legislation that requires a more broadly trained construction workforce. The trend, sparked by LIUNA in Rhode Island in 2002, initially focused on OSHA 10-Hour training for workers on all state-financed construction projects.  Similar laws were passed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York. Most recently, New York City voted to require OSHA 10-Hour training on all construction projects, public or private. Earlier this summer, after a series of fatalities on the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada adopted the broadest legislation to date, requiring worker and supervisor training on all construction projects, public or private, throughout the state. 

Speaking of the legislative trend in New England, LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer, New England Regional Manager and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni says, “The power of these kinds of laws is the way they enable workers to assert themselves. With training, our members are confident that they really understand the issues. They know if their safety is compromised, and they have a constructive basis on which to engage their supervisors and solve safety problems. After the success of these state initiatives, Congress should consider similar, national legislation.”

Promoting this requirement through its participation in OSHA’s Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health, the LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division hopes to encourage the OSHA Directorate of Construction Safety to amend the agency’s safety training regulation (1926.21). Currently, it directs employers to “instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions,” but it does not designate any specific training. The OSHA 10-Hour should be the basic standard.

“Mandated safety training is certainly the way to go,” says O’Sullivan. “It just does not make sense to allow construction work without basic safety training. It’s time for Congress and OSHA to unleash the potential of workers and supervisors to make construction safer and more productive for workers and contractors alike.”

[Steve Clark]