In a Union Every Month is Safety Month

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It’s National Safety Month: Here’s how unions lead the way.

Since 1996 June has been America’s National Safety Month. Sponsored by the National Safety Council, it is the month when we remind ourselves to use caution when working, playing or even relaxing, because it’s hard to be happy when you’re hurt.

 

This is a sentiment that is most critical in the construction industry where ignoring safety standards can lead to devastating injuries and even death. Especially in a vertical city like New York. This is why all construction unions here have a holy grail of safety standards that will look a lot like the list below.

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Pictured here are a small fraction of the men who have died from a fall on a New York City construction site in recent years. All of these men were working on non-union construction sites that were fined for lax safety protocol.

1. Prevent Falls

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) the leading cause of death in construction is falls, which makes preventing them a number one safety priority for unions.  Here are some of the standards practiced by unions. Many non-union building crews are cited by DOB inspectors (Department of Buildings) for ignoring these fall-prevention protocols:

  • Train on proper form: The “three points of contact” rule states that three limbs should always be in contact with whatever you are climbing or standing on, which improves stability and reduces risk.

  • Use safety devices: Harnesses for workers on scaffolding as well as personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) are vital for preventing falls from dangerous heights.

  • Choose the correct equipment: Using the right ladder or knowing when to use a lift instead of scaffolding are vital in reducing unnecessary falls.

  • Alert workers to danger: Union sites use proper signage to indicate high-risk areas, including leading (unprotected) edges.

Falls on non-union work sites are the leading cause of death among New York City construction workers.

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Unions operate safety training facilities to ensure their workers are practicing the latest and safest procedural techniques.

2. Require High-Quality Training

When construction workers have the proper safety training, the number of accidents they encounter drops dramatically. Unions place this training at the forefront of their worker preparation and require frequent recertifications. Below are some of those practices. Sadly, non-union contractors have no single codified safety standard.

  • Provide continuing education: Offering frequent training opportunities for workers keeps safety knowledge fresh and up to date.

  • Perform regular knowledge checks: Through oversight and spot checks, regularly test the safety knowledge of your workers to find gaps in understanding.

  • Set up a mentorship program: Help new workers on your job sites acclimate to specific safety protocols by having them work with experienced members of your team.

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The latest and safest equipment is normally more expensive than legacy machinery. Companies that are willing to skimp on worker safety training are also more likely to skimp on equipment, compounding the likelihood that a worker will have an accident. 

3. Use Updated Equipment

Many accidents happen because workers are forced to use faulty or outdated equipment not fashioned with the latest safety features. Unions often require and facilitate training for members to get familiar with new equipment and their enhanced features, including some of the below practices. Again, there is no similar known training requirement for non-union workers.

  • Perform daily safety checks: Before using any equipment, adhere to a list of daily safety checks that ensure it is in good working condition.

  • Schedule regular maintenance: All equipment needs to have a set schedule for maintenance to prevent degradation that could lead to safety concerns.

  • Consider renting equipment: While purchasing equipment can be a good investment, renting equipment means you have continual access to the latest features and can get exactly what you need for each job.

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New advancements in eyewear, headgear and other wearables now provide new levels of personal safety to construction workers

4. Wear The Latest Gear

Intelligent safety gear design goes beyond the hard hat. Now equipment like gloves and boots come with enhanced safety features.

Here are just a few of the construction wearables that are re-shaping how we think about construction site safety:

  • Smart hard hats help prevent collisions: By using sensors in the helmet as well as in heavy equipment, smart hard hats aim to eliminate dangerous collisions between workers and vehicles.

  • Smartwatches monitor health and activity: Smartwatches track vital signs and GPS location, which helps monitor worker fatigue and helps improve lone worker safety.

  • AR safety glasses provide vital information: While augmented reality (AR) safety glasses are not yet fully realized, in the coming years they promise to provide immediate access to safety information, for example where leading edges or hazardous materials are located.

 

5. Practice Proper Communication

Construction workers come to work with a range of specialties and backgrounds, which means that excellent communication is vital for ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Clear communication can help mitigate risky situations, and when hazardous situations arise, clear communication is necessary to keep everyone safe.

 

Consider implementing the following communication best practices on your site:

  • Establish a clear chain of command: Everyone should know exactly who they report to and oversee, which helps reduce confusion when workers hear conflicting information.

  • Limit use of jargon: Jargon, or technical language, varies across specialties, so using precise descriptions is more valuable when trying to communicate on-site.

  • Encourage open communication: On a site where a worker feels afraid to speak up, inefficient or unsafe situations could go unreported. Create a culture of respectful listening so that workers feel empowered to speak.

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All New York City construction unions have issued their worker safety protocols adjusted for Covid-19 concerns. Unions see the safety of their members as their top priority, and thanks to these new standards were able to get people safely back to work before most other industries.

6. Update Protocols for COVID-19

The pandemic shined a light on the importance of a safety-first mentality. It’s the commitment to the safety of their members that allowed New York City construction unions to lead the way back to work in 2021. Unions lead the way by setting the below COVID standards.

  • Provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE): All workers need reliable access to masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, at minimum, to help reduce the spread of disease.

  • Implement contact tracing: Small devices worn on the clothes of construction workers can help provide contact tracing in the case of a positive test, helping to mitigate the spread and prevent full-blown outbreaks.

  • Practice social distancing: While construction work is essential amidst the pandemic, changes in the way tasks are completed can enable workers to stay at a safe distance while still working efficiently.

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