SMOHIT recognizes industry professionals with safety awards

Sheet metal locals from across the country awarded for attention to health, safety

FAIRFAX, Va. – Just because a job is hazardous, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. Planning ahead, education, alert minds and a strong safety culture keep thousands of unionized sheet metal workers safe on hundreds of job sites across the country. Contractors, company owners, training coordinators and employees work together in the name of safety. The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) oversees the safety of the membership, and every year, awards those in the industry exhibiting exemplary attention to safety.

The recipients of the 2015 SMOHIT Safety Awards include contractors, business managers, training coordinators, a local president and a lead instructor. They are Superior Air Handling, David Zimmermann from Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 36 in St. Louis; Pete Stafford at CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training; Vince Alvarado from Local No. 49 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lance Fout from Local No. 435 in Jacksonville, Florida; Milo Chaffee from Local 100 near Washington, D.C.; Brian Handzlik from Local No. 71 in Buffalo, New York; Brian Hill and the Labor Management Cooperative Committee (LMCC) of Local No. 273 in Ventura County, California; and Greg Prohaska, lead instructor at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 33’s training center near Cleveland, Ohio.

“This year’s Safety Awards event is special because it ties into the first SMOHIT Safety Champions Conference. In years past, I’ve had to mail out almost all of the awards, but this year, because we hosted the awards ceremony in conjunction with the conference, I get to see these recipients, shake their hands and say ‘thank you’ for helping to keep the membership safe,” said Randy Krocka, administrator for SMOHIT.

Finding new and innovative ways to promote health and safety to sheet metal workers can be a challenge. Ten years ago, when Local No. 36 in St. Louis was looking for a way to draw more members to their annual health screening, they looked to the St. Louis Zoo to help create a fun family event – something members look forward to attending even today.

“The family setting gets everybody there,” said Dave Zimmermann, president and business manager of Local No. 36. “It’s definitely a better draw than trying to do it at our own facility because there is plenty for the kids to do. We could have the sharpest building around, but this offers the most for the whole family.”

Its first year, the event hosted 500 to 600 members. This year, more than 1,600 are expected to attend.

“We’re always out front informing our members about this,” Zimmermann said. “There are one or two people every year who have to go see the doctor the next morning because of the screenings we provide. It’s very rewarding. We are very proud of what we do for our members. I’ve been blessed to have administrators like Buffi Gass as well as the staff that I do. They do all the work.”

Two other locals were also honored because of their efforts to promote the health screenings.

Chaffee, financial secretary-treasurer for Local No. 100, helped to facilitate SMOHIT health screenings for his local in Richmond, Virginia in addition to Washington, D.C., where workers still encounter asbestos, no matter how long they’ve been on the job. Beginning this year, complete mobile health screenings will be scheduled for every two years, he said.

“They bring the facility here. Members get blood work. They test for a lot of things. It’s not just for asbestos,” he added. “We want to get as many through as possible. The more we do it, the better it will definitely be.”

Fout, business manager for Local No. 435 in Jacksonville, Florida, also made it his mission to get as many members to his local’s SMOHIT health screening this year. Because of his efforts, he had a 32 percent turnout, 12 percent higher than the national average.

“Being a small local, we don’t get the recognition of some of the larger locals,” he said. “If members see us being recognized, they will participate a little more.”

SMOHIT receives a lot of health and safety information from CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training, a nonprofit organization created by the North American Trade Unions in the United States and Canada. Today, it’s a world leader in construction safety and health.

Stafford, executive director of CPWR, said the SMOHIT Safety Award is recognition for the staff, who dedicates their careers to safety.

“The satisfaction of it is I recognize over time we’ve done quality work,” Stafford said. “I’ve heard from workers who say the work we’ve done has saved their lives or kept them from being seriously harmed. Knowing we’re actually doing something to help middle class Americans who are trying to make a living in the construction industry – that’s the satisfaction.”

Reaching 23 million safe man-hours is no small accomplishment for any construction project, and contributing 1.5 million of those hours from 190 employees isn’t easy either. For Superior Air Handling, it means its employees get to go home to their families every night. Jim Walton, certified safety and health technologist (CSHT) and safety manager for the company, has spent nearly six years at the Mox Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina.

The company’s contribution to the overall successful safety culture on the project was reached a few ways: everyone from a first-year apprentice to a journeyman goes through a 90-day mentorship to teach them about the safety culture and expectations on the project; peer-to-peer evaluations, or Positive Reinforcement of Safe Behaviors (PROs); safety time out, which can be called by anyone on the project; a volunteer protection program, flex and stretch and safety task analysis, which look at each step of the job for safety hazards.

There are many hazards on any construction project, and it’s the safety professionals’ jobs to train each employee how to mitigate those hazards.

“It’s our job as safety professionals on the Mox project to think ahead and identify issues before they happen,” Walton said. “Trying to stay ahead of the curve is no easy task. It is a team effort by everyone. It’s all about being proactive.”

Thinking ahead is what Local No. 273 and its LMCC did when they put their heads together for this year’s marketing campaign. To promote safety culture on the job site, a logo was designed, placed on safety vests and hard hats and distributed to apprentices and journeymen to remind them safety is a way of life.

Before companies are allowed to bid on a job with the State of California, they carefully examine safety records, which are reported once a job is finished. Hill, Local No. 273’s training coordinator, says this campaign shows off the safety culture during the project, while work is underway.

“As a union, we’re known for our skillset. Safety is another skillset, and it should be promoted,” Hill said. “We wanted to showcase this skillset during construction. It’s been very positive. The members like it. The contractors like the idea of consistent messaging. This one was more about a grassroots level and we wanted to give it a shot.”

Consistent messaging starts in the classroom, which is where Prohaska comes in at Local No. 33 near Cleveland.

Like many of the recipients, Prohaska said although he was named on the award, safety is something to which the entire local contributes on a daily basis. It starts in the classroom and continues onto the job site, so everyone is truly involved. As the lead instructor, he knows he’s doing his job when no one gets hurt.

“I really think it has to do with the whole local. I’m a representative of the local,” Prohaska said. “I don’t feel it was me who got the award. The award represents a combination of the members’, contractors’ and union’s dedication to safety, not just me as an individual.”

Before the engraving was settled on the award, Prohaska was already thinking ahead to his next safety push – infectious disease control. With a lot of members working in hospitals, infectious disease control has been on his mind as training he would like to increase.

He said: “I think there’s room for improvement in regards to infectious disease control, but the fact that we’re talking about it is a step in the right direction.”

Paying attention to possible safety hazards around you and thinking ahead keep members safe every day, Krocka said.

“You have to look out for yourself and who’s around you,” he added. “A lot of safety is common sense. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. At the end of the day, who cares if you made another $10 if someone lost their life? You have to be safe.”

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 three 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; and acting as an aggressive advocate for the health and safety of its members with government and through likeminded allied organizations. 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. SMOHIT 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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