March 2012

The Year of Zero

Do the ironworker apprentice instructors and coordinator at your local union apprenticeship and training program practice what they teach?

The answer is “yes” provided the instructors and trainers continuously repeat at the beginning of class the following statement found in the course syllabus. “The importance of safety will be addressed and reinforced in all hands-on activities in the classroom, in the shop, and on the job site.”

Apprenticeship training is a combination of classroom learning, hands-on training at a school or related training center, and on the job training. To produce a professional journeyman ironworker all three of these areas of training must work hand-in-hand. For the hands-on portion of training it is essential that, to the greatest extent possible, actual jobsite conditions are recreated using mock-ups. Recently it has been brought to my attention that a few of our schools do not require the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) during their hands on training. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to train our members to wear the proper PPE at all times, whether it is at school, on the job, or working on a home project.

The effects of letting an apprentice “slide by” at the school without wearing a hardhat when there is an overhead hazard or not tying off when learning how to do structural work can be catastrophic not only to the individual and his family, but also to the training center, local union, the contractor and the union movement as a whole. We all know that the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do” method of raising children is a recipe for disaster. Children will mimic the behavior of the adult role models around them. Apprentices are similar. I have heard many instructors and coordinators complain that the greatest obstacle they face as safety trainers is that what they teach at the school regarding safety is often contradicted by what is actually happening on the job. When a training center allows safety rules to be broken, the apprentice is not going to take them seriously on the job and this has dire consequences for everyone.

When conducting hands-on skills training (placing deck, connecting iron, tying rebar, demonstrating rigging techniques), determining the content of training for apprentices at higher levels of risk is similar to determining what any apprentice needs to know. The same emphasis should be placed on the risk and the possibility of injury as though working on the job.

Just as on the jobsite a useful tool for identifying possible hands-on skills training hazards and skills demonstration requirements is the Job Hazard Analysis. This procedure examines each step of a job, identifies existing or potential hazards, and determines the best way to perform the job in order to reduce or eliminate the hazards. Its key elements are:

• Job description
• Job location
• Key steps (preferably in the order in which they are performed)
• Tools, equipment and materials needed and used
• Actual and potential safety and health hazards associated with these key job steps
• Safe and healthful practices, PPE, and equipment required for each job step

Learning objectives do not necessarily have to be written, but in order for the training to be safe and as successful as possible, clear and measurable objectives should be thought out before the training begins. For an objective to be effective it should identify as precisely as possible what the individuals will do to safely demonstrate that they have learned, or that the objective has been safely reached. They should also describe the important conditions under which the individual will safely demonstrate competence and define what constitutes acceptable safe performance.

An effective program of safety and health training for ironworker apprentices and JIWs can result in fewer injuries and illnesses at the training facility and on the job.

For our employers a safe and healthy workforce equals lower insurance premiums and a greater ability to secure work for our members. Thus, let us continue to train and work safe at the training center, on the job, and working on a home project!