Health-related concerns about exposure to common construction products like silica, lead and asbestos are well documented. Employers have the ability to easily identify these materials and establish work practices that reduce risk. Very specific regulations from EPA, HUD and OSHA can be followed to protect workers, occupants and the public from harm.

With coronavirus, our employers and workforce are dealing with a new health hazard in which we do not have the ability to immediately identify known exposure. Measurable and standardized safe work practices have yet to be identified. The volume of frequently changing information from federal, state and local safety and governing agencies is almost overwhelming to keep up with.

To better manage this pandemic situation, safety professionals from nearly 20 Oregon Columbia NECA-IBEW 48 contractors joined forces to network and collectively establish COVID-19 based policies, procedures and best practices to help keep our workforce healthy and maintain project productivity as best as possible. This workgroup also had participation from Los Angeles and Puget Sound NECA Safety Directors to better identify specific requirements to work in outlying areas from Portland.

Key topics the group focused on include:

  • Training of workforce – what resources exist from CDC, OSHA and NECA and how to best apply them
  • OSHA concerns – application of general duty clause, illness recordability/reportability and employee complaint response plans
  • Documentation issues – written exposure control plans, project access pre-screening surveys, use of permit system for work that requires two or more people within six feet, social distancing and sanitation procedures, and notification of known virus exposure in the workplace
  • PPE/OPE – sourcing of very limited personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, clarifying use of covered face masks—mandatory or voluntary, options to minimize fogging of safety glasses caused by face mask use, face shields used as additional barriers for work within six feet of each other, application of misters and sprayers for disinfecting, and sanitating of tools and equipment
  • Mental health – strategies to help improve morale and reduce stress, use of safety meetings, and NECA’s Stand Down to promote a positive end result for implementing work practices that will more quickly bring an end to this construction disruption

This group continues to meet weekly using an online platform and will focus on improving our current working conditions to the extent possible. They represent safety leadership not only for their direct employers, but for our industry as a whole.

Barry Moreland
NIETC Safety Director
bmoreland@nietc.org
503.501.5066

NECA-IBEW (the National Electical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 48 has expanded its time loss benefit with Harrison Trust to provide pregnancy benefit to members through their third trimester. The new benefit rolled out on January 1, 2020, and this unique partnership between management and labor is setting a new standard for others to follow.

A pregnant woman who stops working within 13 weeks prior to the doctor-certified projected due date will be paid $800 per week in time loss benefits. Disability is not a requirement, and the member’s health care will be paid without reducing her hour bank.

These benefits will also continue 13 weeks after the birth of the child, for a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits. All members who qualify for this new Harrison benefit, regardless of classification, get the full weekly time loss amount.

The Trust will also pay the monthly health insurance premiums, so that the member will receive six months of free health insurance coverage during that time for their families.

The primary intention of this benefit is to empower pregnant members to do what they think is best with respect to working while pregnant and while recovering from pregnancy. The coverage is offered as an acknowledgement that being in the final trimester and working on a construction job can be very challenging. This also acknowledges the importance of the first three months of a baby’s life, and addresses how difficult it is to find infant care during the hours an electrician works.

“I’m so glad to see NECA/IBEW are supporting women who work in the trades,” said Commissioner of Labor and Industries Val Hoyle, “Increasing the amount of protected time off women can take while pregnant and after childbirth is a great investment. It’s good for women’s careers, good for families, and good for our workforce.”

As with any workplace hazard, employers should assess overall risk level based upon anticipated exposure range and the degree of injury or illness severity.  In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are forced to navigate unfamiliar territory complicated by the absence of formal safety standards, such as OSHA or ANSI, to specifically direct employer compliance actions.

The WHOCDC, OSHA and NECA all provide excellent Coronavirus specific resources to educate employers and our workforce on what this new virus is, how it can affect our health, and most importantly, precautions we can take to reduce potential exposures in all settings of life.

While under specific State mandated orders, certain business types have been forced to close to limit spread of the virus, it appears that many of our construction projects will continue to remain open, at least for now.  Whether we have multiple crews working on a large-scale project, or just a few workers on a small service job, the strategies to protect our workforce, and prevent the spread of the virus, are fairly universal.

These include:

