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The trade association’s hit list also includes three OSHA initiatives, one of which was withdrawn just yesterday by the agency.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.