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November 9, 2001

For some in GOP, union members' political leanings are the greater security risk

What's on tap: a modernized version of Water Works Park

Unions, contractors get prepared for biological hazards

Trades, contractors begin the end of long effort to build shelter

15-year study confirms deadly grip of falls

Effective safety planning effectively saves lives

NEWS BRIEFS

 

For some in GOP, union members' political leanings are the greater security risk

Tradesman Viewpoint

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Over the last two months, most of the country - and amazingly, the U.S. Congress - have managed to put political ideology aside.

Democrats and Republicans have rallied behind President Bush as he governs a nation that is cautiously moving past the tragedies of Sept. 11, while prosecuting a war against an enemy which is unlike any other we have seen.

Along those lines of cooperation, the U.S. Senate last month voted 100-0 to make airport baggage screeners federal employees. Republicans and Democrats alike realized that the quickest and best way to implement stricter standards for screening people and baggage was to make them federal employees.

But it was an entirely different scenario in the U.S. House. A largely party-line vote of 218-214 rejected making the screeners federal employees on Nov. 1. Then, not wanting it to appear as if they voted against airline security, the House approved the privatization security measure pushed by President Bush and Republicans, by a 286-139 margin. At press time, some senators, including Republican John McCain, stressed the importance of making the screeners federal employees, and said he expects the Senate "to restore these important security measures."

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt argued, "The companies that have been doing this have failed the American people. It is time for them to be replaced."

Added U.S. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga): "To me as a conservative, I look at a problem and ask, 'Is this a federal function?' Faced with the crisis, we make the illogical jump that the government is the only one that can do it."

The argument we make in the construction industry certainly applies here: when it comes to paying $25 an hour vs. $10 an hour for a worker's services, you get what you pay for. Do we or do we not want fairly paid and motivated employees in place to safeguard the public?

A letter to their Republican colleagues by House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, both of Texas, urged that they keep the airport screening system private. "A nationalized system lacks accountability and flexibility because it establishes a massive federal bureaucracy," they said. Even more telling, they earlier blasted Democratic support for the federalization measure as politically motivated because it would result in more "union-dues paying federal workers."

This is the first major flashpoint of biased political partisanship following the Sept. 11 attacks. Unions moved to the center of the debate - and the issue wasn't whether union members could do a better job, but because creating union jobs is seen as having political ramifications. The position of Armey, Delay and a lot of Republicans is clearly putting political interests above the interests of national security.

We'll let Wall Street Journal columnist Albert Hunt have the last word:

"Politically, the two Texans are doing the bidding for the private airport security companies that have done such an atrocious job. Ideologically, they hyperventilate about adding federal unionized workers; union members somehow wouldn't be as effective or dedicated, they suggest.

"During today's debate, maybe someone will ask these union-bashing right-wingers if union cards impaired the effectiveness or dedication of most of the 366 firemen and policemen who died on Sept. 11 while trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center."

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What's on tap: a modernized version of Water Works Park

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Construction activity is flowing along nicely at the Water Works Park II project, where the building trades and their contractors are completely replacing the water filtration and pumping system that serves four million Metro Detroiters.

The Detroit Water and Sewer Department - the nation's third largest water utility - is sponsoring the $280 million project, employing a consortium of contractors called the Detroit Water Team. The work involves shoehorning an entirely new treatment plant, plus the associated piping, wiring and filtration systems into the existing Water Works Park campus east of downtown Detroit.

The new plant is scheduled to be fully up and running in March. The existing 80-year-old treatment facility will work concurrently with the new plant for about nine months, at which time the old plant will be decommissioned. This will allow time for any bugs to be worked out and allow a generous margin of safety.

The old plant's peak pumping capacity was 290 million gallons per day. The new plant will initially be capable of pumping 240 mgd, but that capacity is expandable to 320 mgd. Along with the construction of a new filtration plant on the Water Works Park campus are a new administration building, two chemical treatment plants, a residual building and a flocculation/sedimentation basin building.

In addition, about 150 miles of pipe ranging in size from three-eighths of an inch to 120 inches criss-cross the site underground.

