Cultivate Safety Culture, Not Personal Records

For more than 10 years, the injury, illness and fatality rates for construction workers have declined dramatically. According to the latest federal data, construction’s injury and illness rate has been cut by more than half in 2008 from what it was 10 years earlier. The fatality rate was down 47% over the same period and hit an all-time low in 2008. Ask any contractor: The plan is to bring the rate down to zero.

Credit for improved jobsite safety can be attributed to construction contractors that have committed to ensuring their workers go home safely each and every day. With hard work and dedication, contractors have created a culture of safety within their companies that begins with safety training at the apprenticeship level and continues with comprehensive safety courses throughout an employee’s career, providing workers with the latest safety equipment and emphasizing that safety is a shared responsibility among everyone involved. Contractors understand such programs pay for themselves, but statistics tell only part of the story. The real measure of success is that workers go home safely.

Despite the major improvements, some industry members want the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create and maintain personal safety records for workers, arguing employees need to be held accountable for their own actions. But ask any construction worker and the last thing they want to do is put their own health at risk on the job. The misguided idea to get OSHA involved in monitoring millions of construction workers opens a Pandora’s box: Who will pay for this new federal government program? What is the standard for judging infractions? How would the circumstances surrounding an incident be determined? How long does an infraction remain on an individual’s personal safety record? What is the recourse for remediation if an infraction is reported incorrectly? In the end, a new federal government regulation would be complex and costly, and it likely would have very little or no impact.

While the Associated Builders and Contractors recognizes the importance of personal accountability in safety performance as part of the merit-shop philosophy, it does not support a personal safety records system due to the potential for serious personal, legal, administrative and operational barriers that could affect contractors’ relationships with their skilled craft professionals. The personal relationships that exist among employer, supervisor and employee are far superior to government bureaucracy in the enforcement of proper worker behavior and accountability.