Award recipients recognized at home for safety culture at work

SMOHIT Safety Champions Conference, awards rescheduled for 2021

FAIRFAX, Va.  – Although the 2020 Safety Champions Conference and Safety Matters Awards was rescheduled this year due to the pandemic, the Sheet Metal Occupational Institute Trust (SMOHIT), the safety arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, recognized honorees from Pewaukee, Wisconsin; Phoenix; Buffalo, New York; Pomona, California; Washington, D.C., and Salem, Oregon, who make safety a priority.

For some, awards were sent to their homes. Others agreed they would rather wait until the 2021 conference, where recipients from the last two years will be recognized.

The conference, originally scheduled for March 22-24 in San Antonio, Texas, is in the process of being rescheduled for 2021.

“Although we missed everyone this year, we’re looking forward to seeing everyone next year — safe and healthy — for an even bigger awards celebration,” said Randall Krocka, SMOHIT administrator.

The Safety Design Award winners are also typically recognized during the awards ceremony. In the months leading up to the conference, members submit designs to promote a positive safety culture in their locals. Three members were chosen to receive their design on 300 shirts to be given out to members of their respective locals. Winners include Dave Gauthier, Local 206 in San Diego, California; Patrick Edmonds, Local 19 in Central Pennsylvania; and Joe Bernstein, Local 22 in Cranford, New Jersey.

The 2020 SMOHIT Safety Matters Awards honorees are:

Jake Boulware, safety director at Total Mechanical, Pewaukee, Wisconsin

  • The company has met 1 million work hours without a lost-time injury three times in less than a decade — in 2011, 2014 and 2019.

Albert Blanco, Jr., training director, Sheet Metal Workers Local 359 Training Center in Phoenix

  • Blanco recently created a jobsite bullying and harassment training program to teach apprentices and Local 359 members about the emotional and mental effects associated with bullying and harassment on job sites. It was added to the apprenticeship curriculum to be reviewed annually.

Paul Crist, business agent, for Sheet Metal Workers Local 71 in Buffalo, New York

  • Crist created the Training Incentive Program (TIPS), which generated more than 16,000 additional safety and trade-related trainings for Local 71 members with incentives for those who participate.

Mike Hilgert, owner of Superior Duct Fabrication in Pomona, California

  • In 2016, Hilgert set out to place an emphasis on training, accountability, compliance and employee buy-in in order to change the company’s safety culture. From guards on the press brakes to rewards and training programs, Hilgert led the company to double in size in the last four years while cutting its incident rate in half.

Jamie DeVan, Mid-Atlantic safety manager for Southland Industries in the Washington, D.C., area

  • DeVan leads the division’s positive safety culture by creating a sense of caring about safety and fellow employees. He worked together with SMOHIT to create the 2019 safety video, “Life of a Duct.”

C.J. Hansen Co. Inc., mechanical contractors in Salem, Oregon

  • The company developed and implemented a Daily Pre-Task Safety Plan, a two-page document issued to all foremen and lead journeypersons on any jobsite during the project kickoff. Used daily, it’s also used to collect data on the job to forecast material and labor needs in addition to capturing a snapshot of safety on the project by encouraging past, present and future consideration of the specific project.

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 tasks: 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 or call 703-739-7130.