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How Unions Make Workplaces Safer
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Unions help to enforce health and safety standards in a number of important ways:

 

  • Unions can gather information about dangerous conditions more effectively than individual workers can.  An important study of the role unions play in OSHA standards enforcement found that unionized workers are more likely to know about the health and safety risks in their workplaces than non-unionized workers, since on-the-job risk assessment is a common component of union health and safety programs.  Unions are commonly equipped to do this important fact finding or expose a company’s inadequate training system to enforcement agencies.
  • Unionized workers can speak out about dangerous conditions collectively, rather than individually, thereby decreasing the risk to an individual employee of being targeted by management as a troublemaker.  In addition, the collective voice of the workers in the union carries more strength than that of a lone worker; increasing the likelihood the employer will honor the workers’ request for compliance.
  • Where workers are union members, the intensity of an OSHA inspection is increased.  Why is this?  Although the OSHA law gives every worker the right to accompany an OSHA inspector during a workplace tour, pointing out issues that may easily have been overlooked by the inspector, unionized workers are far more likely to participate in the inspections.1  A safer workplace can result when workers’ rights to actively participate in OSHA inspections are promoted and protected.

Endnotes
1  David Weil, "Enforcing OSHA: The Role of Labor Unions." Industrial Relations 30 (1) (Winter 1991): page 28.

 
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American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.

 

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