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January 21, 2000
By Marty Mulcahy
LANSING - Construction industry deaths in Michigan took another turn for the worse in 1999, as 31 workers were killed on the job - two more than in 1998 and one of the highest totals since 1985.
According to figures released by the MIOSHA Construction Safety Division, the "caught between" category killed 11 workers in 1999, falls claimed 10 lives, and electrocutions killed six. The most deadly year for construction workers since 1985 was 34 killed on the job in 1997.
"Work has been good, and that increases the potential for worker injuries and deaths," said Suzy Carter, executive director of the Michigan Construction Trades Safety Institute. "There's also a real push to get things done, and that doesn't help when it comes to safety."
The state agency charged with protecting the good health of Michigan's building trades workers is the Construction Safety Division of MIOSHA. In order to get a handle on helping to protect worker safety and health, the agency developed a Strategic Plan with goals for 1999-2003. The plan generally calls for improved "workplace safety and health for all workers, as evidenced by fewer hazards, reduced exposures, and fewer injuries, illnesses and fatalities."
Specifically, MIOSHA's stated goal is to reduce injuries and illness in at least five high-hazard industries, including construction, by 15 percent through 2003.
To get to that goal, MIOSHA's strategies include maintaining "a strong enforcement presence for employers who do not meet their safety and health responsibilities," including targeting inspections, coordinating consultation, education and training, and using arrangements like "settlement agreements" in industries and occupations that pose the greatest risk to workers.
Carter said beyond that, she expects the construction industry's injury/death rate to decline in the near future for a purely economic reason: contractors, trades and owners now realize that good job site safety brings improved productivity, better on-time performance, and lower workers' compensation costs.
"The bottom-line reasons for change aren't what you'd call 'feel-good reasons;' they're business reasons," Carter said. "Over the long haul, more emphasis on safety is going to help workers, and that's what's really important."
Workers were much less safe on the job before OSHA came into existence in 1970 and MIOSHA was started up in 1974. In the 1960s, an average of 44 construction workers were killed on the job every year.
Using 1998 numbers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. fatal work injuries fell to 6,026 during 1998, about 3 percent below the previous year and the lowest count since the BLS survey began in 1992. The construction industry reported the largest number of fatal work injuries of any industry in 1998, 1,171.
In 1998, the leading cause of all on-the-job deaths in was
highway crashes - 1,431 were killed. The next big killer was
on-the-job falls, which totaled 702, nearly the same as worker
homicides. Electrocutions accounted for 6 percent of the fatal
By Marty Mulcahy
EAST LANSING - Perhaps the most important reason for construction of the Biomedical and Physical Sciences (BPSC) building on the Michigan State University campus is that it will put scientists from different disciplines under one roof.
One very big roof.
Construction is moving along well on the six-story, 370,000-square-foot building, which will be the largest classroom buildings on the MSU campus. General contractor Chrisman, its subcontractors and the building trades began work last spring, and the project is expected to wrap up in December 2001.
The $93 million building will put biologists and physicists under one roof, housing the Departments of Microbiology, Physiology, and Physics and Astronomy, as well as the Center for Microbial Ecology and the Center for Sensor Materials. The structure replaces the demolished Biology Research Center, and will connect the existing Chemistry Building to the existing Biochemistry Building, creating a major science complex as well as a single building.
It won't be your run-of-the-mill office building.
"It will be a teaching and research facility, so the building will house quite a variety of specialized equipment," said Doug Norton, project manager for Chrisman. "We'll be installing labs with medical gas, natural gas, nitrogen, compressed air, distilled water - quite a variety of piping and equipment. The project requires immense coordination to keep things moving smoothly."
Last week, structural steel had been erected to the fourth floor, the concrete basement walls were being finished, and the trades were taking care of mechanical and electrical rough-ins.
The building will house laboratories, offices, classrooms, a "clean" room and a large atrium, which will have lounges and conversation areas designed to informally bring students, faculty and scientists together.
University Provost Lou Anna Simon said "that kind of human interaction is extraordinarily important to science. This building will permit many people from different backgrounds to bump into one another, have casual but significant hallway conversations - the sharing of ideas about issues and concerns that are now confined to conversations within disciplines or divisions."
The buildings that are being replaced are rich in scientific
history - with pioneer work in cyclotron design, infectious diseases,
cancer/hormone relationships, and orthopedic surgery - but they're
showing their age. Giltner Hall, home to the microbiology and
physiology departments, was built in 1913. The Physics-Astronomy
Building went up in 1949.
A single level is barely sufficient to contain the expanding and increasingly hi-tech North American International Auto Show.
The auto show, in its twelfth year as high-profile, international event, is taking up virtually every inch of the 600,000 feet of exhibit area available at Cobo Center. And trades workers last week were setting up some of the most elaborate displays ever, including double-deck displays, wiring that's more intricate than ever, and figuring out how to suspend vehicles from beams that were only intended to support the roof and the parking lot above.
