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July 19, 2002

Big drop in fatalities for Michigan's Hardhats

OSHA law improves safety, but toll on workers continues

Trades playing the right notes during Orchestra Hall renovation

Construction levels up from 2001

Quiet, please: Industry needs to look at stopping construction noise at its source



Big drop in fatalities for Michigan's Hardhats

Michigan's construction workers are working safer.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Consumer and Industry Services reports that seven construction workers in our state lost their lives on the job during the first six months of 2002.

Those are still seven deaths too many - but the low number compared to past years represents a remarkable decrease in on-the-job fatalities.

Throughout all of 2001, 28 construction workers were killed on the job. There were 34 construction worker fatalities in 1997 - the highest single-year toll in recent years.

"You look at the numbers and people say there were only seven fatalities, but no one should say 'only', because we're talking about people's lives here," said one of our sources within MIOSHA. "I think a lot of it has a lot to do with the economy slowing down, so the fatalities are coming down. Be careful when you talk about numbers over a relatively short period. There are seven today, but in this business, you don't know what might happen tomorrow."


OSHA law improves safety, but toll on workers continues

A comparative study of workplace safety records in Michigan and across the nation provides a strong endorsement of the historic benefits of state and federal OSHA groups

But in a business environment where employers are demanding continuous improvement from employees, it's fair for workers to ask state and federal safety regulators, "what have you done for us lately?" Some of the job safety and fatality statistics in Michigan and across the nation contain good news for workers - but they also show a real need for improvement

In April, the AFL-CIO Department of Occupational Safety and Health issued a wide-ranging report on national job safety and fatality rates, in some categories breaking the numbers down by state. Michigan's numbers contained good and bad news - but they were also a reminder that there's always someone worse off than you are.

"For decades workers and their unions have led the struggle for good working conditions and dignity and respect on the job," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "We've won union contracts that won workers a voice on the job. We've fought for and won the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Mine Safety and Health Act. We have made the work place safer for workers. But despite these significant improvements, the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and death remains enormous. We must continue to fight to strengthen safety and health standards and to make the penalties for violating the law tougher."

Following are a sampling of the statistics, which encompassed years up to and including 2000.

  • First, the great news: workplace fatalities since federal OSHA was established in 1970 dropped from 18 per thousand workers that year, to 4.3 per thousand in 2000. There were 13,800 U.S. workers killed on the job in 1970, compared to 5,915 in 2000 - and the size of the American workforce nearly doubled during that 30-year period. Conclusion: OSHA has saved thousands of lives.
  • Rating from best to worst, Michigan ranked 11th among the states in counting all workplace fatalities in 2000. Rhode Island was No. 1 with the fewest worker fatalities that year, while Alaska had the highest fatality rate.
  • Given current staffing levels, it would take 50 years for OSHA/MIOSHA to inspect all of Michigan's job sites. Believe it or not, that's fifth best in the nation. Heavily regulated Nevada was best - it would take "only" 14 years for safety inspectors to look at all jobsites in that state. If you live in Florida, it would take 231 years, which was the worst state, followed by Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia. With the exception of New Hampshire, the bottom 10 states in this category were all right-to-work states.
  • Just over half (2,717) of all the workplace inspections that took place in Michigan in 2000 were performed on construction sites in 2000. The average penalty assessed on employers for serious OSHA violations in Michigan: $540. The national average: $910. Only seven states imposed lower average penalties against violators than Michigan.
  • Michigan has some work to do with injury and illness rates. In 2000, the injury and illness rate per 100 full-time workers was 4.0 percent; compared to the 3.0 percent national rate. On a national basis, nearly 20 percent of all construction workers lost time due to illness and injury in 1972. In 2000, that number dropped to 8.3 percent - which was second to manufacturing at 9.0 percent.
  • The workplace fatality rate among construction workers dropped significantly after 1970. There were 69 deaths per 100,000 U.S. construction workers in 1970, a figure which dropped to 12.9 in 2000.


Trades playing the right notes during Orchestra Hall renovation

By Marty Mulcahy

While the Detroit Symphony Orchestra takes its summer break, the building trades and construction manager George W. Auch are making a guest appearance in the DSO's home, Orchestra Hall, renovating and expanding the architectural gem.

