How do you battle companies that belittle on-the-job safety, yet hold out a helping hand to them if and when they are ready to change?
“We exist to make work safer for Laborers,” says Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, “but, in our minds, there is no contradiction between safety and the long-range interests of construction management. Indeed, at our Fund, labor and management work together to advance safety and health. However, if a company or employer has a short-sighted, ‘safety-be-damned’ attitude, then tough love is needed. Our PEST program is a bit of tough love for the construction industry.”
The PEST program – the name derives from the Photo Enforcement Safety Tip sheets that it distributes – is an entirely voluntary, private sector effort to augment the safety enforcement program of the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It encourages Laborers and employers to photograph and report to OSHA “imminent danger” safety violations that they spot on work sites in their region.
Though OSHA is responsible for enforcing basic safety regulations at the nation’s ten million plus construction sites, as few as 6,000 are actually inspected each year. Most take place at larger sites which tend to be union projects, the ones with the strongest safety programs. Thus, OSHA enforcement resources are squandered on the least likely violators.
“The issue is how to get OSHA focused on the worst sites – the small and non-union sites,” says Schneider, who has discussed the problem with OSHA enforcement personnel at both the state and national levels. “The PEST program provides a way for LIUNA and its signatory employers to help OSHA do its job better.”
Relying on data that show that falls, trench collapses and scaffolding incidents are the most serious safety concerns on construction sites, Schneider and his staff prepared a PEST sheet for each hazard. The laminated sheets feature, on one side, four photo examples of common standard violations for the identified hazard. On the other side, they supply a list of OSHA area enforcement office phone numbers. The sheets call on Laborers and signatory employers to report serious safety violations they see on the projects they pass on their way to and from their own worksites.
“OSHA has always accepted call-ins regarding serious safety violations,” says Schneider. “The agency tells us it will respond within 24 hours to a reported hazard that is life-threatening. We don’t want to ‘cry wolf’ with minor infractions,” he says, “but we can save lives by reporting imminent danger situations.”
The PEST sheets also make the point that Laborers who see safety violations on their own sites should tell their steward, contractor or safety officer to get it corrected. If immediate action is not taken, they should contact their business manager or agent to ensure results.
“Every employer sometimes feels the pressure of OSHA enforcement, and union employers are no exception,” says Schneider. “However, those that sign with the Laborers will find that they have help. Should any be cited for an OSHA violation, we will, at their request, visit their site to assess the problem and help the company take immediate, corrective action. But that’s the least that we offer. Every signatory contractor that participates with the Fund gains complete access to the full array of our safety services. Our aim is a union sector that has nothing to fear from OSHA, whose employees are consistently safe and confident at work and whose bottom lines are enhanced through outstanding, across-the-board, company safety performance.”