Who will Die in Maryland on a Construction Site this Month?

Maryland is considering a law that would require that the state only use contractors with good safety records on public projects

Working on a construction site in Maryland is always dangerous work. The equipment is often massive, from earthmoving equipment, such as front-end loaders and dump trucks to concrete mixers and gantry cranes that rise hundreds of feet into the air and raise and lower thousands of pounds of building supplies and equipment.

A mistake or negligence by anyone using or handling this equipment can mean serious injuries or an instant fatality for some unfortunate worker. A large construction project may have hundreds of workers moving around the site at any given time, and a failure of the contractors to maintain a safe site can quickly lead to those injuries or deaths.

For many office workers, such a regular risk to life and limb may be unimaginable. For Maryland construction workers it is an everyday reality. Of course, processes can be created to enhance their safety, and provide protection from these risks.

One such protection is the creation of more rigorous laws that demand from employers and contractors a greater focus on safety. A bill has been introduced this session of the legislature that could require contractors awarded public contracts have a good safety record and use comprehensive safety plans on their worksites.

This seems in one sense, the least we can do and the least we should expect. Studies have found that there is much to do to improve workplace safety and this bill in the Maryland legislature seems a reasonable step towards that improvement.

More than 4,000 Deaths Annually

For all of our advances in bringing about a world where many workers do not have to worry if they will return home at the end of the day or die on the job, the unpleasant truth remains that more than 4,000 workers die nationwide on the job every year. In 2011, it was 4,693 workers.

But shouldn't OSHA help prevent those Deaths?

Yes, we have safety agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that has the job of enforcing workplace safety rules. OSHA, for all the complaints of employers regarding too much regulation, is a clear example of not enough regulation.

The AFL-CIO noted that with OSHA's staff in 2013, we would need to wait 113 years before it could inspect every place of business in the U.S. And yes, there are state inspections. The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) performs a similar job to that of the federal OSHA for most private employers in the state and is likely as shorthanded as the federal agency.

Construction Accidents Numbers Probably an Understatement

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2014, there were about 4,000 on the job injuries among construction workers in Maryland. As bad as that sounds, it is likely there are far more accidents. Underreporting is endemic within the construction industry, especially where employers use Hispanic workers. Hispanic construction workers are estimated to only report about 25 percent of the injuries they suffer.

There Ought to be a Law

Preventing workplace injuries does not happen by accident. You need a well-thought-out plan, with properly trained personnel and the correct safety equipment. When tax dollars are being expended on projects in the state of Maryland, it hardly seems unreasonable to expect that employers and contractors will use a viable safety plan on their sites to keep workers safe.

If the legislature passes this bill, it will proivde one more tool to help prevent employers with poor safety records from receiving taxpayer contracts and an additional means of protecting the workers on these construction sites.