"We put miles and miles of wire in this place, and it's only a 10-day show," said Dan Malinowski, an IBEW Local 58 foreman for Trade Show Electric. "But you do your best to make it look as good as you can, even behind the scenes."
More than 1,500 carpenters, electricians, iron workers riggers, stagehands and teamsters worked for more than a month - over two shifts toward the end - to set up the show on time for its media opening on Jan. 10. An estimated 700,000 will attend.
Each year, more than 40 auto manufacturers exhibit over 700 cars and trucks at the NAIAS. While the NAIAS is a stage for major industry news, it also has a significant economic impact locally. According to David L. Littmann, first vice president and senior economist, Comerica Bank, the total incremental economic impact of the 1999 NAIAS on Southeastern Michigan was estimated at $427 million.
The NAIAS 2000 is the eighty-fourth show in Detroit, making it the longest running auto show in the country.
Trade workers we talked to said they enjoy a much better spirit of cooperation with the exhibitors than what existed in the early 1990s, when the visitors complained of Cobo Center's jurisdictional rules for workers. Now, exhibitors are more concerned about things like light placement and schedules.
"It's been a real smooth show," said Local 58 steward Bob McIlhargey, "we've worked hard and we've done a good job. Ford and GM helped us a lot because they started work on their exhibits on Nov. 1, when in past years they would have started on Nov. 15. That made a big difference."
Last year, Ford was the first automaker with a two-tiered exhibit, and this year there are 17. GM is weighing in with its double-deck "GM Experience," a 164,456-square-foot display that will feature all of its current and feature products.
In 1965, the Detroit Auto Show moved to its present location at Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center. In 1989, after the hall was expanded, the show was renamed the North American International Auto Show. Cobo still ranks as the seventh largest single-floor showroom in the world, but it is slipping as other cities build new or expanded halls.
The facility is capable of housing a 600,000 square-foot show
in one open-view hall, along with an additional 100,000 square-feet
available on the River Level. Additionally, the facility boasts
84 meeting rooms and a l00,000 square-foot concourse and atrium
So this is what the global economy has come to.
The wealthiest corporation in the world, General Electric, told its suppliers point blank: "Migrate or be out of business; it's not a matter of if, just when."
That's the message that GE gave its "Supplier Migration Conference" in Monterrey last year. There, the company told suppliers to move to Mexico or lose GE's business for good.
"GE is pressuring its suppliers, not its own companies, its independent suppliers, to move to Monterrey, Mexico in two years or lose their GE business," said IUE President Ed Fire, who also chairs a 14-union bargaining committee with GE. "These suppliers talk about how they don't want to move, but may have no choice because GE is so powerful."
One supplier reported that GE officials made it clear: "This is not a seminar just to provide information - we expect you to move and move quickly." GE reportedly told them, "We sincerely want you to participate and will help, but if you don't we will move on without you."
The company has already "moved on" out of Indiana. There, GE shifted 1,400 refrigerator manufacturing jobs (at about $25 per hour) from Bloomington to Celaya, Mexico (where workers earn about $2 an hour).
"We must globalize every activity in the company," said GE CEO Jack Welch in the company's annual report. "We will move aggressively to broaden our definition of globalization by increasing the intensity of our effort to search out and attract the unlimited pool of talent available in countries in which we do business."
GE's unions say the order to move overseas spells big trouble for workers because other multinational corporations may mimic GE's globalization strategy.
"This is free trade gone amok," said IUE Local 201 President Jeff Crosby.
By the way, GE in 1998 was the first company to earn more
than $10 billion profit in one year.
There are very few silver linings to getting burned out of your home.
Paul Binert, a Sheet Metal Workers Local 292 member, found them: The mobile home occupied by Paul, his wife Brenda, and two children wasn't a total loss following the Dec. 13 fire. Everyone got out OK. And Paul found out that a lot of fellow union members and his employer care about their fellow man.
Fellow workers at Giffen where Paul works, building trades workers at the Chrysler Sterling plant and matching donations by the management at Giffen's shop provided $4,311 and some clothes to help the Binert family get back on their feet.
"There's a lot of smoke damage, and the insurance company is really dragging its feet," said Paul, who along with his family has been staying at a cousin's house. "This has been such a stressful time. The donations have helped quite a bit, and it shows that people really do care. We can't say thank you enough."
The smell of smoke and a smoke alarm awoke the family just before midnight. The fire and smoke did a good deal of damage to the mobile home, including ruining the family's Christmas presents. The fire was blamed on a faulty furnace.
The donations helped the Binerts pay to have the furnace repaired so that the home's pipes wouldn't freeze, and to purchase some building materials. Paul hopes his problems with his insurance company will be cleared up and he and his family will be back in his home soon.
"That's the good thing about union people, we stick together,
and if people are in need we try to help them as much as possible,"
said Dean Carlson, Local 292 Recording Secretary and a co-worker
of Paul's. "People have their own family to think about
during the holidays, and it's nice that they think about others,
Brr. Here comes winter.
