Having worked as a concrete hand on high-rise buildings and with occasional stints in my youth as an iron worker, I remember being annoyed by the barrage of safety rules that union contractors started implementing twenty years ago. It seemed like a pretty big pain to wear all that extra safety gear, and I resented the hell out of it all.
I also remember carrying injured men on sheets of plywood and putting body parts in lunch boxes to rush them to the hospital alongside the broken remnants of a fellow worker, but it was still difficult in my youth to put the two together.
As insurance premiums have risen, large union contractors seem to have become obsessed with safety. Their projects are crawling with safety people. Some days, you can’t seem to get anything done because of safety rules, and for younger workers especially, it can be a source of major frustration.
Think of it from a union perspective however, and it is as if we have achieved a dream some forty years in the making. Since we stood together as workers and forced the government to enact OSHA in 1971, we have finally reached a day when workers are given all of the tools and training they need to ensure their survival. For the first time ever, we are told by contractors that we must wear all of the proper safety attire on a project. We are given the opportunity to not only refuse to perform unsafe work, but we are encouraged to stop work any time that there is even a question.
Today, on many projects, we’re even required to perform a pre-task evaluation of everything we do. It is the culmination of decades of advocacy and struggle. Countless men and women had to die on the job to reach a day when contractors pay us to stop, examine our work for the day, and view every step of it from the standpoint of safety.
If it all seems like a pain to an eager worker, then you’re not thinking about it from a union perspective, and you’re not remembering the thousands of workers who gave their lives and limbs to reach this era.