Three winners illustrate how safety, career work well together

FAIRFAX, Va.  – On the heels of the first SMOHIT Safety Conference, the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) put out the call to sheet metal workers for the inaugural Safety Design Contest. Members were encouraged to submit a graphic design – no matter how rough or detailed – and a slogan to convey the importance of safety in the workplace.

This year’s winners included Len Liebert, assistant coordinator from Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 12 in Pittsburgh; Keith Coulter, instructor from Local No. 2 near Kansas City, Missouri; and Steve French, journeyman with Local No. 359 and health and safety manager for Harris and Hart Mechanical in Chandler, Arizona.

The winners will receive complementary promotional items – with their designs imprinted on them – to distribute to their local members.

Liebert, who works on Local No. 12’s website, among other design projects, designed a tribal style logo with the slogan, “Safety Culture: Be a Part of it.”

For him, creativity and sheet metal work go hand-in-hand.

“Sheet metal is a creative field to be in. That’s why it appeals to me. I’ve been drawing all my life,” Liebert said. “It’s tribal and trendy, so I thought it would catch someone’s eye. I liked it when I sent it, but you never know. I was pretty excited when they called to tell me I was one of the winners.”

French primarily works at the Intel plant near Phoenix, where safety is a primary concern, he said. He created his slogan submission, “Safety is a value. Live with it,” accompanying the current SMOHIT logo, to illustrate safety is an industry-wide concern.

“Out here, safety is a way of life,” French said. “All the workers know it’s the way it is. They know how it is. I have to remind them, but they need to live with it or they can’t work out here. It’s a very good environment.”

In Coulter’s 37 years in the industry, he’s seen safety become more valued over time. With his submission, “Always formulate a good plan. Safety and work – always a good mix,” he wanted workers to think about how safety affects their lives as a whole.

“Safety isn’t just for work. It’s for whatever you’re doing,” he said. “For instance, you want to be able to use your eyes, your ears when you get out of the trade. So, protect those no matter what you’re doing.”

Although a lot of the work sheet metal workers create isn’t visible to the general public, creativity and innovation isn’t new to the industry. Instructors at the training centers, just like any school teacher or college professor, have to be creative in how they teach subjects to ensure all the students grasp the concepts before them. To Coulter, from apprentice to retiree, sheet metal work is a creative job.

“I get to do all the skills with the students. I get to use the tools and my creative thinking. It’s a creative job,” Coulter said about his teaching career, which he’s had since 2009. “I used to live for 2014, so I could retire. Here I am a year past retirement, and I’m thinking of working another five or six years. I enjoy teaching.”

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 or call 703-739-7130.