UTEP Awarded Prestigious OSHA Grant to Help Keep Construction Workers Safe
Last Updated on October 30, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published October 30, 2020
By Christina Rodriguez
The University of Texas at El Paso is one of 80 U.S. institutions awarded a prestigious Susan Harwood federal safety and health training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to train hard-to-reach Hispanic workers in El Paso and neighboring areas for the seventh consecutive year.
The program granted $11.2 million to nonprofits, including community and faith-based groups, employer associations, labor unions, joint labor-management associations, colleges and universities. Target trainees include small-business employers and underserved vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries.
This year, $160,000 was awarded to the grant’s principal investigator, Adeeba Raheem, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering, and co-PI Austin Marshall, J.D., clinical professor of civil engineering at UTEP, to train residential construction workers for safety hazards such as falls.
To date, the program has awarded more than $1 million to the University, provided opportunities for 30 UTEP students and trained more than 9,000 construction workers throughout the Paso del Norte region.
“We are excited and honored to receive this prestigious grant for the seventh consecutive year,” Raheem said. “This training program has provided UTEP a unique opportunity to serve our students and community at an elevated level. This award has renewed our commitment to improving the safety and health of hard-to-reach construction workers employed mostly by small companies in El Paso and neighboring areas.”
The Susan Harwood training grants are awarded on a competitive basis to provide education and training programs to help workers and employers recognize serious workplace hazards, including the coronavirus, implement injury prevention measures and understand their rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
At UTEP, the grant funds safety training for Hispanic workers who often have no exposure to such training, while offering student trainers exposure to construction company culture.
“Students’ experience involves going out in the field to meet with supervisors, project managers, owners and workers. The results of those trained have been increased self-confidence, improved professional skills, and increased field and safety knowledge,” Marshall said.
More than 300 construction companies have benefited from the program and helped UTEP create strong partnerships with the local construction industry. Raheem said that most of the construction companies in El Paso are small businesses that lack resources. With UTEP’s assistance through the OSHA grant, these companies are able to provide specialized training to their workers.
Charles Duran with APCO Building Specialties said employee safety at construction job sites is a never-ending battle. He attributes the training provided by UTEP’s team with helping to ensure that safety precautions are prevalent in his employees’ minds.
Rosalba Flores, an environmental operations manager with JMR Demolition, is grateful to the UTEP training team for preparing and executing the company’s OSHA excavation hazards online training.
“The training was very informative and organized,” Flores said. “We look forward to attending future training sessions, given the opportunity.”
The training UTEP provided on silicosis awareness during National Safety Week was an invaluable learning experience for Joseph Riccillo, director of Sundt Construction Company in El Paso. He believes the training UTEP provides will have ripple effects on the local construction industry.
“This training not only benefited our staff and co-workers, but hundreds of local subcontractors in our community,” Riccillo said. “This training not only reinforced our safety policies on-site, but allowed the workforces to carry the knowledge to other project sites and the general El Paso workforce.”
The program honors the late Susan Harwood, former director of OSHA’s Office of Risk Assessment, who died in 1996. During her 17-year OSHA career, she helped develop federal standards to protect workers exposed to bloodborne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos and lead in construction.
For more information about the Susan Harwood federal safety and health training grants, visit https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/09182020.