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Learning From Unions During Construction Safety Week


Construction Safety Week is a yearly event dedicated to raising awareness about safety hazards and promoting a safer work environment for construction workers.

This Construction Safety Week, we’re spotlighting a stark reality that too often gets left out of the industry conversation: unionized construction sites are significantly safer than non-union ones. Startling NYCOSH data confirm this, revealing that over 80% of construction fatalities happen on non-union job sites. As the construction industry turns its attention to worker safety, we can learn from unions, who set and enforce the highest safety standards.

Superior Training Equals Safer Job Sites

Unionized workers receive extensive training unmatched in the non-union sector. The comprehensive training and apprenticeship programs encompass thousands of hours, and make union workers the highest-skilled tradesmen in the business. It also makes them the safest, as they delve deep into mastery of safety protocols and hazard recognition. The same cannot be said of their non-union counterparts.

The Protective Power of Collective Bargaining

Collective Bargaining is not just about higher wages. Unions can negotiate for better safety measures through collective bargaining agreements, ensuring that safety is a priority on every project. Workers can demand that better safety procedures are put in place, state-of-the art safety equipment is implemented and workers are not pushed to the point of exhaustion leaving them vulnerable to mistakes.

Health And Safety Committees

Safety is part of the culture for union workers. One way they self-police safety standards is through health and safety committees. These organizations talk regularly with members and stewards about health and safety problems; conduct workplace surveys to identify hazards and document problems; and investigate accidents, near-accidents and injuries.

Unions set the gold standard in construction safety, which is why fatalities and injuries are drastically lower on the union job sites.

Oversight And Enforcement Power

On a union job site, if a worker is asked to do something that is against regulations, they can go to their union foreman and he will put a stop to it immediately. On a non-union jobsite, a worker would be putting his job on the line by refusing an unsafe or unlawful task.

Working With The Regulators

Safety violations and fines are so common on non-union job sites that many big developers have come to view them as a cost of doing business. They are known to go to great lengths to evade, obfuscate and deceive DOB and OSHA inspectors. It’s a different story on the union side. Unions not only follow the rules set forth by regulators, but are actually called upon by regulators for their safety expertise to help develop new guidelines.

Taken together, this list of best practices makes unions the gold standard in construction safety. They explain why fatalities and injuries are drastically lower on the union side of the construction industry. As Construction Safety Week draws to a close, the rest of the industry would be wise to take some cues from construction unions. It may just save some lives.


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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