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Maryland Sets Bar High for Construction Worker Safety and Health

Last week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law House Bill 951 which requires the state to convene a work group to study the benefits of implementing a safety and health questionnaire and rating system as a part of the state funded public works projects.  We applaud the Maryland Senate and House for their unanimous decision to send this important worker safety and health legislation to the Governors’ desk.

Keeping construction workers safe on the job should be a top priority. However, safety and health can be a distant thought for some contractors. Maryland has not been able to escape this reality; in 2012 seventeen construction workers died on the job and an additional 5,000 reported workplace injuries.

The legislation was inspired by a 2012 Public Citizen report that showed safety shortfalls cost the state $712.8 million between 2008 and 2010. During that time, Maryland recorded 18,600 construction industry accidents in the state. Additionally, 55 construction-related fatalities were reported in those years.

This horrible trend in construction worker fatality and injury can be reined in if workers are given the tools to identify hazards on the job, and House Bill 951 will do just that.

Under the proposal to be studied by the work group, 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 granted state contracts. Maryland does not yet consider a company’s safety record before awarding contracts.

The legislation would require all companies that bid for public works contracts 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.

Starting in July, a work group of industry stakeholders, labor representatives, public advocates (including Public Citizen), and state officials will meet and make formal recommendations to the legislature on a safety and health questionnaire and rating system for state funded construction work. Ultimately, Maryland could be first in the nation to exclusively prequalify contractors based on their safety and health performance and other safety measures that they have in place.

Maryland lawmakers have recognized the dangers of the construction industry and the benefits of safe and productive construction sites by approving this bill. We hope the work group follows their lead and recommends the strongest safety questionnaire and rating system possible.

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.