Despite operating during difficult times when health care costs were rising, anti-regulatory rhetoric held sway and safety was squeezed by productivity pressures, the LHSFNA’s OSH Division has proven time and again that it can make a difference in the lives of Laborers and the success of LIUNA signatory contractors.
On-site safety visits from the OSH Division have always been a cost effective way for signatory employers to insure that a jobsite is safe. At the invitation of the signatory employer and the local union, OSH staff observes a work environment and makes recommendations.
It’s a win/win situation.
Hazards covered by OSHA standards are addressed without the expense of costly citations and blemished safety records. Division staff also makes recommendations for protecting against hazards, such as back injuries, that are not covered by OSHA standards. This expert guidance saves lives and reduces compensation claims.
Working Beyond OSHA
Sometimes, OSHA standards are not as protective as they should be (in part due to the byzantine nature of rulemaking which makes updating impossible). The agency has also been unable to write new standards that address emerging hazards such as nanomaterials. And, even when a hazard is well-recognized – as with prevalent hearing loss in construction – OSHA has sometimes been unable to develop an appropriate standard.
Unfazed by these obstacles, the OSH Division turned to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to fill gaps. Because OSHA often references ANSI standards that cover hazards it has not addressed, they can become de facto minimums in OSHA’s safety enforcement. A private, non-profit organization that writes voluntary consensus standards for all areas of production, ANSI has a separate A10 committee for construction.
Working with other labor and industry representatives on the A10 committee, OSH Division staff, representing LIUNA, led development of a task-based hearing loss prevention standard for construction, A10.46. Because the noise monitoring requirements of OSHA’s general industry standard do not work well in construction, the ANSI standard ties protection to specific tasks, relying less on measurements. Subsequently, the Division published its own Task-Based Hearing Loss Prevention Program. OSH staff also anchored development of ANSI’s A10.47 Work Zone Safety for Highway Construction and A10.40 Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction standards.
Bolstering Federal Authorities
In the long-prevailing, anti-regulatory climate that hampers standards development and enforcement, the LHSFNA has sought ways to otherwise boost occupational safety and health.
For instance, recognizing that OSHA can inspect only a small portion of the nation’s workplaces and needs other ways to promote compliance, the OSH Division helped instigate the OSHA/ NIOSH Fall Prevention Campaign. The Campaign raises awareness about the hazards of falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs and how they can be avoided with planning, the right equipment and proper training.
Sitting on OSHA’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) is another way that the OSH Division makes a difference. ACCSH includes industry, labor and professional representatives who provide feedback and recommendations from the field. Through ACCSH and other avenues, the Division offers guidance to OSHA and NIOSH on issues ranging from heat stress to prevention-through-design to the safety needs of female construction workers.
Highway work zones are among the most dangerous construction sites. Every year, hazard exposures and accidents injure or sicken more than 7,500 highway workers and kill more than 80. In response, the LHSFNA, in partnership with the LIUNA Training and Education Fund (LTEF) and other industry partners used OSHA grants and a Federal Highway Administration grant to develop the comprehensive, yet highly accessible Roadway Safety Program to help signatory contractors make work zones safer. The DVD-based, safety training program offers guidance for common work zone situations and includes training for supervisors on proper work zone set-up. Available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, the program is available for free download.
Secure bottom lines are essential to sustaining workplace safety and health because no employer can invest in OSH programs if it is seriously losing money. The OSH Division assists signatory contractors by developing Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2s) that can be tailored for specific types of work, such as utility maintenance. I2P2s help keep workers safe and save contractors money on compensation claims.
A supporter of best value contracting (BVC) – the basis on which most federal construction project contracts are awarded – the OSH Division helps signatory contractors respond to performance-related questions that showcase the benefits of hiring union workers who are better trained, produce a better product and have lower injury rates. The Division also contributed its BVC expertise to Health and Safety Requirements in Construction Contract Documents, the recently published guidebook of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
In addition, Fund programs devoted to lucrative niche markets such as hospital renovation give signatory contractors yet another leg up on the competition. Infection Control during Hospital Renovation, a program developed by the OSH staff in conjunction with LTEF and the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, presents an overview of the health risks, best methods for protecting patients and key elements of renovation training.
The bottom line, it turns out, is that healthy, safe Laborers are healthy for every company’s bottom line. Through innovative and creative approaches, knowledge of the industry and sound, practical relationships with professional peers and government regulators, the Fund has always been a positive force for change. It will continue to innovate and push the envelope for the next 25 years and beyond.