This needs to change — and soon because workers continue to lose their lives. Last year, for example, Rolando Lopez Mendez of Silver Spring and Erik Morales Ortiz of Hyattsville fell to their deaths after being thrown from a lift machine that tipped over. Both were only 31.
These figures probably underestimate the problem in Maryland. Research indicates that occupational injuries in the construction industry are already vastly underreported, especially by small contractors with 10 or fewer employees. In particular, underreporting may affect data available on Hispanic construction workers, with researchers estimating that 75 percent of injuries to Hispanic construction workers go unreported. While underreporting of these preventable injuries on construction sites may affect the data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is clear that construction workers need safer workplaces.
Dangerous workplaces aren’t just bad for Maryland’s construction workers, they’re also bad for employers. Reports show that these preventable workplace injuries can affect an employer’s bottom line through higher workers’ compensation payments, recurring legal fees and lost productivity.
To address this crisis, the worker safety bill would ensure that all construction companies bidding on public projects have adequate health and safety plans in place to keep their workers safe. When bidding on state contracts, construction firms would provide a sworn statement of the contractor’s commitment to safety on the project, as well as the contractor’s plan for preventing and controlling occupational safety and health hazards. The state would then evaluate the safety plans and records of certain winning bidders and make recommendations for additional safety measures to ensure all workers make it home at the end of their shift.
The original legislation was supported by a 2012 Public Citizen report showing that construction safety shortfalls cost Maryland’s economy $712.8 million between 2008 and 2010. In 2014, Maryland legislators passed a law creating a Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation workgroup composed of industry stakeholders, labor representatives, public interest advocates and state officials to make recommendations to the Maryland legislature about implementing health and safety reforms in the construction industry. The current legislative effort is the result of these recommendations.
“The taxpayers of Maryland should expect that the construction projects they pay for are managed in the same way the private sector manages them, by making sure there are safe contractors,” Glenn said when introducing the bill. “Private business does that not only to keep workers alive but to control costs. How can Maryland public sector projects be managed with any less concern for costs and worker lives?”
Maryland’s construction workers cannot wait any longer for reform. The state should not allocate any more tax dollars to construction companies that do not provide safe and healthy worksites for their employees. Now is the time for the Maryland Legislature to support this worker safety bill.
Emily A. Gardner is a lobbyist with Public Citizen. Michael Belcher is president of the American Society of Safety Engineers.