  • Infectious disease policy development – contractors should establish and document the specific actions each business unit – office, pre-fab, service, construction site etc. – will follow moving forward. Key elements the policy should contain are employee illness response protocol, suspected exposure reporting, means to limit group activities, sanitation procedures and PPE use.  OSHA has just released an employer guide #3990 which can help in this process.
  • Employee training and education – Effective employee training on policy requirements and employer / client expectations is crucial for work practice uniformity. The training should be documented and repeated as necessary when noncompliant actions are observed in the workplace, or new procedures are introduced.  NECA produced a good Coronavirus toolbox talk that can also be used in your overall training efforts.
  • Hand washing and overall general hygiene – This cannot be overemphasized with your teams. Construction projects can be dirty and have historically struggled with providing employees suitable toilet and hand washing facilities.  As such, frequent hand washing with preferably soap and water, or a sufficient supply of hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available, is critical. Toilets must be cleaned and sanitized more often, including all commonly touched surfaces such as toilet seats and door handles.  Sharing of hand and power tools, including arc and shock rated PPE, should be eliminated and when necessary, thoroughly cleaned between uses.  Employees should use tissues or their sleeved arm when sneezing and focus on not touching their face.
  • Group meetings, crew size and social distancing – Work related activities such as stretch-and-flex, safety meetings, gathering for lunch and breaks are now considered high risk and must be managed accordingly. Current recommendations limit work groups to preferably 10 people or less AND only when the setting allows for social distancing from each other of at least 6 feet.  This makes it nearly impossible for 2 workers to be in the same scissor lift, service truck, vault etc.  Additionally, employers are directed to maximize work from home protocols for office workers and social distancing for those employees who must remain in the office.  If the social distancing option is used, a designated persons(s) should be identified to audit group sizing and effectiveness of minimum spacing protocols.
  • PPE use – If your company policy or site-specific requirements do not already mandate donning of safety gloves and glasses, you should implement those actions now. The CDC is currently NOT recommending that healthy people wear respiratory protection such as N95 or half face masks.  If employees choose to voluntarily wear such PPE, keep in mind that OSHA  requires that they be provided with Appendix D  I would also recommend documenting such activity.

As we continue to respond to this rapidly changing event, you are likely to encounter additional site-specific protocols such as pre-screening workers before being allowed onto the job site.  The EEOC has recently recognized this activity as acceptable in light of the virus reaching pandemic status.

If you need more information or I can provide assistance in any manner, please contact me.

 

Barry Moreland
NIETC Safety Director
bmoreland@nietc.org
503.501.5066

This past week, Rosendin Electric partnered with the Hillsboro Chamber’s School to Career program to teach high school seniors from the Hillsboro and Beaverton school districts about the electrical industry.

On January 8th and 9th, the 18 students who attended the Early Learning Opportunity (ELO) were able to explore each department within Rosendin Electric at Rosendin’s Hillsboro office, including Project Management, Estimating, Building Information Modeling (BIM), IT/Technologies, Engineering, Pre-Fabrication, Business Development and more.

The day was not just about taking a tour through the facilities, but about receiving hands-on learning from those in the field. Each day started with a “Stretch & Flex” routine, an informal all-staff meeting that kick starts the day with a safety and health meeting as well as light stretching. The Stretch & Flex routine gave the students a glimpse into the electrician world and exposed them to the more active learning and working environment they have the option to receive.

“We know a lot of these students are going to want to, or are at least thinking of becoming an electrician,” said Courtney Hron, Business Development Manager at Rosendin Electric. “We’re going to provide them with the tools and resources to get them there, telling them ‘here’s the IBEW, here’s how you can join,’ and really just pointing them in the right direction, because a lot of it is already public knowledge.”

Programs that provide ELOs to students can help them make an informed decision before they decide whether to spend thousands of dollars at a university, studying classes for a major they might not even keep.

“I think for a lot of these students, money is a big driving factor,” Hron said. “Within a few years, some of these students could be making nearly 100 grand a year as an electrician.”

For high schools and parents, programs like School to Career help to bridge the gap between students and the career paths they may want to pursue.

“From 9th through 11th grade, students will go to some of the 100-120 different career days we host a year,” said Tabitha McCampbell a School to Career Coordinator. “By their senior year, they will have narrowed down what they want to do their 15-hour experience in, fill out a request form, and we place them in a group ELO that is related to what they are interested in.”

A group ELO will include a range of different activities, speakers, and field trips, all focused around a specific career area. According to McCampbell, School to Career was able to do the entire 15-hour program at Rosendin over two days because Rosendin was able to teach the students a wide variety of things, including being an electrician, engineering, building information modeling, and more.

“We rely a lot on our partnerships with companies and organizations to make this program work,” McCampbell said. “They volunteer their time and resources to help out the students.”

McCampbell said that they plan to continue their great partnership with Rosendin, including at least one annual group ELO at Rosendin.

When Christenson Electric moved to their new headquarters in October 2015, they were asked if they wanted to carry on the tradition of providing meals to Wilkes Elementary families in need, a program that had been started by the former owners of their Gresham headquarters.

For those at Christenson Electric, the decision to carry on the tradition was a no-brainer, and they have since grown the program.

This year, Wilkes Elementary had decided to restructure the Wilkes Holiday Pantry Drive said Pedro Villagomez, the Community School Site Manager.

“Originally it was a partnership where Christenson was providing food boxes and gifts to families, but this year we decided it was going to be a little different in order to reach more families,” Villagomez said. “We went from 20 families last year, and we currently have 50 families signed up.”

According to Sarah Shields, the Principal at Wilkes Elementary School, the change has enabled the program to help more families in need.