"We're putting all this into an awfully small site, and that's been the most difficult thing about this job," said Bill Schroeder, site superintendent for E.L. Pipe, a subcontractor on the project. "The utility tunnels are filling up pretty quickly with the mechanical and electrical."

Approximately 300 Hardhats are working on the project.

The last major upgrade to the plant took place in 1961, when the coal-fed, steam-powered pumps were electrified. Today, the electrical upgrades are significant, both large and small. Electricians' skills were tested with the installation of four new 24,000-volt substations, as well as the tedious work of replacing the electrical wires and equipment feeding the dials and controls in the old pump house.

"Replacing that old feeder cable and control wire was very intricate work; we had no schematics to work with," said Motor City Electric Site Supt. Doug Hiller. "That proved to be very interesting, and when it all came together, it was very satisfying."

The Detroit Water Team consists of five partners, including J.S. Alberici and Walsh Construction, Motor City Electric, and engineering firms Black and Veatch and Montgomery Watson. There have also been 50 subcontractors on the design-build project.

The new plant will employ the latest water treatment technology, most notably the use of ozone as a disinfectant. A more expensive treatment than chlorination, ozonation has been used widely in Europe and has been catching on in the U.S. over the last 20 years.

The project was featured this year in Design-Build Magazine, which called Water Works Park II "the crown jewel" in Detroit's water-delivery system.

Awni Qaqish, assistant director of engineering for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept., estimates that the department will save $89-million in utilizing a faster design-build program with its contractors, rather than through a design-bid-build process. The reason: partially because the project will come online ahead of schedule and accelerate the decommissioning of the older, less efficient plant, saving $11 million in operation and maintenance costs alone.

A BRASS RAILING in the Detroit Water Works' high-lift pump-house (circa 1913) is given a shine with steel wool by painter Mark Reinertson of Local 1052 and Genesee Painting. "This place is beautiful, and it's built like a tank," he said. The building's mechanical and ornate fixtures are being restored.

A BLOCK WALL is set by Neal Farquhar of Bricklayers Local 1 and Rosati, while Tom St. Aubin of IBEW Local 58 and Motor City Electric sets up a box inside the wall.

Plumbers Thomas Rucker of Local 198 (Baton Rouge, La.) and Mike Roth of Local 98 and E.L. Pipe work on installing a 20-inch stainless pipe section at Water Works Park.


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Unions, contractors get prepared for biological hazards

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Union members were a major help in the search and cleanup effort in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of World Trade Center towers. Here in Michigan, they're getting themselves ready to be involved in the cleanup of another terrorist threat: biological weapons.

Members of Asbestos Abatement Workers Regional Local 207, the Michigan Laborers District Council and their contractors already have a ready supply of workers trained and willing to clean up after a biological attack, and more are in the process of being trained.

"It's a natural fit for us," said Rand Environmental owner Larry Mates, who is readying his company to perform such clean-up work. "If the time comes when this type of work needs to be done, we're going to be in a position to accommodate our customers. We're in this for the long-term."

Mates is getting the process rolling by advertising his company's services in Crain's Detroit Business and in this publication, and is getting the attention of businesses like Rand's existing customer base of Daimler-Chrysler, Detroit Edison, and General Motors.

State and federal laws currently have training and certification requirements for workers who toil in asbestos and lead abatement, as well as a newer area, mold remediation. The unions and the contractors provide the training and the physical examinations to get the certification, as well as fitting for equipment like the suits and respirators.

An additional 40 hours of training gains a worker a license to handle "hazardous materials," an all-encompassing term that includes biological hazards. Local 207 Business Manager Tom Dyl said there are currently about 100 members who have the hazardous material certification, with another 50 in the training pipeline around the regional local's Midwest District Council. He said this training does not apply to clean-up of hazardous waste sites that are mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dyl said the biological training includes enhanced respirator equipment, more worker education, as well as preparation in how to dispose of the hazardous materials. These days, anthrax is the most notorious hazardous material, but the 40-hour training covers the clean-up of a number of other toxins.

"Our members have no trepidation about working with those hazardous materials," Dyl said. "Once you put those suits on, the air you breathe is safer than the air you'd breathe in your house."

