This op-ed was written by Utility Workers Union of America President Michael Langford and American Water President and CEO Susan Story and published online at Occupational Health & Safety
The importance of a well-trained workforce cannot be overstated. Well-trained workers are safer workers and, in turn, more productive workers. This simple equation is particularly important in sectors that provide critical services, like the water sector, to people throughout the United States. When people and communities are depending on a water utility to provide them with clean and safe water and water services, a stoppage due to an avoidable worker injury not only causes harm to the worker and the company, but to the community as well.
This is why American Water has been working with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and Power 4 America, a training trust fund created by UWUA that operates as an independent nonprofit, to help ensure that our employees are prepared for the potential dangers that are inherent in our work—which takes place at times during inclement weather and often with challenging physical demands.
Through P4A, nearly 800 American Water employees have received training in the last two years on Focus 4 hazards. This program is funded in part by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Susan Harwood Training Grants, which are intended to fund critical training programs like those that P4A offers to help ensure workers and employers in high-hazard industries maintain safety and worker protection in the workplace.
Unfortunately, Susan Harwood Training Grants have been targeted for elimination in the last two administrative budget requests. These grants have been a critical source of funding for programs like P4A that help to keep workers safe, maintain workplace productivity, and ensure that customers and communities receive safe and reliable service.
UWUA uses funding from the Susan Harwood grants—in addition to contributions from partners, including American Water—to host union-led trainings focused on a host of hazards: falls; getting caught in or in between machinery, materials, or other objects; being struck by machinery, materials, or other objects; and electrocution. Currently, UWUA conducts P4A trainings in 11 states. P4A has seen success in safety trainings led by individuals with experience in the industry. Learning from a peer who has a deep understanding of the day-to-day of the job makes trainees more receptive to the lessons being taught.
American Water has seen firsthand the success of UWUA’s union-led trainings. The company first sent our employees—both union members and management—to P4A’s trainings in 2016. The success of the trainings fostered a continuing partnership between the union and American Water. The company, having recognized the value of the training, continues to send employees and provide additional funding.
Susan Harwood grants helped foster this cooperative partnership between American Water and P4A. This successful program has proven critical to UWUA and American Water in ensuring that workers are safe, the company is productive, and their communities receive the best service possible.
While the grant program made it through the latest government funding process for fiscal year 2018, it is already back on the chopping block, proposed for elimination in the fiscal year 2019 budget request. Congress must again reject the proposal to cut this beneficial and successful partnership program. Eliminating the program would cut off a crucial resource for companies that understand that the benefits of having well-trained workers extend far beyond the work site.