Members Assistance Program helps instructors, directors help apprentices

A resource for the unionized sheet metal industry

Members Assistance Program helps instructors, directors help apprentices

Approximately 30 training coordinators and instructors with SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) gathered in St. Charles, Missouri in the fall to attend SMART’s Member Assistance Program (MAP) training. Because they deal with apprentices every day, the direct intent is to train them to save lives.

Much like CPR/AED training and first aid, the SMART MAP class was created to give members in leadership roles the skills to help their peers – and in this case students – watch for signs, intervene and guide them to treatment, whether it be for addiction, mental health or other familial issues.

“We are trying to get our members the help they need, so it doesn’t impact their careers,” said Chris Carlough, SMART director of education.

Two days of the three-day training was spent addressing issues of suicide prevention and marijuana use. With facts and figures, personal stories and videos, attendees came away with a better understanding of both subject matters.

“It made me feel more comfortable being able to bring up some of the tough subjects when talking to some of my apprentices. I have already used some of the techniques that were taught to us,” said Brent Hoag, an instructor from Local 20 in Indianapolis, a class attendee. “When everyone shared their personal experiences with suicide, it was very sobering. That, to me, was the part I will remember the most from the class. I never thought suicide was that prevalent as to where a room full of 30-ish people all had someone they knew attempt or die by suicide.”

According to a 2016 U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention study, the construction and extraction industry ranks the second highest occupation in the nation for suicide with 53 suicides per 100,000. The norm is 12 per 100,000.

White men in their middle years are more susceptible than any other group to die by suicide due to risk factors such as fearlessness, lack of leadership training, family separation and isolation, lack of sleep, seasonal layoffs, tolerant culture of alcohol and substance abuse, pressure and chronic pain. Those in the construction industry often also have access to tools, high places and firearms.

Also, white males ages 45 to 54 with less than a college education are the most at-risk demographic, said Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, a clinical psychologist, speaker and facilitator of the suicide discussion at SMART MAP trainings.

“We are losing far too many people who could be helped in some way and come back into a passion for living,” Spencer-Thomas said. “If we can get this right, we will literally save 4,500 lives a year. It’s super important.”

Training coordinators and instructors in attendance were encouraged to display resources such as the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) Help Line at 877-884-6227; the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741) to help connect members with resources but also erases the stigma of asking for help.

There has been a major shift in the culture of marijuana in the last five years with the legalization of the drug either pending or in effect throughout the country and Canada. Ben Cort, keynote speaker and consultant on the subject, showed attendees in the third day of training marijuana isn’t what it used to be.

The presentation was meant to help leaders better understand the new age of the drug, how it’s used, the effects on job and school performance and the impact on members’ health and well-being.

Arming training coordinators and instructors with the correct information will help them notice the signs of marijuana use and help them make decisions on the training level in regards to policies and treatment suggestions for members.

According to the CDC, accidents/unintentional injuries were the third leading cause of death in 2016 with 161,374. Although it’s not noted, Cort said accidents such as these increase with marijuana use.

“You can’t overdose, but people die from doing dumb stuff every day, and when you can’t tell you’re high, you could die of even more dumb stuff,” Cort added.

Everyday use, especially in those younger than 25, can make physical changes to the brain, including the loss of connective tissue and white and grey matter. With the potency reaching 42 percent, medical professionals and scholars are racing to catch up. To date, there is no scientific understanding of what effects marijuana has on the human body passed 16 percent, Cort said.

The SMART MAP program began as a partnership with SMOHIT, the safety arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industries, to train members to guide their peers in the direction of professional assistance such as therapy, rehabilitation and eventual recovery. Trainings began in 2013 and were consistently offered to business managers, representatives and agents. This year, through a partnership with the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the union, three classes were offered to training coordinators and instructors in Fairfax, Virginia; St. Charles, Missouri; and Los Angeles.

“The MAP program takes trusted members in their locals – people members already turn to – and gives them the tools they need to actually help their brothers and sisters,” said Randy Krocka, SMOHIT administrator. “It enables them to save lives, save jobs and save families.”

“Before, there was an informal way of taking care of each other,” Carlough added. “The country is riddled with drug and alcohol abuse. It’s a huge problem, and our union is taking the lead in addressing this vital issue that has become a national epidemic.”

The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) was founded in 1986 to address the impact of decades-long asbestos exposure on those working in the sheet metal industry. To date, more than 55,000 sheet metal workers have been screened as part of its ongoing Asbestos Screening Program.

SMOHIT has since expanded its mission to operate on four separate but related tracks: monitoring and documenting the health of sheet metal workers as it relates to workplace exposures and hazards; providing safety information and training related to best safety practices on and off the job; acting as an aggressive advocate for the health and safety of its members with government and through likeminded allied organizations; and providing diet and exercise information to address the health and wellness of its members.

SMOHIT has adjusted its methods and messages to reflect feedback from local unions and the industry, and to address new safety challenges as they arise. The organization works directly with the International Training Institute (ITI) to provide training programs for the unionized sheet metal industry.

For more information on SMOHIT, visit smohit.org or call 703-739-7130.

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