This NY Times story can stand for many:
Carlos Moncayo was just 22 when he was crushed to death by thousands of pounds of dirt at a construction site in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. . . .
The city’s Department of Buildings has recorded 84 construction-related fatalities since 2015. Statistics shows that deaths are more likely at nonunion sites, where workers may face pressure to comply with unreasonable demands.
Diana Florence, who served as the lead prosecutor on Mr. Moncayo’s case, said in an interview that many construction injuries and even deaths are not properly investigated from the outset.
But the Moncayo case hinged on a coincidence: A police supervisor who responded to the scene had once worked in construction, and he immediately recognized that the pit that Mr. Moncayo was working in was not reinforced, as it should have been.
“He realized that the trench was basically a ticking time bomb,” Ms. Florence said.
And, ok, I suppse that sort of thing happens, since I have read many news stories about it over the years. During one of the trench safety courses I have taken, the instructors showed photographs of an unsafe trench they said was in the street right in front of the Santa Clara County administration building. But the real battle over safety in the construction business, which rages every day on sites across the country, is employers trying to coerce, bully, persuade, or otherwise get workers to take safety precautions that they don't want to take, because safety is frankly a pain in the ass.
(Remembering my trenching safety courses reminds me of the instructor who would pause about every half hour, stare hard at the class and say, in an intense New Jersey accent, "Cubic yard o' dirt weighs 3,000 pounds!" It worked, I guess, since I've never forgotten it.)
Over the years I have been involved with at least 20 incidents involving workers who refused to wear hard hats; I have never seen a case where a worker wanted a hardhat but wasn't provided with one. Ok, that's a simple, cheap matter compared to providing shoring for a trench. But it is the pattern I have seen across my career. There was once a fairly high level investigation of an incident I witnessed, in which a crane dropped a huge steel I-beam within 20 feet of a couple of workers. Turned out the crew wasn't attaching the secondary safety line because it was tedious and seemed unnecessary.
Safety requires constantly doing tedious things that seem unnecessary. It requires wearing uncomfortable clothes, even when it's 98 degrees. It requires filling out forms and keeping logs. It requires stopping and waiting for inspections or equipment – and a lot of construction guys are ADHD types for whom stopping and waiting is the most painful thing. And it has to be said that like all bureaucracies, the safety bureaucracy has created its own layer of annoying, likely unhelpful silliness. (One example I see regularly is that a safety plan will be promulgated for an entire project that is appropriate for a construction site in full swing, but doesn't seem relevant for the archaeologists who are on site while it is still woods, before the first machine has showed up.)
Sure, when a company orders people into unsafe situations, they should be penalized for that. But the notion that safety is something workers want, that business is perfidiously denying to them, is just flat out wrong. The greatest danger to workers, especially young, male workers, is themselves.
But the notion that safety is something workers want, that business is perfidiously denying to them, is just flat out wrong.
Then why are union sites, where the workers have much more sway in how things are done, the safer kind of site? Are you suggesting that when given the power to say no to "unreasonable demands", workers will only do so for reasons OTHER than concern for safety? That'd be a pretty extreme and absolutist claim to make, bordering on the absurd.
The greatest danger to workers, especially young, male workers, is themselves.
This feels like it might well be true, but it could easily still fit within the above - how many union members are brash and reckless young men, and how many are older men with lived experience, earned wisdom, families to think about, etc?
Yes, clearly many workers don't care much about safety. But that doesn't then mean NO workers do - there are just as obviously many workers who care tremendously about safety.
I feel like a broken record sometimes, but you have to consider survivor bias. You hear about the cases where people get hurt or die because of a lack of safety measures, but you almost never hear about the cases where no one got hurt or killed precisely BECAUSE safety measures were in place and did their job and prevented an accident. When things go right, no one pays attention; when things go wrong, everyone takes notice.
Over the years I have been involved with at least 20 incidents involving workers who refused to wear hard hats; I have never seen a case where a worker wanted a hardhat but wasn't provided with one.
And who have you worked with/for? Reputable people and reputable companies? Again, another thing I harp on about a lot, but selection bias is absolutely a thing. You're an archaeologist - that automatically introduces a certain set of selection criteria regarding the people you work with. The kinds of people, companies, projects, etc, that cut corners on safety are very much not the sort that would bother to hire / be able to afford archaeologists in the first place.
The kind of company that would try to get away with skimping on safety is the kind of company that would also try to get away with avoiding the costs and delays of an archaeologic dig by simply "burying" the problem, figuratively and/or literally. There are a lot of rather small construction companies out there that survive contract to contract, and in tight circumstances they will resort to some rather outlandish things to stay in the black and keep operating.
You've personally never seen companies refuse to provide hardhats because you've always been able to work with good people. But not everyone is so fortunate as to have that option - "a vagrant who has nothing to lose, cares not to go among thieves". There is an entire class of company out there which specializes in cutting corners as much as possible and employing only people with little to nothing to lose.
Go visit a "plasma donation center", for example, and witness for yourself an entire industry built on desperation and shady business practices; and then recognize that similar things happen in virtually every industry, at the low end of the affluence scale.
For every modestly sized local police force that exist to serves their community, there are a dozen small town sheriff departments that exist simply to grift people with outlandish ticketing rackets; for every substantial and trusted financial investment firm giving sound advice to their clients, there are a dozen smaller local "advisors" who willingly mislead their clients to profit themselves; and for every decently sized reputable construction company, there are a dozen tiny local ones that exist to rip off everyone they can, customer and employee alike.
Which is not to suggest that only small companies pull these kinds of stunts, or that every such company does so. But it is to say that your middle class work environment experience is not remotely comprehensive, and that just because you've personally never witnessed the kinds of places where workers want safety but are refused it, doesn't mean they don't exist.
@G- may answer about Union job sites is that Union workers are older and more experienced and less likely to be the kind of cowboy who ignores the rules.
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