Taxpayer dollars should only go to contractors that safeguard their employees from dangerous work conditions. Yet, throughout the United States, government agencies at the state, local, and federal levels award contracts for bridge repair, sewer installation, school renovation and other construction projects to irresponsible companies that endanger their employees’ lives.
We see this problem writ large in the State of Maryland.
To make sure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly, and in response to an August 2012 Public Citizen report, Maryland lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would require companies to meet safety standards as a prequalification for working on public projects in the state.
House Bill 1486 was introduced by Maryland Delegate Brian McHale (D-Baltimore) and co-sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore). The Public Citizen report showed safety shortfalls cost the state $712.8 million between 2008 and 2010. During that time, Maryland recorded 18,600 construction industry accidents, of which 11,000 required days away from work or job transfer. Additionally, 55 construction-related fatalities were reported in those years.
Maryland screens construction companies to ensure that they meet standards on past performance, bonding capacity and legal proceedings. But the state does not currently consider a company’s safety record before awarding contracts. If this bill is passed, construction firms would have to demonstrate that they provide safety training to workers and site supervisors, and that they do not have serious safety violations before being awarded taxpayer dollars to do work.
Companies also will need to provide information about the frequency with which their employees suffer injuries, whether the companies have violated any safety and health laws, and what citations and penalties they have been subject to from occupational safety and health agencies.
The introduction of House Bill 1486 is the first step toward changing the safety and health conditions for Maryland’s construction workers. It will empower workers to identify potential job hazards and will ensure that the construction industry can operate safely at its maximum potential.
When government agencies fail to properly assess construction companies’ health and safety performance, the results can be both deadly and expensive. The Maryland lawmakers who have introduced this bill recognize the dangers of the construction industry and the benefits of safe and productive construction sites. We hope other members follow their lead and vote to support this on the floor.
Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s workplace safety expert. Keep up with Public Citizen’s workplace health and safety work by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.