“The two biggest things people cherished last year was toilet paper and towels,” Shields said. “We realized, these this are expenses, and if you are struggling, a new towel is not something you’re going to go buy because there are other things you have to focus on.”

For the employees at Christenson, a competitive nature to the donations quickly developed.

“Our first year, Good Samaritian was the one that kind of started the competition, by just submitting $200 cash saying, ‘I challenge you job sites, beat this’, and that was two years ago,” Joanne Gaspari, the Human Resources Manager at Christenson Electric, said. “Then last year they drove in with a pickup full of food and said, ‘beat this.’”

According to Gaspari, while the Good Samaritian job site was quiet early on, they ended up donating the most, bringing in over $3,000 of food donations to the Wilkes Holiday Pantry.

In addition to the employees at Christenson Electric, several community partners made donations to the drive as well, including: IBEW Local 48, Local 125, Local NECA leadership, the Grocery Outlet on Division, Mondelez, and many others.

“Each year, IBEW Local 125 looks forward to the opportunity to partner with Christenson Electric,” said Cheryl Arrant from IBEW Local 125. “It is an honor to be able to help families in our community during the Holiday Season.”

In total, there was about $8,000 worth of donations made this year. Christenson Electric and its employees plan to continue the Wilkes Holiday Pantry for years to come, with continued community support throughout the year.

Those at Wilkes Elementary made sure to express their appreciation for all the help and donations they received.

“It is so neat to see the community rally around the school,” said Shields. “There are kids in need here, and it’s pretty great that they do these things for them, it’s very humbling.”

While the electrical industry throughout the U.S. is brimming with opportunity, the field is facing a problem. In a study by the Conference Board, the electrical industry is struggling to fill its rosters. Skilled electrical workers are in high demand, but few people are answering the call, and the shortage is only expected to get worse.

In a 2017 nationwide survey by Klein Tools, that produces tools for electrical workers, it was reported that:

  • 56 percent of electricians noticed more workers leaving the field over the past few years, an increase from the 44 percent in 2015.
  • Almost two-thirds of electricians who have less than 20 years of experience have seen an increase in experienced electricians leaving the field, with a significant increase among those with 10-19 years of experience.
  • Forty percent of electricians are concerned that there will not be enough qualified workers available over the next five to 10 years.

These findings suggest that the industry currently has fewer experienced electricians working on job sites and there are not enough new workers to fill the shortage. This could cause issues for commercial developers and general contractors who have deadlines to meet.

Read the article in full at Portland Business Journal.

This summer, several NECA contractors hosted internships for Oregon State University students.  Over the weeks, the interns supported project management staff while learning estimating, scheduling, how to process submittals, cost management, and construction oversight.  They worked with various individuals within the companies to learn the different aspects of their operations.

This year’s group was:

  • Jonathan Balcom with OEG
  • Zachery Holmes with OEG
  • Andy Hua with OEG
  • Carlie Stickler with OEG
  • Mitchell Baertlein with Rosendin
  • Kyle Coleman with Rosendin
  • Jake Rembolt with E.C.
  • Matt Rosa with E.C.
  • Michael Schumacher with E.C.

OSU students who participate in the NECA internships have very positive internship experiences and most usually pursue full-time employment with an electrical contractor after graduation.

interns

(Portland, Ore.) The National Electrical Contractors Association and International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker’s Electrical Training Center (NIETC) conducted their first State Approved Pre-apprenticeship program as part of a grant-funded opportunity through the national Electrical Training Alliance. The funding is part of the overall American Apprenticeshippre-apprentices-2 Initiative from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program is focused on providing career opportunities to underrepresented populations, which includes women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans.

Pre-Apprentices in the program attended seven weeks of classroom and lab training, five days a week, for six hours a day. Upon completion of the classroom training, they worked as material handlers with a Training Agent for a minimum of two weeks for an on-the-job experience.

The program started on May 19 with 19 pre-apprentices enrolled, made up 10 women, some of who were minorities, 10 minorities, and three veterans. All 19 completed the program on July 25, with 18 moving on to transition into the apprenticeship. Eight have become Inside electrician apprentices and six have become Limited Residential Electrician apprentices, while the remaining four will become inside electrician apprentices upon successful completion of the applicant aptitude test.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better class,” said Bridget Quinn, the Workforce Development Coordinator at the Training Center. “The pre-apprentices were enthusiastic and diligent, despite the heavy course load and the fact that many were also working almost full-time jobs.”

NECA/IBEW Local 48 and the training center are featured in an article in this month’s Oregon Business Magazine.  You can see the story online here.

“A diverse workforce and a diverse leadership team is key to the success of the IBEW.” – Keith Edwards, Former Business Manager of Local 48 (and first ever African American IBEW Business Manager). Check out IBEW Hour Power’s video “Committed to Diversity.” http://www.ibewhourpower.com/ibew-local-48-committed-to-diversity/