(Correction: An earlier version of this post included a photo that incorrectly said it depicted construction of a casino in Maryland. The photo has been replaced.)

The Maryland legislature has a chance to significantly strengthen construction worker safety and, in the process, serve as a model for other states. The Maryland 2016 legislative session began with several legislators introducing laudable workers’ rights reforms. In particular, Maryland Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore) introduced HB 977, which would make serious reforms to Maryland’s construction industry. Currently, Maryland screens construction companies bidding on public works contracts to ensure that they meet standards on past performance, bonding capacity and legal proceedings. However, Maryland does not yet consider a company’s safety record or worksite safety plan when awarding contracts.

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.

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Their deaths were not isolated incidents. In recent years, too many Maryland construction workers have been killed or sustained life-altering occupational injuries on the job. In 2014 alone, about 4,000 construction workers reported workplace injuries, and 2,400 of these cases required them to take time off, transfer positions or otherwise undergo restrictions while they recovered from their injuries. Tragically, 16 Maryland construction workers died on the job, more than one per month.

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.

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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.

While Maryland could be the first state to adopt such a law, the idea to ensure that construction companies plan for safe worksites is not new. Certain Maryland companies, such as HESS Construction, already screen subcontractors for their safety records. In addition, certain jurisdictions across the country screen contractors for their safety plans, including Fairfax County, the Montgomery County Public Schools System, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Unified School District. They understand that construction projects should not begin until employers have a proper plan in place to protect their workers.

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“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.

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