John Luckett, the environmental representative for the Michigan Laborers agreed that "it's not much of a jump" from asbestos or mold remediation, to cleaning up biological hazards. "It really doesn't matter what you're removing, you're following pretty much the same procedures," he said.

There are between 150 and 300 laborers working in the abatement industry, and Luckett said about 35 are trained and "ready to go when needed" to the East Coast to help with hazardous material remediation in post offices or wherever else they may be needed.

In the case of the anthrax attacks against the U.S. Capitol, the clean-up is currently being conducted by military and federal health officials. "But private companies - which never saw a market in bioterrorism cleanups - may seek a piece of the action," the Wall Street Journal said.

Terrorist-delivered biological weapons may never reach this part of the country - but then again, it could spread via the U.S. mail or by any other means to America's heartland at any time. Union labor and their contractors are in the process of getting ready to help in the clean up.

IT'S NOT MUCH of a jump for hazardous material abatement workers to toil in the field of cleaning up biological materials. Shown here setting up an asbestos abatement project are laborers Robert Priest (Local 1076) and Mike Senterfit (Local 334).

 

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Trades, contractors begin the end of long effort to build shelter

Donations and hard work from the building trades, contractors and contractor associations are helping to bring a new domestic shelter to life.

LACASA of Livingston County is erecting a new haven for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse in Howell.

The process began in earnest on Saturday, Sept. 8, when six volunteer iron workers and an operating engineer donated their time and skills to erect the steel beams that will support the main level of the shelter. MBM Fabricators and Martin Structural Sales donated the steel, while Allingham Crane donated the crane and the operator.

The domestic abuse haven will include an emergency shelter, counseling center, children's center and administrative offices. LACASA completed a fund drive last June in order to pay for the $2.5 million building, and numerous unions and contractors stepped forward to help with the final $20,000, which allowed the shelter to meet a deadline in order to get a $400,000 grant.

Contributing money were: IBEW Locals 58 and 252, The Greater Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association and the National Electrical Contractors Association-Michigan Chapter.

The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2002. The expanded facility will be built off the rear of LACASA's existing administrative offices in Howell, which is in a 150-year-old historic home that doesn't provide sufficient room or privacy for guests and has inadequate security, said Deborah Felder-Smith, LACASA's executive director.

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15-year study confirms deadly grip of falls

A newly released, sweeping report by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirms that of all the hazards U.S. construction workers face, falls account for the most fatalities.

The NIOSH study found that 17,140 construction workers were killed on the job from 1980 to 1995. Of those, nearly 26 percent - 4,456 of those killed - were victims of falls. Motor vehicle accidents caused 2,840 deaths (16.5 percent) and electrocutions caused 2,293 fatalities (13.3 percent). Another 1,261 construction workers were killed by falling objects.

"The data," said NIOSH, "will help researchers and policy makers identify high-risk occupations and industries for focusing injury prevention efforts, and will help efforts to assess trends over time to determine where risks may be growing."

For all industries, the states with the highest occupational injury fatality rates per 100,000 workers were Alaska (24.3), Wyoming (16.7), Montana (12.4), Idaho (10.7), West Virginia (10.4), and Mississippi (10.1). In that category, Michigan was ranked among the safest at No. 10, with 3.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. Connecticut was No. 1, at 1.7.

Of all industries, construction's fatality rate was the highest. From 1980 to 1995, 15.3 workers were killed per 100,000. The U.S. construction industry's fatality rate ranged from a low of 885 in 1993 to a high of 1,271 in 1980, according to NIOSH.

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Effective safety planning effectively saves lives

Most occupational safety experts now say that the best way to reduce occupational hearing loss is to lower noise levels at the source of the noise, through better engineering of power tools and machinery.

Building on that is a point of view, some researchers are now saying that the best way to prevent falls - the No. 1 killer of construction workers - is through proper engineering on a structure before any earth is moved.

"We in the United States identify the hazards when we fall or when there's a near miss or when we almost slip," said Michael Wright of Safety by Design by LBJ Inc., in the Construction Labor Report. He and co-worker Mark Stemmer addressed the National Safety Council's annual safety congress on Sept.24. They concluded that what employers need to do is conduct safety evaluations much earlier, "at the designer's drawing board."

