Safety is the top concern of Kim Rickard of Local 1686 of Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents workers
The winter weather keeps the majority of LiUNA Local 1686’s members at home from November until March each year. Even though they’re ready to get back to work once Springs rolls around they still have to proceed with caution. In addition to May flowers, April showers bring unsafe working conditions. “Safety is our number one concern,” said Kim Rickard, Local 1686’s business manager. “There are already so many risks involved in our line of work, we need to do everything possible to keep our men and women safe on the job site.
Local 1686’s work sites include oil refineries, water treatment facilities, open highways, and bridges. Their duties often include working near live power lines or in asbestos abatement. This makes extensive safety training like OSHA 10, earning a C-Stop Card and the refinery safety contract a necessity. Workplace accidents are terrible for the bottom line and even worse for morale.
One work-place accident usually leads to another. In the immediate aftermath, new hazards, like spilled fluids, arise. Machines stop functioning properly creating an all hands on deck scenario. In the days that follow, workers’ minds shift away from their duties. They begin to replay the event and ask themselves what they could have done to prevent the injury. They also think about the impact the injury will have beyond the workplace. “2 years ago we lost an apprentice on site,” said Rickard. “We had to bring in counselors for critical stress debriefings. It was a very difficult situation.”
Incidents like that make Rickard question why anyone overseeing production would want to cut corners regarding worker safety, especially when it comes to issues of air quality and limiting exposure to toxins. “Slowly killing your workforce is just a really bad business model,” she added.
Rickard views organizing as the best way to ensure that all workers are safe. “When we have more union members, our negotiating power increases, plain and simple,” she stated. Negotiating goes far beyond wages, union contracts often include provisions that minimize workplace hazards. “It goes beyond organizing our membership,” Rickard added. “The more contractors we have that are union the greater number of safe work opportunities we’re going to see.”