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Why Workplace Safety Should Be Your First Priority

By Tracey Lewis | May 2, 2017

Investing in comprehensive safety measures is the most effective way to keep a defensive eye on health care costs. However, member safety affects more than just the bottom line. Members' health is also at stake when required safety measures haven't been implemented with the necessary oversight and standardized procedures for everyone to follow.

Education about workplace safety should be paramount when trying to engage members and control benefits expenses.

The Riskiest Labor Positions in the US

While most folks face the prospect of getting a severe paper cut or spilling a cup of too-hot coffee at work, labor union members may face regular exposure to toxic chemicals or electrical hazards as part of their job duties. The fund must keep those facts in mind when helping members stay safe at work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 7.4 million members in private sector unions in 2015. Private sector occupations with the highest unionization rates included:

  • Utilities;
  • Transportation and warehousing;
  • Telecommunications;
  • Construction; and
  • Education services.

Many of these positions are risky, with members exposed to severe elements, electrical hazards, construction-related falls and other injuries. BLS reported further that occupations with the highest number of days away from work in 2015 included laborers, stock and material movers, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, in addition to nursing assistants. Although the safety risks may not change, the fund can help shape workplace policies in conjunction with member and management behavior for the benefit of all stakeholders.

How Benefits Administrators Can Prevent Worksite Injuries

Although benefits administrators and union members can't foresee all potential injuries at work, it's incumbent on the fund to work diligently in prevention and education by monitoring industry publications, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health alerts. These resources can be invaluable when developing workplace safety standards for a number of labor industries.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a spate of diagnoses of a rare respiratory disease at a microwave popcorn plant in 2015. Several workers developed obliterative bronchiolitis, an irreversible lung disease, after airborne exposure to the chemical flavoring used on the popcorn. The workers lacked the proper respiratory equipment and weren't regularly monitored for chemical exposure, among other worksite deficiencies. It's likely these diagnoses were preventable if the proper safety regulations and oversight were in place.

The fund can use this OSHA and FCC best practices guide as a template for monitoring worksite safety and for choosing health benefits for members, such as:

  • Hazard prevention and control: Develop a plan to enact, track and ensure those prevention controls are functional.
  • Education and training: Members and supervisors have proper training and input into the hazard control system.
  • System evaluation and improvement: Create protocols to monitor system performance and to identify and correct problems.
  • Hazard identification and assessment: Implement procedures to regularly assess and evaluate risks and safety hazards.

Comprehensive Benefits, Better Health, Greater Savings

When working collaboratively with members and worksite managers to oversee safety and offer benefits to help them recover more quickly, you'll see positive results in savings to the fund. Your role is essential for establishing safe workplaces through a culture of safety and responsibility.

By prioritizing safe practices, labor groups can reduce member medical expenses and workers' compensation costs. A safe work environment accrues benefits to everyone and, may well be the best investment.