Baffled by opposition to finding and fixing workplace safety hazards

The construction trade association Associated Building Contractors (ABC) was one of 150 business groups that received a letter from Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) in December, asking for their ideas about federal regulations “that have negatively impacted job growth.” ABC responded with a list heavy on opposition to labor protections, such as requirements for prevailing wage and labor-management agreements on federal construction projects.
The trade association’s hit list also includes three OSHA initiatives, one of which was withdrawn just yesterday by the agency.

I’m particularly baffled by ABC’s opposition to the agency’s interest in proposing an injury and illness prevention rule. Workers employed in construction jobs, with their skills, talent and experience, have to be the industry’s single greatest asset. You’d think that the industry would embrace the idea. It has the potential to level the playing field for responsible employers who already find and fix hazards, and those who cut corners on safety.

ABC tells Congressman Issa, OSHA is going to require all employers, regardless of size, to ‘find and fix’ workplace hazards,” as if that is some radical idea. Are employers, especially in the construction industry, alarmed at the notion that they are supposed to identify hazards that can cause serious harm or death and correct them? Sounds like common sense to me. ABC says it’s part of the Obama Administration’s

“goal of increased federal control of the private workplaces.”

We’d still have children working in factories, 300 workers dying a year in coal mines, etc. without federal laws controlling abuses by unscrupulous employers.

Finding and fixing workplace hazards is not a radical idea. Responsible employers already do it. There’s a 40 year old law that essentially requires it:

“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Some employers ignore the law and put workers’ and the public’s lives at risk. The idea of finding and fixing hazards is foreign to them. They see it as a burden, not a responsibility. They’d rather break the law and take the chance of getting caught. It’s part of their business model.

Take the demolition contractor, MJ Scoville Inc. of Binghamton, New York. This company expected workers to dismantle parts of an elevator shaft 40 feet in the air without any fall protection. Does it impede economic growth to provide safety harnesses for workers? I don’t think so. In fact, if Scoville wanted to make sure he had the right gear for his crew, he could have helped the local economy by consulting with a safety equipment rep.

Another company, JE Amorello Inc. had workers inside a deep unshored trench at a jobsite in Quincy, Massachusetts. Had the dirt walls of the trench collapsed, the workers would likely have suffocated. Is this a well-recognized hazard for a company that does sewer utility work?? Yes. Can the hazard be easily addressed??? Yes. Worse yet, this employer has been cited previously for the deadly hazards created by an unshored trench.

Surely, ABC can’t defend companies like these that show plain indifference to fundamental safety requirements. Finding and fixing hazards is an employer’s duty.

It took me only 5 minutes to find construction employers in my community who seem to embrace a proactive approach to injury prevention. I found two who are members of the local ABC chapter and winners the group’s 2010 “Excellence in Construction Safety Award.” They are Flynn Construction and SpawGlass. Flynn Construction Inc. says they approach safety

“…through pre-planning from the identification of present and future hazards.”

Sounds like “finding and fixing hazards” to me.

The SpawGlass company explains they

“…provide site specific preconstruction safety hazard analyses,”

which is another way of saying, the identify potential hazards and take steps to address them. When SpawGlass learned it was ranked #1 in safety by the American Contractors Insurance Group (ACIG) it noted:

“We must continue to take safety to the next level, keep our job sites safe and ensure our employees go home safely to their families each day.”

SpawGlass and Flynn Construction sound like companies that have incorporated the practice of finding and fixing hazards into their day-to-day operations. The lobbyists for ABC may not want to admit it, but I’m confident there are many, many more companies who do the same.

Comments

  1. #1 Luis Vazquez
    January 21, 2011

    It seems that the oligarchs of the USA want to bring the country back to a time of no regulations. This will imperil all workers, but perhaps will remind American workers of the continual need to organize around Health & Safety issues. Darrel Issa and the Republicans will have the blood of American workers on their hands if they and their corporate friends are successful in gutting OSHA.

    Woody Guthrie may have said it best in his song “Waiting at the Gates”, written long ago (1941 I believe), in the days before Occupational Safety and Health regulations:

    Tell the miners’ kids and wives
    There’s a blast in the number five
    And the families I see standing at the gate
    The inspector years ago said number five’s a deadly hole
    And the men most likely won’t come out alive

    Waiting at the gate, we are waiting at the gate
    Smoke and fire does boil and roll from that dark and deadly hole
    While the miners’ kids and wives wait at the gate

    The inspector told the boss, it was more than a year ago
    You’re risking these men’s lives in number five
    That hole’s full of fumes and dust, full of high explosive gas
    But the boss said we’ll just have to take the chance

    I find it amazing that US workers still must contend with the ignorance and greed of government/corporate know-nothings when OSHA regulations are written in blood.

