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As Construction Grows, Safety Is Falling Behind

It may only be February, but for many people in the U.S. and Canada, it’s already been a winter they would rather forget. The record-breaking cold that arrived around the holidays and lingered well into the new year made temperatures plummet and snow arrive (and linger) in places as far south as Florida. The only positive may be that the frigid weather, freezing rain and ice has called more attention to the needs of our existing infrastructure to be maintained and repaired. After all, aging water mains can only take so much before freezing and bursting. Short-term fixes in roads and sidewalks can only handle so much melting ice and snow before beginning to crumble. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), its affiliates and its signatory partners will continue to fight for a comprehensive infrastructure package that will fund much-needed improvements to our nation’s deteriorating roads, bridges, water distribution systems and other crucial inner workings.

Whether LIUNA members are overhauling critical infrastructure, building new projects or going to work anywhere else in the U.S. and Canada, the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) is dedicated to making sure that work is done safely. Recent data released by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries shows disturbing trends for worker safety and health. For the third year in a row, fatalities in the workplace rose sharply. With construction still going strong –  new projects are projected to grow another three percent in the U.S. this year – worker safety could become even more of an issue. While more construction workers joined the industry in 2017 than in 2016, a continuing labor shortage has the potential to put pressure on workers to get more done in less time. That’s almost always a formula for more serious injuries and fatalities on the job. That’s why LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, signatory contractors and LIUNA members are committed to continuing to work safely, no matter the deadline. For more on this problem, including the causes and groups most at risk, see this month’s article, “Number of Worker Deaths in Construction Continues to Rise.”

In other health and safety related news, the Fund is pleased to report that all industry challenges to OSHA’s silica rule were recently rejected, meaning the rule will stand as is. This is positive news for LIUNA members in construction, where the rule is already in full effect, and for LIUNA members in the public sector, where parts of the general industry rule will now continue to be phased in over the next two years. This court victory will help ensure that workers across the U.S. are protected from hazardous crystalline silica dust that’s known to cause silicosis, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

Unfortunately, this month’s issue also brings some sad news, as we mourn the passing of Dr. Jim Melius. For almost 25 years, LIUNA, the LHSFNA and the New York State Laborers benefited from Dr. Melius’ expertise and unwavering advocacy for workers. A nationally recognized authority on occupational safety and health, Dr. Melius served as both the LHSFNA’s Director of Research and the Administrator of the New York State TriFunds. Dr. Melius played a major role in helping secure lifetime medical treatment for first responders and rescue workers after 9/11, many of whom were LIUNA members. We will miss Jim and are forever grateful for his insight, professionalism and unwavering dedication to our mission. We urge you to read this month’s article on Jim’s contributions to worker safety and health for a better understanding of his contributions to LIUNA members and working people everywhere.

As winter turns to spring across the U.S. and Canada, we’d like to say thank you to LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, health and welfare funds and training funds for continuing to foster partnerships and relationships with LIUNA signatory contractors. When labor and management work together, we can achieve improved health and safety for all LIUNA members.

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