Sheet metal industry recognizes its own with national safety awards

Six award recipients hail from St. Louis, San Diego, Reno and Wisconsin

FAIRFAX, Va. – Safety in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry is an important concern, and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) recognizes contractors, training centers and individuals annually who initiate safety training programs and provide overall safety education to their workers and students. Recipients of SMOHIT’s 2013 safety awards include sheet metal training center instructors Kurt Christiansen of Southeastern Wisconsin, Ed Hoganson of St. Louis and Roger Fewkes of San Diego, Local No. 33’s training center in Cleveland and contractors RHP Mechanical Systems in Reno, Nev. and C&R Mechanical in St. Louis.

Nominees are selected on the basis of providing exemplary training methodology, outreach activities, wellness activities, research, outstanding program development and implementation, any innovative health and/or safety initiatives or by using SMOHIT training curricula to create a safety culture with the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry.

“The safety awards are meant to shine a light on exemplary safety procedures practiced by sheet metal training instructors, training centers and union contractors across the nation,” said Charles Austin, industrial hygienist for SMOHIT. “All of the award recipients have gone above and beyond to bring safety education to the workers and, in turn, ensure they have a safe work environment.”

This is the second safety award this year for the Local No. 33 in Cleveland, which received recognition in March from The International Awards for Powered Access (IAPA) for best new training center for its training offered on powered lift devices. The center is the first of its kind in the United States to earn the distinction. In addition, the 10- and 30-hour OSHA classes are mandatory for the first- and fourth-year apprentices and are offered to journeymen as well.

For the last year, the center has been offering American Work Platform Training (AWPT), which consists of eight to 10 hours of classroom and hands-on study regarding scissor and boom lifts. Local No. 33’s training center in Toledo and its counterpart at Local No. 73 in Chicago are the only sheet metal training centers in the country to offer the training.

The license earned during the training is becoming a sought-after tool, as many projects are beginning to require it for projects, said John Nesta, training coordinator at the Cleveland training center.

“In Europe, this is like a driver’s license,” Nesta added. “We walked out of the instructors’ course amazed at what we were supposed to be doing, and we are passing that knowledge on to our students.”

In St. Louis, the Washington University School of Medicine partnered with Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 36 to study work injuries over the last eight years. For the project, the university worked directly with Fritz Hoffmeister, safety director for C&R Mechanical, a design-build mechanical contractor and engineering firm, and a member of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). Together, Hoffmeister and the university developed weekly safety and ergonomics training based on the current job tasks, delivered the training to a sheet metal work crew and evaluated the training through surveys and observations.

The university’s nomination read, “Mr. Hoffmeister keeps the pulse of his work crews by getting to know them individually and his safety efforts are also informed by workers’ input. He keeps his own personal statistics to justify safety equipment purchases and show cost effectiveness for the company’s return on safety investments.”

Earlier this year, another SMACNA contractor in St. Louis called on Hoganson, safety instructor at Local No. 36, for advice. Workers were being written up for not using their fall arrest equipment correctly. Hoganson put together a class to emphasize the correct usage and was able to address the workers’ specific concerns and circumstances, explain to them how to fix the problem and teach them how to keep it from happening again. This is only one example of Hoganson’s attention to safety, said Billy Crow, also an instructor at the training center.

“Our contractors look to him for added safety knowledge. The contractors also have called on Ed to hold special refresher classes just for their workers to give them all the newest updates on the job,” Crow said. Hoganson also developed the 30-hour OSHA and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) programs at the training center. “He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know on safety, and he is very willing to share his knowledge with surrounding locals.”

Hoganson also teaches OSHA 500, 502 and 510 courses in Las Vegas with instructors from the International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry.

Across the country, a few times a year, Eric Scolari, safety manager at RHP Mechanical Systems in Reno, Nev., has to make life and death decisions for his workers, but he doesn’t do it alone. He works with part-time risk management consultants from an insurance company and MSHA as well as a hazard communication consultant to make well-informed decisions.

Scolari has been the full-time safety manager at the single-source mechanical contractor since 1999 and is a qualified OSHA trainer. This means employees are consistently trained and up to date on all safety requirements and equipment.

“Sometimes we work in vaults underground, and we have some hazardous situations we can get into,” Scolari said. “The strength in our program is a direct result of knowing that each of us plays a vital role in its success. By making the work environment safe and healthy, we ensure success, quality, productivity and profitability on every jobsite.”

Fewkes, a full-time instructor at Local No. 206’s training center in San Diego, teaches CPR/first aid, fall protection safety and OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 classes along with training for the forklift license and scaffold use. For him, safety education is a passion.

“I like to get the message out to them. We don’t run across the freeway because we know what the outcome is going to be. It’s the same on the jobsite. We know what the outcome will be, but why do we keep doing it?” Fewkes said. “Today, you may get away with it, but you may not tomorrow.”

“Even in class, he is the first instructor to tell you not to lean back in your chair because you might fall back or always reiterate shop and equipment safety when students are about to get into another project. He is also the first instructor to tell you what not to do when working on a ladder, the instructor to tell you to drive home safely,” added Chris Caricato, apprentice coordinator in San Diego. “I think Roger takes other people’s safety personally, and that is why he is the way he is.”

In Kenosha, Wis., Christiansen is the co-owner of Christiansen Heating and Sheet Metal ­­- the family business that spans four generations ­- and is an instructor at the Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 18 training center in Racine, Wis. In addition to the standard OSHA class and information, Christiansen invites a sports therapist give a presentation on proper body mechanics along with injuries in the sheet metal industry and how to avoid them. He also brings in an official OSHA representative to answer questions from the students.

“I have never met anyone so dedicated to trying to give the best class or most updated material for his students,” said Todd Erhardt, apprentice coordinator. “When there are so many instructors out there just doing the minimum for their classes, it is refreshing to meet someone who feels like he can’t ever give enough or do enough to give back to his students or our industry.”

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 www.smohit.org or call 703-739-7130.

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