  2. #2 Celeste Monforton
    January 21, 2011

    Amen!

  3. #3 Rob Jase
    January 21, 2011

    But more deaths on the job means more jobs for new employees – its a win-win proposition!

  4. #4 Dini Sohbet
    January 31, 2011

    saygılar…Waiting at the gate, we are waiting at the gate
    Smoke and fire does boil and roll from that dark and deadly hole
    While the miners’ kids and wives wait at the gate

  5. #5 DuWayne
    January 31, 2011

    This isn’t the least bit surprising to me. Most contractor associations exist for the benefit of small contractors and they are, without a doubt, the single largest demographic to have problems with safety regs. I have spent a fair amount of time on contractor message boards and have taken several trade mags over the years and there are innumerable people who object to safety regs out of hand.

    The single biggest argument cited, is that safety training is too expensive for small contractors. Never mind that OSHA offers a variety of ways to provide that training to the employees of small businesses with little or no cost to teh contractor, never mind that merely having workers certified in fall protection will dramatically reduce insurance costs – it’s too expensive. I managed to get fall protection, PPE and hazmat certifications, the only cost involved being my time. All it took was some time and effort to find what is offered for small contractors (it did help that my dad is a safety professional – his networking made it a little easier to find available resources (fall protection was actually from my days as a roofer). But for too many small contractors, it is all too much hassle and expense – mainly because a) they don’t want to take the time to figure it out and b) they believe that all this safety crap, is so much hype.

    I think the mentality involved is summed up nicely by the guy who was running the crew when I started roofing several years ago. He liked to have a beer with his lunch every day and was occasionally inclined to smoke cannabis on the roofs – he always smoked before work and usually at lunch. He went on a rant one day, after the boss got pissed because the work truck smelled of weed; “I don’t know what his … problem is, I’ve never been injured because I was drunk or stoned!” Ironically, we were roofing a Holiday Inn Express at the time – 38′ to the eave. More ironically, about 20 minutes from leaving the job for the last time, I was taking the last load of scrap from the metal roof (on the entrance canopy) to the recycle dumpster and when I threw it in a bur in the metal caught my middle finger and opened it to the bone – I was not high and was wearing gloves at the time.

    The “it can’t happen to me” attitude is unbelievably pervasive among small/micro contractors. And it has less to do with not caring about the safety of employees and more to do with not wanting to deal with it as workers themselves.

    Rob Jase –

    Back when Bush junior had just taken office, I had a business lunch with a contractor we roofed for, who said exactly that. We had overheard some guys at another table speculating on what would happen to worker safety regs under junior – guys who seemed rather concerned. He scoffed at the idea and mockingly said that “libs should appreciate less regs, it would help with unemployment.” Or something very like that. It was the only time I ever actually lost it with a customer – and I have swallowed some serious crap over the years. Says something about my boss, that he wasn’t particularly angry with me when I told him what I’d done – says something more that when that contractor still wanted us to do another roof for him, my boss decided we were way too busy to fit him in.

  6. #6 safemba
    February 7, 2011

    DuWayne your are right on! It cannot happen to me is the mentality small contractors have. All the regulations are followed by large companies the small guys do nothing, until they get caught or a series injury takes place.
    You can blame employers all you want, but if the 5 guys in a van do not care about their own safety and take unnecessary risks and make fun of the workers that do follow safe practices, the regs are useless. How do you change this mentality?

  7. #7 Dini Sohbet
    February 11, 2011

    Thank You…I think the mentality involved is summed up nicely by the guy who was running the crew when I started roofing several years ago. He liked to have a beer with his lunch every day and was occasionally inclined to smoke cannabis on the roofs – he always smoked before work and usually at lunch. He went on a rant one day, after the boss got pissed because the work truck smelled of weed; “I don’t know what his … problem is, I’ve never been injured because I was drunk or stoned!” Ironically, we were roofing a Holiday Inn Express at the time – 38′ to the eave. More ironically, about 20 minutes from leaving the job for the last time, I was taking the last load of scrap from the metal roof (on the entrance canopy) to the recycle dumpster and when I threw it in a bur in the metal caught my middle finger and opened it to the bone – I was not high and was wearing gloves at the time.

    The “it can’t happen to me” attitude is unbelievably pervasive among small/micro contractors. And it has less to do with not caring about the safety of employees and more to do with not wanting to deal with it as workers themselves.

    Rob Jase –

  8. #8 Dini Evlilik
    September 3, 2011

    Thank you…you won’t catch me saying that there aren’t still plenty of underfunded DB pension plans, but the Pension Protection Act (2006?) has made it more difficult to quietly engage in significant underfunding. The “quietly” part has some impact, as that sort of thing signals economic weakness to investors. That means it hits stock prices, which tend to flow through to executive compensation.

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