OSHA began awarding training grants in 1978 and renamed the program in 1997 to honor the late Susan Harwood, who was a director at the Office of Risk Assessment in OSHA’s Health Standards Directorate. During her tenure, Harwood helped develop standards to protect workers exposed to bloodborne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and lead in construction. Since 1978, approximately $205 million has been awarded to about 1,000 different non-profit organizations to provide training on a variety of safety and health topics.
The President’s recent budget plan calls for steep cuts across many federal agencies. If enacted, one part of this proposal would have a direct impact on the health and safety of LIUNA members. All LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, Training Centers and signatory contractors should be aware of the proposal to eliminate funding for the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program.
Susan Harwood grants fund safety and health training to help workers recognize, avoid and prevent safety and health hazards on the job. Harwood grants are specifically designed for workers in high-hazard industries like construction as well as workers who might not normally receive training, such as low-literacy workers or employees of small businesses. These grants have helped provide outreach and education to approximately 1.8 million workers. This includes training for thousands of LIUNA members through grants provided to the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) and the LIUNA Training and Education Fund (LIUNA Training).
It’s common sense that workers who receive safety training are more productive, work safer and suffer fewer injuries on the job and plenty of data backs this up. A study of construction laborers in Washington State found that workers who received safety training filed 12 percent fewer workers’ compensation claims. Workers in the 16-24 age bracket saw an even greater benefit, with a 42 percent reduction in workers’ compensation claims for those who received safety training.
Now these valuable grants are under attack, even though they only total about $10 million annually – that’s less than two percent of OSHA’s already slim yearly budget. The proposed budget labels the Harwood grants “unproven” despite the program’s many publicized success stories.
One of the grant’s biggest success stories involves LIUNA making highway work zones safer for construction workers. Approximately 100 construction workers in the U.S. are killed each year in highway work zone incidents and many more are injured. About 60 percent of these incidents occur when workers are struck by vehicles or mobile equipment within or moving through work zones. Harwood grants made available to the LHSFNA and LIUNA Training have helped bring highway work zone training to more than 7,300 LIUNA members. This critical training taught young, minority and entry-level employees how to recognize the most common hazards encountered by flaggers.
As the nation’s highways continue to age, highway work zones will become an even more common sight than they are today. Without proper training and work zone setup, the potential for accidents and injuries to both workers and the traveling public will only rise.
The Harwood grants have also resulted in the creation of about 200 publically available training programs on important topics including fall protection, trench safety and preventing sprains and strains.
No matter how it’s measured, safety training is a good investment for LIUNA members and signatory contractors. Cutting grant funding may be seen as “saving” money in the short term, but the long-term result will be more serious injuries and fatalities to workers and increased costs for employers.