October 2010

Spotlight on Safety
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Illinois Local Helps OSHA Inspectors Beef Up Skills

Eric Patrick knows that when safety watchdogs get a shot in the arm of union expertise, job sites are less dangerous for all workers in electrical construction.

That's why the Rockford, Ill., Local 196 business manager hosted a training for dozens of Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance officers throughout the region to improve their knowledge of potential hazards around high-voltage lines.

Compliance officers from Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin joined their Illinois colleagues at the local hall in April for an OSHA 10 Transmission and Distribution course. The daylong session covered ways to identify proper underground and overhead grounding, as well as how to zero in on possible red flags on a construction site.

"This training has been just part of a growing relationship between the local and OSHA representatives," Patrick said. "I'm very happy that we've been able to come together and share information to help workers."

One of the compliance officers' chief responsibilities is to investigate possible safety violations at work sites and submit their findings to the Department of Labor, which can then issue appropriate fines to contractors failing to play by the rules.

Local 196 brought in George Arhos and Bryan Stage, two employees of the American Line Builders Apprenticeship Training who have taught the course to hundreds of budding and seasoned IBEW linemen over the past three years. Arhos and Stage—from Local 196 and Columbus, Ohio, Local 71, respectively—head up area training coordination at ALBAT and are regarded as some of the finest in the trade.

"George and Bryan are experts," said Dan Dade, director of ALBAT and a Local 71 member for more than three decades. "They're constantly up to speed with new information and are definitely committed to the industry."

Following the training, Kathy Webb—area director of the North Aurora, Ill., OSHA office—met with Local 196 leaders and one compliance officer to debrief on the impact of the meeting. In a letter to Local 196's office, Webb wrote:

"The compliance officers received a great deal of information and knowledge about your industry and really enjoyed the class. Without the generosity of union members like you to volunteer your time and knowledge, it would not be possible for us to get this type of training."

The number of OSHA employees who investigate work sites dropped during the Bush years—but that amount is increasing, making input from unions more effective, said IBEW Safety and Health Department Director Jim Tomaseski.

"Anytime our local unions can present safety issues from a union worker's point of view, OSHA's ability to enforce critical safety regulations is greatly enhanced," Tomaseski said.

Plans are in the works for future collaborations between the compliance officers and the ALBAT trainers.

"Through this joint effort, our objective is to continually build on and improve the relationship between the IBEW and OSHA to help ensure that all workers are provided the safe workplace they deserve," Patrick said. "We want everyone to be able to return home to their families after working in one of the most dangerous and demanding trades."

´╗┐Leaders of Rockford, Ill., Local 196 hosted 26 OSHA workers from four states for an intensive training in high-voltage line safety.