As we enter a new decade, it’s natural to want to look back over the last 10 years at all the hard work that’s been put in and tally up our accomplishments. Much like in our daily lives, progress in the field of worker safety and health is almost always measured in both victories and setbacks. The mission can sometimes feel like “two steps forward, one step back.” Yet despite any bumps along the way, here at the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), we have continued to make steady gains as we serve the District Councils, Local Unions, health and welfare funds, members and signatory contractors of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
Heading into a new decade is not only a time to look back, but also a time to look forward. Here at the Fund, it’s a time to assess what the future of work might entail for LIUNA members, including the potential occupational safety and health risks and impacts on health care and well-being that come with them. Rapid improvements in technology may lead to changes at a faster rate than the construction industry is used to. Autonomous vehicles, a major focus of the auto industry for consumer use, are already seeing some deployment in construction. Demand for solar installers and wind turbine maintenance technicians is expected to double over the next several years and create unprecedented demand for workers skilled in those jobs. As the landscape of work continues to evolve, Fund staff will help ensure that amid changes like these, a rush to augment jobs with technology does not introduce unintended hazards that jeopardize workers’ safety and health.
While some hazards can be studied ahead of time, there are others that we simply aren’t able to foresee. The novel coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China and has quickly made its way to the U.S., is one such example. More details about the virus, its severity and recommended measures to limit its spread are needed before the LHSFNA can assess its potential impact on LIUNA members and their families. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Fund staff provided guidance to LIUNA environmental health services workers employed at both the National Institutes of Health and Dulles International Airport. The LHSFNA will monitor developments about the novel coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other reliable sources as they happen to ensure that LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, signatory contractors and members have the latest information available.
As we look ahead to the next 10 years of worker safety and health, a large part of improving the lives of workers both on and off the job may once again hinge on new and changing laws at the federal and state level. The pace of regulations at federal OSHA continues to be slow, but we are seeing more progress at the state and local level. These changes often follow incidents that attract national media attention for their impact on both workers and the public. For example, after the April 2019 collapse of a tower crane in Seattle left four people dead, Washington state legislators proposed a bill that would require more oversight of construction companies operating tower cranes. It’s unfortunate that it often takes a tragic loss of life to bring about measures that better protect the lives of workers and hold contractors that don’t follow safety regulations accountable. We cannot afford to wait for the next incident to bring safer working conditions to LIUNA members and all workers across the U.S. and Canada. As always, the time to act is now.