Indiana sheet metal contractors, local union partner for safety

Safety curriculum goes beyond OSHA standards, creates marketable work force

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In 1989, Bob Hostinsky fell 19 feet from faulty scaffolding and broke his knee, jaw and arm, and shattered his wrist. He was out of work for six months. Any job in the labor trades can be dangerous, and at Sheet Metal Workers Union Local #20 in Gary, Ind., it’s Hostinsky’s job to share his experiences and teach others how to be safe in the lab and on the job site.

Hostinsky uses his own experiences to teach all sorts of safety courses – from fall protection, personal protective equipment and lock out tag out, to rigging requirements, crane signaling and working with electricity in confined spaces. Using his own scenarios, he teaches workers what not to do on the job site.

“I’ve had lots of accidents at work,” said Hostinsky, the safety director and apprentice coordinator for Local #20. “I have lots of stories to tell; I’ve witnessed a lot. I have pictures of all this stuff. I show it to them. I tell them, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do what I did.’ You get in a hurry and grab what’s available, and it wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do.”

In Indiana, apprentices and journeymen alike are put through rigorous safety training far beyond the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. The training is based on directives by local contractors seeking workers for specific jobs.

The curriculum is provided by the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT), the health and safety arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry. SMOHIT works with the International Training Institute (ITI), the industry’s education arm.

“Receiving fully qualified workers from the hall means that each tradesperson not only possesses the ability to perform the technical work of layout, cutting, forming and installing, but is also conversant in the applicable OSHA standards that govern the work,” said Scott Vidimos, president of Vidimos Inc. and lead contractor on Local #20’s safety committee.

The cadre of local contractors pays for the training, which includes a stipend for the workers, instructor time, software, materials and anything else needed to present the courses. Classes run October through May for one or two weekday nights per week. Some training sessions also are held on Saturdays.

Along with lower insurance rates, contractors can use the safety training as a selling point to potential clients.

“From a customer standpoint, it’s easy to show them the numbers. It’s a huge impact to show your employee list with all the training,” Vidimos said. “Contractors don’t sell metal and equipment. They sell the skills of the sheet metal workers. Having a workforce that understands and takes pride in working safely is becoming a necessity in performing in today’s market.”

Standards require a menu of required safety training sessions, but to go a few steps ahead of the norm, Local #20 relied on the contractors to believe in safety, too.

“I give all the credit to my contractors,” Hostinsky said. “A safety trained work force is well worth the money.”

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 include health and safety training products, health and safety training curriculum, and health and safety services. SMOHIT works directly with the International Training Institute (ITI) to offer the training programs.

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

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