The $60 million project includes a 134,000 square-foot Fisher Music Center addition on the north side of the hall, a three-story atrium lobby, and a second, smaller performance hall. The most important work, however, is being done in the main performance hall, where the concrete floor has been ripped out in preparation for the installation of a new ventilation system. Everything will have to be put together again by the beginning of October, when the DSO's new season begins.

"It's a complex, high-risk project, but we're on target to have the hall open on time," said George W. Auch Project Manager David Williams. "There's a real sense of pride by the contractors and the trades people in what we're doing here."

The Orchestra Hall restoration and renovation project are being performed in two separate 18-week periods during this summer and the summer of 2003. Approximately 125 construction workers are currently on the project.

Located on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Orchestra Hall was constructed in a remarkably fast time period of four months and 23 days in 1919. To save time, the four-story, 70,000 square-foot hall was built on the foundation of the Old Westminster Church, which was built on the site in 1878.

The exterior of the 2,042-seat hall is unpretentious, compared to the garish Fox Theatre down the street. Inside, the hall has some terrific plaster-work, and beautiful chandeliers and lighting. But what really makes Orchestra Hall a classic is how it makes the orchestra sound: by all accounts designers made the building an acoustical masterpiece.

The hall was saved from the wrecking ball in 1970, and was extensively renovated in the late 1980s. The building still had shortcomings, including a small lobby, and an inadequate backstage area - issues which are both addressed with this renovation. But one of the facility's most glaring deficiencies that's also the trickiest to improve is the ventilation system.

"Three large floor registers cooled the entire facility," Williams said. "They would energize the system to cool the building before the performances, then just prior to any given concert the maintenance staff would then de-energize the system because of the noise issue. Without any air movement it would get pretty stuffy in there."

To improve the HVAC system, the design called for removal of the seven-inch-thick concrete slab under the main floor seating area. Oversize duct work (to reduce air velocity and noise) will go under the new concrete floor, and the new HVAC system will employ about 400 diffusers under the seats to improve air flow.

A template was made of the concrete floor and seating area to use when it comes time to put everything back together.

"Putting the new concrete slab back exactly like the original is going to be the real challenge," Williams said, because the concrete floor has numerous pitches and slopes. In addition, he said the seats will have to be placed in exactly the right positions in order to stay clear of the vents and avoid tripping hazards. And the other major underlying concern is to maintain the facility's unique acoustical qualities.

That concern about sound extends to other parts of the renovation and expansion project. Foreman Jerry Anderson of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 and masonry contractor Monte Costella said block walls around the addition's mechanical areas are being laid atop rubber waffle pads. "They're pretty adamant about using them," he said. "I've never seen them used before; they're supposed to help keep the sound from going through the walls."

On the north side of the building, blocklayers are building a wall for the addition, immediately adjacent to the original exterior brick wall. "The original wall is just massive brick; about two-feet thick," Anderson said. "You don't see that done any more. Maybe that has something to do with the good acoustics, too."

The entire project is expected to be complete in September 2003, and will include a 550-seat performance hall, a rehearsal hall, and education center, administrative and support areas, plus the renovation of the existing Orchestra Hall.

The hall's seats have been shipped to Baltimore to be refinished, re-covered and made self-rising, in compliance with fire safety codes. The hall will also get a new orchestra pit lift, two remodeled musician locker rooms in the basement, and the chandeliers will also be rebuilt. The fly tower roof (above the stage) will be replaced, and the hall's west exterior wall will receive a special surface application to help maintain proper humidity levels. The entire historical west and south facades will be completely restored by the end of next summer.

"Since we first announced the Orchestra Place project in 1996, our immediate neighborhood, the Woodward Corridor and the entire Cultural Center has undergone tremendous growth and development," said Peter D. Cummings, DSO Chairman of the Board, "We plan to continue to this trend of urban revitalization and economic investment with the Fisher Music Center, creating a musical and educational resource for the citizens of our city and region."

A MODEST FACADE on Detroit's Orchestra Hall conceals one of the finest acoustical auditoriums in the U.S. At right is an addition that will add 134,000-square-feet to the building.

WORKING ON CONDUIT in the lower seating area of Orchestra Hall is Patrick Moore of IBEW Local 58 and J & J Electric. The concrete under the main seating area has been ripped out and ductwork in the foreground will be placed underneath the new slab to improve the ventilation system.


