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Study Confirms Union Construction Sites Have Superior Safety Record

LIUNA signatory contractors get to see the advantages of using union labor on a daily basis. Thanks to rigorous skills and safety training in LIUNA apprenticeship programs, LIUNA members are generally well ahead of their non-union counterparts in both safety and quality of work.

LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

“By any measurement, LIUNA members are among the best in the business. It’s that simple,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Study after study continues to show the advantages of using union labor and union contractors in the construction industry. From better safety and health outcomes to stronger wages that push workers into the middle class and strengthen communities and our economy, the advantages are clear.”

For non-union employers or those unfamiliar with the construction industry, that may be difficult to believe. Can the union safety advantage really be so measurable?

It turns out the answer is yes. A new study conducted by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and the Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois examined data from more than 37,000 OSHA inspections in 2019. The study found the following:

  • Union jobsites were 19 percent less likely to have health and safety violations than non-union jobsites.
  • When safety and health violations were present, OSHA inspectors issued 34 percent fewer violations per inspection on union sites compared to non-union sites.
  • Unionized firms make up 14 percent of the construction industry but account for only five percent of OSHA violations in the construction industry.
  • These findings were largely consistent across all eight major construction sectors and all 10 OSHA regions. Union worksites were less likely to have OSHA violations in all sectors and regions and had fewer violations per inspection in all but one sector and one OSHA region.

When asked about the reasons behind this union safety advantage, the study’s authors were quick to point out the safety and skills training union members receive. “The union construction industry trains its workforce in these rigorous joint management apprenticeship programs at a much higher rate of investment than the nonunion side,” said Frank Manzo, Executive Director of the ILEPI. “You get what you pay for, but you also bear the consequences of what you don’t pay for.”

In addition to creating safer conditions on jobsites, investing in safety and training has both direct and indirect benefits for contractors and communities. “When you take into account injury costs and turnover costs to the businesses and then workers’ compensation costs to taxpayers and other businesses, you’re seeing that safety isn’t just a win for the workers,” said Manzo. Companies that invest in strong safety programs are able to maintain higher levels of production and more accurately forecast their costs and the number of workers they’ll need to complete a project.

Union contractors also deserve plenty of recognition for creating and maintaining safe working environments. Previous studies have shown that union contractors are more likely to conduct hazard analysis before work begins, more likely to investigate near misses and other incidents, more likely to implement site-specific safety and health plans and more likely to engage in prevention through design practices. All of these steps show a strong commitment to integrating safety into the day-to-day activities of a construction project and directly contribute to safer conditions for workers.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a unionized workforce is workers’ ability to speak up for safety. Ongoing partnerships and communication between union labor and union employers create a culture where workers feel more comfortable speaking up about potential hazards. Study coauthor and PMCR Director Dr. Robert Bruno notes this oversight and accountability as a factor in why union firms have superior safety records overall compared to non-union firms. Most importantly, this cooperative relationship leads to better results for workers, contractors and communities. “The data is very clear: embracing the institutions that correlate with better safety outcomes in physically demanding occupations can be a win-win-win for workers, businesses and taxpayers alike,” said Bruno.

With the bipartisan passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill set to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, ensuring the safety of workers has never been more important. With the construction industry already short on skilled workers, it’s likely that we’ll see tens of thousands of new workers entering the industry over the next several years to fill these jobs. These new workers will need extensive skills training and safety training to empower them to work safely. Based on the results of this study and others, one of the best ways to protect worker safety and health on these government-funded projects is to rely on union labor and union contractors.

[Nick Fox]

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