Whether it's due to global warming or La Nina, the start of cold weather, at least in much of the Lower Peninsula, seems to be getting later every year.
This year we almost got into the middle of January before it got to the point of where Shakespeare may have said, 'tis bitter cold and I'm freezing my (butt) off."
Construction workers toiling without the benefit of a roof and walls these days may be saying something similar. To help them out, OSHA has provided a few tips and reminders so that the cold won't be so dangerous.
"Wearing the right clothing is the most important step a person can take to fight the cold's harmful effects, and ultimately avoid cold-related injuries," added OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress. "Employers can take added steps to help protect their workers by having employees come out of the cold for periods of time, providing additional heat sources, and setting up systems to check more frequently on people working in the cold."
During cold weather about 60 percent of a person's body fuel is used to heat the body. When exposed to frigid temperatures, particularly for extended periods of time, a person will tire easily, and exposed skin will cool rapidly. This is prime breeding ground for the dangerous effects of the cold - hypothermia and frostbite. Combine cold temperatures with water, including actual immersion, and ailments like trench foot become another potentially serious problem.
According to OSHA, major risk factors for cold-related stress include:
Frostbite occurs when the skin tissue actually freezes, causing ice crystals to form between cells and draw water from them, which leads to cellular dehydration. Although this typically occurs at temperatures below 30ºF, wind chill effects can cause frostbite at above-freezing temperatures.
General hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls to a level where normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. While hypothermia is generally associated with freezing temperatures, it may occur in any climate where a person's body temperature falls below normal Trench Foot is caused by long, continuous exposure to a wet, cold environment, or actual immersion in water. Symptoms include a tingling and/or itching sensation, burning, pain, and swelling, sometimes forming blisters in more extreme cases.
Common sense will tell most people to get themselves or victims of the above ailments into a warm area. But recognizing the symptoms is the key.
Initial effects of frostbite include uncomfortable sensations of coldness; tingling, stinging or aching feeling of the exposed area followed by numbness. Ears, fingers, toes, cheeks, and noses are primarily affected.
Frostbitten areas appear white and cold to the touch. The appearance of frostbite varies depending on whether re-warming has occurred. Deeper frostbite involves freezing of deeper tissues (muscles, tendons, etc.) causing exposed areas to become numb, painless, hard to the touch.
The first symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, an inability to do complex motor functions, lethargy, and mild confusion, and occur as the core body temperature decreases to around 95ºF.
As body temperature continue to fall, hypothermia becomes more severe. The individual falls into a state of dazed consciousness, failing to complete even simple motor functions. The victim's speech becomes slurred and his or her behavior may become irrational.
The most severe state of hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 90ºF
Wearing personal protective clothing is perhaps the most important step in fighting the elements. Wear at least three layers of clothing, including an outer layer to break the wind and allow some ventilation, a middle layer of wool or synthetic fabric to absorb sweat and retain insulation in a damp environment, and an inner layer of cotton or synthetic weave to allow ventilation
Pay special attention to protecting feet, hands, face and
head. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head
Michigan trades do well with money
The average second-year increase for multi-year agreements was $1.27 or 3.8 percent. The CLRC said the numbers remain "within, but at the high end of the range" for annual average first-year settlements since 1986. Since that time, contracts have increased between 2.2 percent to 3.8 percent.
In December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in Michigan, for both union and nonunion construction workers, the news was even better. Reporting on 1998 numbers, the BLS said our state's construction workers enjoyed the third-highest average pay increase in the nation, 7.4 percent. All Michigan building trades workers, both union and nonunion, earn an average of $38.148 per year.
Differences in pay increases among crafts were "minimal" in 1998, said the CLRC, and the duration of contracts was typically one to three years. We reported on a 10-year agreement forged by the St. Louis pipe trades with their contractors in our last edition; the CLRC said the trend toward contracts longer than three years "appears to have abated."
Finally, the CLRC said the U.S. construction unemployment rate is at its lowest in 30 years, while employment in the industry is at record levels. Jobs in construction increased by 300,000 in 1998 to more than 6.3 million.
ABC needs skilled labor; that's news?
(Editor's note: many in the construction industry believe that the lack of skilled labor has always plagued the nonunion ABC).
The Construction Labor Report said the survey revealed that 46 percent of ABC contractors who responded to the survey identified skilled labor shortages as their biggest shortage, while 16 percent said lack of skilled management was their biggest problem.
According to the survey, 94 percent of the Midwest's ABC contractors experienced delays on the job because of worker shortages.
Who spend what on political lobbying
Of the 513 groups that spent more than $250,000, only eight were union organizations, spending a total of $10.2 million, or .014 percent of all spending.
The biggest spender was the health care industry at $95.5 million, during a year when Congress was debating managed care reform and the Patient's Bill of Rights.
Historically, unions have accounted for about 12 percent of
all campaign finance spending. Yet Republicans in Congress and
now in the Michigan legislature have continued to push for "Paycheck
Deception" legislation, that would place burdensome requirements
on unions collecting money for political spending.