Construction levels up from 2001

New construction increased 4 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $496.6 billion, according to the Dodge Division of McGraw-Hill. Greater activity was reported across a wide range of project types, resulting in moderate growth for the industry's main sectors.

The Dodge Index for U.S. construction started at a brisk pace, dropped in March, then came back. "The improved activity in April and May shows the construction industry climbing back to last year's pace," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction earlier this month. "However, this year is seeing a different mix by project type - more single-family housing and public works, while commercial building remains well below the levels reported in the early months of 2001."

During the first five months of 2002, total construction maintained a 1 percent lead over the same period of 2001. The Midwest region was up 7 percent.

Wage hikes average $1.51
Wage and benefit settlements in the U.S. construction industry in 2002 have resulted in average first-year increases of $1.51 per hour or 4.5 percent, reports the Construction Labor Research Council. This is little changed from the $1.54 increase reported for the first six months of 2001.

The CLRC reports that settlements of $2 per hour or more have become more prevalent - but those increases have been offset by some contracts "covering large numbers of workers that were below average."

Contract durations continue to lengthen. More than 40 percent of all agreements have been for four years or more. And, during each of those years, settlements of 3-5 percent were most common in each year.

It pays to be nice
Employers get re-paid in more ways than one when they maintain a safe, healthy workplace.

A report issued June 25 by the American Society of Safety Engineers said employers who are good to their workers in those areas get a return benefit through reduced workers' compensation costs, and hard-to-measure savings brought by improved morale, and better community and customer relations.

The ASSE urged OSHA and other federal agencies to promote safety and health programs and improve efforts of companies to integrate that kind of thinking into their core business strategies.

As reported in the Construction Labor Report, the safety group said more than $40 billion is paid out each year by employers and insurers in workers' comp costs, amounting to about $500 per employee. "The days are over," the group said, when companies can view safety and health violations and the subsequent fines by OSHA as a cost of doing business.

Gas tax hike unlikely
Even with a looming federal budget deficit, don't look for the federal government to raise the gasoline tax.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told a group of road builders on June 25 that such a tax hike isn't "an alternative that would be considered." The last federal gas tax hike was in 1981. The federal gas tax is currently 18.3 cents.

Ergo regulations cover construction
Construction workers are finally getting some recognition when it comes to ergonomics regulations - but the regulations probably won't become law anytime soon.

A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that would direct the Secretary of Labor to create a workplace ergonomics rule within two years. Unlike a sweeping general industry ergonomics rule that nearly took effect two years ago under the Clinton Administration, this bill includes provisions for the construction industry.

One of President Bush's first actions was to repeal that ergonomics rule for U.S. businesses, citing the expense of its implementation and lack of scientific evidence. It is unlikely that this bill, which was approved along political party lines, would see a better fate.


Quiet, please: Industry needs to look at stopping construction noise at its source

Editor's note: when it comes to preventing hearing loss in the construction industry, there's often no substitute for wearing personal protection devices like ear plugs and ear mufflers. But occupational health care research is increasingly showing that attacking the source of the problem - such as making tools quieter in the first place - is often the most effective method when it comes to preventing hearing loss.

Following is an article that addresses the issue.

By Scott Schneider
Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America

Thousands of construction workers in this country are hearing impaired, and thousands more are destroying their hearing because of their work in construction.

In response to this, the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America has started the Construction Noise Control Partnership. This partnership is committed to ending this trend of rampant hearing loss among construction workers. It is comprised of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), other trade unions, contractors, public health organizations, government agencies, equipment manufacturers, academics and others.

Everyone knows construction sites are noisy. Most construction workers have suffered a significant hearing loss after working only 15-20 years at the trade. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that a 35-year-old construction worker has the hearing of a 55-year-old who has not been exposed to excessive noise on the job.

Noise hurts job safety. Noise can affect safety and communications on the jobsite. Background noise from machinery can make it difficult to hear backup alarms or to relay instructions. If a worker is hearing impaired, the situation is made even worse. Communication is vital to job site safety, and effective communication requires that people are able to hear and understand one another. Not hearing a "LOOK OUT BELOW!" warning from someone can literally mean the difference between life and death for a construction worker.

Noise hurts workers and families. Noise hurts people, their families and their quality of life. After years of noise-induced hearing loss, everyday tasks can become much more difficult. Talking on the telephone, watching television and conversing with family members become sources of stress for those with hearing impairments. Hearing loss can have a major impact on the quality of life and often leads to social withdrawal.

