Wisconsin Underground Contractors Ally With OSHA

Story by Mike Larson, editor | September 28, 2010

This spring, the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association (WUCA) and the Wisconsin offices of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) signed a two-year, statewide alliance to work together to make underground construction safer.

OSHA, long known and feared as the enforcer of federal safety rules, has recently added forming co-operative alliances as another method of reaching its goal: creating safe working conditions in all industries across America.

George Yoksas, OSHA's director for the Milwaukee area, puts it this way, “OSHA's goal is to create safe work environments. We would prefer to reach that goal by working together with major, forward-thinking, industry organizations, rather than by relying only on the threat of enforcement.”

Yoksas elaborated, “OSHA cannot inspect every job site and cannot effectively reach each individual company in an entire industry. But by working with strong organizations such as WUCA, we can maximize the effectiveness of the resources of both our organizations in order to reach our common goal of workplace safety.”

“For example,” said Yoksas, “when new educational tools become available or regulations change, we can communicate that to WUCA's management, and they will see that the news gets to all their members. Or, we can attend WUCA meetings to learn about members' issues and answer questions from several members of the group efficiently in one place at one time.”

WUCA Executive Director Dick Wanta said that his organization's members will benefit by having more access to OSHA training materials, information and also to its representatives, who will attend at least one of the group's monthly meetings every calendar quarter.

The cooperative nature of the alliance, says Wanta, will help OSHA understand the issues that underground contractors face on job sites every day, and how it can help address them.

The WUCA-OSHA alliance will be in effect for two years, after which it can be renewed if it is proving mutually beneficial.

It includes all four OSHA regional offices in Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Madison, Appleton, and Eau Claire – thereby covering WUCA members working anywhere in the state.

The alliance documents specifically address three categories of activities:

  • Training and education, such as developing programs and seminars aimed at identifying and reducing workplace hazards.
  • Outreach and communication, such as sharing up-to-date ergonomic information, promoting participation in OSHA co-operative programs, developing case studies, and providing information in Spanish and other languages.
  • Promoting the national dialogue on workplace safety and health by sharing data and participating in forums for finding ways to improve workplace safety and health.

Said Wanta, “We all have the same goal – making our workplaces as safe as possible, but without being so restrictive that we can't work effectively. This alliance sets the stage for unprecedented cooperation between the underground industry and its major regulator toward meeting that goal.”

Yoksas says that WUCA has joined the ranks of at least a dozen other major construction-industry organizations in Wisconsin that have similar alliances with OSHA. They include the Associated General Contractors (AGC), the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the state Department of Workforce Development, the Wisconsin Ready-Mixed Concrete Association (WRMCA), and the Electrical Contractors Association.

Industry organizations interested in learning more about forming alliances with OSHA should contact one of OSHA's four offices in the state.