State study: Apprenticeship training connected with safer workplaces

Apprenticeship programs result in safer workers. That’s the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind study by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). As apprenticeship programs continue to grow, they could reduce serious worker injuries and workers’ compensation claims.

“Apprentices are safer because they’re learning all the proper techniques,” said Peter Guzman, manager of L&I’s Apprenticeship Program. “Now the science backs us up.”

People and businesses can get started at L&I’s apprenticeship website.

The results of the study come at a time of expansion for registered apprenticeship programs in Washington. There is record involvement, with 22,000 workers currently participating in apprenticeships across about 200 registered programs in the state. While construction trades such as carpenter, ironworker and electrician have the most active participants, there are growing programs in the technology, aerospace and medical assistant fields.

The study, by L&I’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program, linked registered apprenticeship data with plumber certification information. Then, it compared worker compensation claims between 2000-2018. The work underwent a rigorous peer review and publication last fall in the Journal of Safety Research.

The findings show workers’ compensation claim rates were 31% lower among journey-level plumbers with apprenticeship training compared to plumbers who did not complete an apprenticeship.

“This study provides support for what many believe: There are fewer injuries among apprentices,” said Dr. Dave Bonauto, SHARP manager.

SHARP epidemiologist Dr. Sara Wuellner, a 13-year agency veteran, led the study.

“While the study focused on plumbers, it indicates apprenticeships not only provide well-trained workers, they also contribute to a safer workplace,” she said. “Other studies could look at specific parts of apprenticeship and show how that occurs.”

Wuellner said on-the-job training, mentorship and classroom instruction are elements of apprenticeship training that can improve safety. She added other variables, might also make a difference, including prior education, union participation, or an employer safety program.

You can read the full study here.

PJ Moss, apprenticeship coordinator for Seattle Area Pipe Trades, said he feels the study can be generalized across other trades.

“I don’t think it’s unique to plumbers,” Moss said. “People who go through an apprenticeship receive more structured safety training.

Moss’s program is affiliated with Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC United Association Union Local 32 and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington. He said the program receives about 1,000 applicants annually.

L&I’s Apprenticeship Program is spreading the word about the study’s findings. Program representatives have presented the study to state and national apprenticeship organizations.

“The connection to worker safety is more evidence of the value of apprenticeship programs,” Guzman said. “These programs prepare people for well-paying, meaningful careers.”

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