Noise hurts neighborhoods. Noise can also affect your neighbors. More and more jurisdictions now have ordinances restricting noisy operations to daylight hours. As more highway construction is taking place at night to minimize delays for motorists, noise from construction may have to be reduced to prevent projects from being delayed.

Construction sites can be quieter. Although many in the industry believe that construction sites are inherently noisy, there are many ways in which they can be made quieter. (both for the operator and the environment)

  • A quieter process can be used. For example: pile driving is very loud. Boring is a much quieter way to do the same work.
  • New equipment is generally much quieter than old equipment. Some manufacturers have gone to great lengths to make their equipment quieter. Ask the manufacturers about the noise levels of their equipment, and consider these levels when making your purchase. For example, noise-reducing saw blades can reduce noise levels by 50 percent when cutting masonry blocks.
  • Old equipment can be made quieter by simple retrofits, such as adding new mufflers or sound-absorbing materials. Check with the manufacturer on ways to do this. Old equipment is also much quieter when it is well maintained. Simple maintenance can reduce noise levels by as much as 50%.
  • Noisy equipment should be sited as far away as possible from workers and residents. Noise levels drop quickly with distance from the source.
  • Temporary barriers/enclosures (e.g., plywood with sound absorbing materials) can be built around noisy equipment. These barriers can significantly reduce noise levels and are relatively inexpensive.

The Construction Noise Control Partnership is developing a best practices guide explaining how to reduce noise on the jobsite and how to protect workers' hearing. The partnership is also developing standardized methods for measuring noise levels on jobsites in order to create a database of noise measurements.

As awareness of the impact that noise has on our industry and lives grows, we hope more will join us in the campaign for quieter construction sites. Our efforts will hopefully prevent the next generation of construction workers from suffering a hearing loss.



Boycott of Novi Expo Center urged
The Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council is among a group of union-affiliated organizations engaged in a joint organizing drive that's encouraging a boycott of the Novi Expo Center.

So far, a number of construction trade unions, including IBEW Local 58, Iron Workers Local 25, the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council and Teamsters Joint Council 43 ("United Unions"), have unsuccessfully attempted to get Expo Center management to hire union labor to set up and take down displays.

The official kick-off of the boycott is set to take place Aug. 10-11 at the Classic Car Show and Auction at the Novi Expo Center. Union members are expected to be out in force to peacefully urge classic car enthusiasts not to attend the event.

"We are confident that once we deliver our message, it will have a substantial impact on the Expo Center's business and standing in the community," said Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin.

In 2003, the Novi Expo Center is scheduled to move into a new, larger facility in Novi which will increase the incentive for trade shows to move from Cobo Center in Detroit - which hires union.

Support encouraged for jail millage
Wayne County voters are urged to go to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 6 and vote yes on Proposal J, a .94 mill renewal for the county to continue its present level of jail operations (94 cents per thousand dollars of equalized valuation).

The millage was originally approved by voters in 1988 to help solve the problems of a rising crime rate and insufficient jail space. The millage enabled expansion of the jail system by 1,070 beds and construction of a new juvenile detention facility.

Numerous unionized construction workers also toil at county jail facilties performing renovation and maintenance work.

The .94 mill levy was renewed by voters for four years, and now Proposal J calls for renewal of the tax for another 10 years.

IBEW's Gula moves to WJR
Murray Gula, an IBEW Local 58 member who has carved a niche for himself in radio broadcasting, has hit the big time.

Gula has inked a deal with WJR, 760-AM, to host a home improvement show on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Most recently Gula has hosted similar shows for the Detroit market on FM stations WLLZ and WMZK.

"The industry has opened a lot of doors for me and this is a way for me to give back some of the information I've learned," he said. "I'm still a card-carrying member of Local 58 and it's important for me that the people in the building trades get their due."

WJR, "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes," has a powerful signal and can be heard throughout much of the Lower Peninsula.

"We're excited about adding "Home Improvement" to our expert show line-up on the weekends," said WJR Operations Manager Steve Stewart. "Murray makes the perfect host with a tremendous amount of hands-on experience in the home improvement area."

The show's content will include giving listeners advice with remodeling projects and interviewing guests from the building industry.

Gula also runs the Michigan Construction Protection Agency, who works with homeowners who have been cheated by unscrupulous contractors.


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