Collective Bargaining Agreements: Safety and Health Provisions

Article excerpt

Union cooperation on matters of safety and health, the establishment of a joint local labor-management safety and health committee, protective clothing, and safety "dos and don'ts" are the most frequently appearing subjects in 744 private-sector collective bargaining agreements expiring between August 1997 and July 2007

Safety and health issues are a major concern today for both employers and union representatives. The cost of workers compensation and health care benefits, the long-tailed effect of exposure to health hazards, the premature loss of future years of employment, and the prevention of human suffering are some of the reasons for this concern. Collective bargaining negotiations are potential arenas for the exploration, discussion, and formalization of philosophies, intentions, and procedures regarding safety and health matters. However, the actual extent to which these matters are examined in contemporary collective bargaining agreements is unknown, Accordingly, this article investigates the prevalence and types of safety and health provisions included in the current collective bargaining agreements of large private-sector U.S. firms.

Previous research

A 1976 study examined the prevalence of 26 safety- and health-related subjects in 1,724 major collective bargaining agreements covering 1,000 or more workers and maintained in a file by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.(1) The contracts covered 7.9 million workers, or about one-half of all workers who were included in collective bargaining agreements in the industries studied. The contracts were in effect during mid-1974, with most of them remaining in effect in 1975 and beyond.

The safety and health subjects analyzed in the 1976 study were (1) general policy statements; (2) union-management cooperation; (3) dissemination of safety rules and procedures; (4) dissemination of information to unions; (5) safety and health committees; (6) employer compliance with safety requirements; (7) employee compliance with safety requirements; (8) employee discipline for noncompliance with safety rules; (9) safety and health inspections; (10) work performed under unsafe conditions; (11) final authority in safety disputes; (12) safety equipment; (13) safe tools, equipment, and transportation; (14) crew size and working in isolation; (15) types of safety protection; (16) protection against noxious gases or dust; (17) sanitation, housekeeping, and personal hygiene; (18) provisions for physical examinations; (19) alcohol and drugs; (20) accident procedures; (21) first aid and hospital facilities; (22) personnel assigned to treat injuries; (23) compensation for job-related injuries (excluding workers' compensation), vacation, holiday, and other payments not available to, or in addition to, those available to employees with non-occupational disabilities; (24) leave and transfer rights of disabled workers; and (25) pay differentials for hazardous duty.

In addition to these 25 subjects, some ancillary subjects related to them were also examined in the study. Information on the ancillary subjects was somewhat more detailed than that on the broader subjects to which they were related. For example, ancillary subjects studied in the area of safety and health committees were eligibility for committee membership, the term of service on the committee, the frequency of committee meetings, and compensation of committee members

Of the 1,724 agreements that were reviewed, 1,607, or 93 percent, contained one or more of the 26 safety and health subjects that appeared in the 1976 study. The most prevalent subject in the agreements was compensation for injuries, which was included in 60 percent of the contracts. The other subjects appearing most frequently in the agreements were safety equipment (49 percent); employee compliance with safety requirements (46 percent); union-management cooperation (43 percent); sanitation, housekeeping, and personal hygiene (40 percent); and employer compliance with safety requirements (33 percent). …