Workplace Safety Training Protects Workers and the Bottom Line

CHICAGO -- Who is responsible for safety on the jobsite - the individual, the government, the safety director, the worker or all of the above?

The answer is all of the above. This simple, but often incorrectly answered question is from a mini-quiz as part of biweekly Safety Stuffers, small flyers dispersed with weekly paychecks, created by the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of Chicago to remind members of their United Association (UA) workforce of top safety concerns.

According to Stephen Lamb, Executive Vice President of the MCA of Chicago, that particular safety message is especially important. "Effective workplace safety can only be achieved when everyone involved takes responsibility," he said. "Once they do, it is easier for everyone to work together as a team and watch out for each other. That is why the association, our member contractors, and our union workforce, UA Local Union 597, stand together in our dedication to workplace safety training."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in construction incurred the most fatalities of any industry in the private sector in 2008, despite the fact that the number of construction fatalities that year declined 20 percent from the previous year -- from 1,204 cases in 2007 to 969 cases. Fatality figures for 2009 have not yet been released.

"Safety must be a top priority on every jobsite," said Dan Bulley, Senior Vice President of MCA of Chicago and head of the Safety Committee. "We don't take chances with our workforce. Union safety training, in combination with the educational programs offered by our association, provides our contractors and workers with the knowledge needed to work in optimal safety conditions."

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 ten-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.

Educational Initiatives

MCA of Chicago offers safety training to member contractors through its Certified Safety Bureau, which offers both classroom training and online courses. State-of-the-art course offerings from the Bureau include: CPR and First Aid with Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Training; Asbestos Online Course; OSHA Online 10-Hour and 30-Hour Safety and Health; Fall Protection and more.

The workers at LU 597 also receive a cutting-edge education. Their training center in Mokena, IL, is the largest pipe fitters' learning facility in America and is equipped with state-of-the-art training technology, including equipment for virtual welding. Apprentices can practice welding with a heatless rod and watch a visual simulation while wearing a specially equipped welding helmet.

According to John Leen, Training Director of Local Union 597, virtual welding is popular with young people who like video games. "Students often use the system at lunchtime to work with it more," he said. "Apprentices who practice with virtual welding learn more quickly than those who only do hands-on welding."

These educational initiatives instill MCA of Chicago member contractors and their union workforce with a high degree of safety awareness. This is important to the bottom line of industry, since accidents cost American companies billions of dollars each year. According to the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2007 amounted to more than $52 billion dollars in workers compensation costs.

Member Contractor Safety Initiatives According to Lamb, many member contractors of MCA of Chicago have initiated safety programs that go above and beyond industry standards.

Indiana-based BMW Constructors, Inc. is a participant in the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 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, Inc. has created added value for their customers by dedicating themselves 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," said Fred Bowers, Director of Environmental, Health & 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."

Like BMW Constructors, Inc., AMS Mechanical Systems, Inc. of Burr Ridge, IL, has compiled its own zero accident program. "The plan has really cut down on serious injuries," said Mark Rook, Safety Director at AMS. "The safety philosophy of our company is this: we have a moral obligation that the 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."

According to Rook, AMS workers receive classroom training, jobsite training, and online classes on the basics. "Sitting a guy in front of a computer doesn't compare to hands-on work with supervision," he said. "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 that the other workers will keep an eye out for them. It has worked out well for us -- apprentice injuries don't happen anymore."

Rook noted that jobsites have a daily task-hazard analysis every morning. "All the workers have input," he said. "We take a look at what tasks will be performed, and analyze what hazards are associated with that task. The analysis is now a requirement of AMS."

Rook added that AMS investigates near-miss accident reports and discusses them with workers in weekly toolbox talks. "If something took place in the previous week, we talk about it," he said.

Scheck Industries of Countryside, IL, has been recognized for their excellent ongoing safety record. In both 2008 and 2009, Scheck Industries was recognized by the Mechanical Contractors Association of America for their excellent safety record: one-million-plus work hours each year with no lost work time.

"Those million-plus hours include projects with 400 to 500 workers," said Joe Lasky, Safety Director at Scheck. "It takes a lot of training and cooperation to keep that many workers safe on the jobsite."

Safety is so important to Scheck, they have developed a workplace program called JAWS: Job Aids for Working Safely, which includes daily talks and other components to help keep workers aware of safety concerns. MCA of Chicago has recognized Scheck with the Most Innovative Safety Program Award for the JAWS Program.

According to Lasky, their company's Employee Incentive Program gives safety points to workers for every hour worked safely. "We have a website where they can cash in their safety points," he said, "and receive polo shirts, jackets, hunting jackets and other items. It's our way of providing reinforcement for workers who are accident-free."

"Teamwork is an essential part of workplace safety," said Lamb. "That teamwork can be found in the collaboration between our association and our contractors and workers. It can also be found in the rapport between a member contractor, their workers and their client. We all have to look out for each other in life."

About MCA of Chicago

Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago member contractors work to build powerhouses, install and service heating and air conditioning systems, and install piping wherever it is needed, from hospitals to oil refineries.

About the United Association

Work performed by members of the United Association (UA) includes installing and servicing piping systems, plumbing fixtures, heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems.

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