Unions tout the benefits of safety training for members

Job-site safety is everyone's business: Mechanical contractors bring safe practices to the job.

By Stephen Lamb, Executive Vice President of the MCA of Chicago

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Who is responsible for safety on the job site — individuals, the government, safety director, workers or all of the above? Everyone on a job site is responsible for safety. This simple, but often incorrectly answered, question is from a mini-quiz we’ve developed and distributed with weekly paychecks to remind members of the United Assn. (UA) workforce of top safety concerns.

That particular safety message is especially important. Effective workplace safety can be achieved only when everyone involved takes responsibility. Once they do, it’s easier for everyone to work together as a team and watch out for each other. That’s why the association, our member contractors and our union workforce, UA Local Union 597, stand together in our dedication to workplace safety training.

The most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007 amounted to more than $52 billion in workers’ compensation costs, according to the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any private-sector industry during 2008, despite the fact that the number of construction fatalities that year declined 20% from the previous year — from 1,204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases.

“Safety must be a top priority on every job site,” says Dan Bulley, senior vice president of MCA of Chicago and head of its Safety Committee. “We don’t take chances with our workforce. Union safety training, in combination with the educational programs our association offers, provides our contractors and workers with the knowledge needed to work in optimal safety conditions.”

The most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007 amounted to more than $52 billion in workers’ compensation costs, according to the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

Research shows that union training in the construction industry provides more effective results than non-union programs. According to the study, “Building Trades Apprentice Training in Massachusetts: An Analysis of Union and Non-Union Programs, 1997-2007,” released by the Labor Resource Center of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, union apprenticeship programs graduate a higher percentage of journey-level workers.

The 10-year study compared union and non-union training programs in Massachusetts and found that union programs enroll the majority of building trade apprentices. The study also revealed that union programs are both larger and longer-lasting than non-union programs and are more successful at recruiting minorities and women.

Member contractor safety initiatives

Teamwork is an essential part of workplace safety.

– Stephen Lamb, Executive Vice President of the MCA of Chicago

Many member contractors of MCA of Chicago have initiated safety programs. Indiana-based BMW Constructors is a participant in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). The VPP promotes optimal workplace safety and health. In this program, management, labor and OSHA establish a cooperative relationship to implement a comprehensive safety and health management system.

BMW Constructors dedicates itself to zero-injury performance. “Each of our workers is responsible for helping to eliminate the barriers that prevent us from achieving a zero-incident culture,” says Fred Bowers, director of environmental, health and safety with BMW. “All accidents are preventable. In the long run, safety takes priority over production, schedule and cost because you can’t buy back a worker’s lost life.”

Real Growth Trends Last Ten Years

AMS Mechanical Systems of Burr Ridge, Illinois, also has compiled its own zero-accident program. “The plan has really cut down on serious injuries,” says Mark Rook, safety director at AMS. “Our company’s safety philosophy is this: We have a moral obligation that workers leave each day the same or better than when they arrived that day. If they’re going to work for us, we’re going to protect them.”

AMS workers receive classroom training, job-site training and online classes on the basics, explains Rook. “Sitting a guy in front of a computer doesn’t compare to hands-on work with supervision,” he says. “We invest time and effort in our apprentices so they understand what they need and how to use it. First-year apprentices wear a green helmet so other workers will keep an eye out for them. It has worked out well for us — apprentice injuries don’t happen any more.”

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