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.
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.