An example used was to examine the cost of designing and placing the cost of guard rails into the construction process in a given area (such as around skylights or roof edges), vs. having workers tie off with a safety line to a fixed point. Wright and Stemmer said that the anchor point approach may be cheaper in the short term, but its long-term costs "were pretty high," Stemmer said. Safety lines might reduce injury risks when a worker falls, but the lines don't eliminate the falls, like guard rails would. In addition, there are costs associated with training, rescue, equipment and job shutdown.

Stemmer said guard rails are higher on the "hierarchy of control," a method for ranking fall control techniques. The problem is, most of the construction industry traditionally looks to the bottom of the hierarchy for answers, through the use of personal protection equipment for workers, such as ear plugs and safety harnesses, rather than at the source of the hazard.

The National Safety Council is one group that's doing a great deal of research in the area of engineered safety controls. Their Institute for Safety Through Design was set up "to fill a knowledge vacuum."

Better safety design, said the authors of one paper prepared by the institute, will result in "significant reductions achieved in injuries, illnesses, damage to the environment, and attendant costs; productivity will be improved; operating costs will be reduced, and expensive retrofitting to correct design shortcomings will be avoided."

Some other changes that can improve safety in the design stage range from the placement of a machine's controls in a consistent, logical manner, to making ergonomically correct tools, to good evacuation design in a high-rise.

Charles Jeffress, who recently left his post as OSHA administrator, said the benefits of safety planning are clear.

"One study estimated that a safety and health program saves $4 to $6 for every $1 invested," he said. "That's because injuries and illnesses decline. Workers' comp costs go down. Medical costs decrease. There are other, less quantifiable benefits as well - reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, higher productivity and increased employee morale."

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NEWS BRIEFS

Social consequences of injuries probed
A free safety program directed at construction safety personnel, stewards and apprentices will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the University of Michigan Hospital's Ford Amphitheater in Ann Arbor.

Presented as part of the Trauma Burn Center's Site Safe Injury Prevention Program, the seminar will highlight the medical, financial and social consequences of occupational traumatic injuries, as well as injury prevention strategies.

The seminar will include input from trauma surgeons, nurses, paramedics, rehabilitation specialists and safety experts.

SiteSafe program materials say that every year, six million workers suffer injuries that result in either lost time from work, medical treatment, or restricted work activity. The University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center "finds these numbers disturbing and unacceptable. The consequence of injury can be measured not only in lives lost and decreased productivity, but also in social and financial losses."

U-M Injury Prevention Educator Michael C. McReynolds, who is coordinating the event, said SiteSafe is a unique, new program "that offers a different approach to injury prevention, by talking about what really happens to people after a traumatic injury: there can be lifestyle changes, including alcohol abuse, divorce and not going back to work."

For reservation information, contact McReynolds at (734) 936-9672.

Construction outlook worsens for 2002
More weakness than was expected before Sept. 11 is predicted for the U.S. construction industry, with a decline that should continue until at least the second half of 2002.

That forecast comes from Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for the Construction Information Group of McGraw-Hill.

Even with the anticipated setback, Murray said the value of construction starts for 2002 is expected to be $481 billion, slightly less than $481.4 billion spent in 2001. Murray said there continues to be underlying market strength, with low interest rates and support from federal stimulus packages.

The weakness is expected to come in the construction of hotels, offices and stores. The terrorist attacks further weakened a commercial building market that was slowing before Sept. 11.

"Essentially, the weaker economy has caused many projects to be re-evaluated and banks to tighten up on funds available for commercial development," Murray said.

Unemployment up after terror attacks
The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 5.4 percent in October, the biggest one-month jump in more than 21 years, providing the most dramatic evidence yet that economic fallout from the terror attacks probably pushed the country into recession.

More than 400,000 jobs were eliminated during the month. The U.S. construction industry lost 30,000 jobs last month, but that was light compared to manufacturing, airlines, travel agencies, hotels and retailers, who took major losses.

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