Archive for August, 2010

Good News: Construction Deaths are at an 18-year Low

Friday, August 27th, 2010

These days it is hard to come by any good news for or from the construction industry, so I thought I’d share some very good news: our industry continues to improve its efforts to keep its workers safe.

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that construction fatalities in 2009 fell 16 percent to 816, making it the lowest fatality rate in 18 years, according to preliminary numbers. The final report will be released in April 2011.

“The BLS census of fatal occupational injuries once again reinforces how the construction industry continues to build upon and refine site safety practices to prevent injuries to our greatest assets – our employees,” said Chris Williams, Associated Builders & Contractors’ national director of safety. “The continued, long-term reduction in construction industry fatalities is proof that the industry commitment to proactive safety training and hazard identification is still the most effective method to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. The construction industry continues to work towards our ultimate goal of sending every employee home safely every night. Both employers and employees will continue to partner to develop new practices and procedures that will continue our march toward that goal.”

Some times different parts of the industry see things differently: management and labor, open shop and union shop, general and sub, but one thing we all agree on is the importance of providing a safe work site, and that we can accomplish this significant goal better if we all work together as a team.

Alternative Contracting Methods: CPARB Wants Input

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

The Capital Projects Advisory Review Board (CPARB) was created by the Legislature to review alternative public works contracting procedures and provide guidance to state policymakers on ways to further enhance the quality, efficiency and accountability of public works contracting methods (alternative and traditional).  See CPARB website.

CPARB is looking for input on these issues, and on Sept. 16 it will hold a special stakeholders meeting.  The meeting is open to the public and the purpose is to collect input from architects, engineers, contractors and subcontractors on the current Washington State alternative public works process and how it is practiced. Input received will be included with CPARB’s 2011 report to the Legislature.

Stakeholders that have proposed but never been selected on an alternative delivery project are strongly encouraged by CPARB to attend.

The agenda includes discussion and comments on General Contractors/Contraction Manager (GC/CM) project delivery method; discussion and comments on Design-Build project delivery method; and discussion and comment on traditional public works delivery method.

Details:  Thursday, September 16, 2010, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., 1949 S. State St, Tacoma, WA (Centennial Building I; room DCCEL 1st floor)

Click here for map.

Contact Danelle Bessett at (360) 902-7941 or email danelle.bessett@dshs.wa.gov for questions about the meeting.

Ten-Point Program for Construction Job Recovery in Seattle

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

What else, in addition to infrastructure investments, can government do to stimulate the economy, particularly the struggling construction sector?  Justifiably so, government entities at all levels are asking that question.  AGC had the opportunity to share some ideas with the City of Seattle, and what follows is AGC’s suggested 10-point program for construction industry job recovery:

  1. Ensure timely implementation of the Bored Tunnel, seawall replacement, Sound Transit 2 programs, the SR 520 and Mercer corridor projects.  Plus, seek to accelerate construction of other critical infrastructure projects. City capital projects (from all departments) expected to go to bid the remainder of this year and next year should be re-estimated for potential cost savings.  In the current bid environment where projects are coming in 10 to 20 percent under the engineers estimate, the City may be able to identify sufficient savings to advance additional projects.
  2. Contract out some of the road maintenance and repair work typically performed in-house.  With a reduced City work force and furloughs this may provide a way to maintain adequate levels of service.
  3. If not already underway and subject to Federal Funding participation, embark upon energy efficiency upgrades for City-owned buildings.
  4. Partner with AGC and other industry groups to work with the state legislature to develop financing mechanisms that support essential City infrastructure investments in both transportation and other public facilities.
  5. Promote common sense incentives, tax credits and policy changes designed to stimulate new private- and public-sector demand.
  6. Eliminate discriminatory project labor agreements (PLAs) that favor one segment of the labor force over another.  We need to ensure that all workers have the opportunity to participate in the recovery.
  7. Establish a single point-of-contact among departments within the City for expediting major projects (similar to what was done for the tunnel retrofit project). Improving coordination among Departments for processing permits will reduce permitting time and save on overall project costs. This could include a one-stop permit process for these projects similar to what King County and the State have established for some environmental permits.
  8. Eliminate the practice of adding additional costs and fees to permits and other services to augment Department budgets in this down economy.  This appears to be happening to private developers, contractors and other public agencies.
  9. Timely removal or installation of utilities, particularly those for which Seattle City Light is responsible.  This is a major issue for contractors.
  10. As part of the City’s initiative to develop a better prepared workforce, partner with the AGC Education Foundation to establish construction math curriculums in various high schools, based on the pilot project completed in Bellingham.

Any other suggestions for the City of Seattle?

Watch out for bad wire, sledgehammers

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Contractors might want to check their supplies to make sure they don’t have recently recalled construction products. Recalls for electrical wire and sledgehammers were made today.

  • About 15,000 hickory-handle sledgehammers, made in India and imported by White Cap Construction Supply of Costa Mesa, Calif., were recalled because their heads can loosen and detach. The hammers were sold by White Cap distributors nationwide from April 2009 through May 2010. There are 11 models involved under the Brigade name. Recall details can be found at: http://www.cpsc.gov.

  • About 1,000 rolls of THHN electrical wire were recalled because they were packaged as 12-gauge wire when they were actually 14-gauge. The thinner wire could overload when used for circuits requiring 12-gauge. The wire was sold from December through April at Home Depot and Menards stores in 21 states, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Cerro Wire of Crothersville, Ind., made the wire. Recall details can be found at: http://www.cpsc.gov.

Rep. Judy Clibborn Gets It

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Each legislative session AGC has a lot of legislators to thank for their support of the commercial construction industry and business in general (wish we had even more to thank!).  This year our Legislator of the Year honor goes to Rep. Judy Clibborn.  Here’s what Gene Colin, CEO of Ferguson Construction and Chair of AGC’s Government Affairs Council, had to say about Rep. Clibborn:

“Rep. Clibborn gets it.  She understands that an efficient and adequate transportation system is good for the economy and the environment.  Plus, with unemployment for the construction industry hovering around 20 percent, she knows it is important to foster a strong business climate to get people back to work.  We always have many legislators to thank for their support of the industry, but this year Rep. Clibborn stands out.”

And from AGC’s chief lobbyist, Rick Slunaker:

“Representative Clibborn has been tremendously successful in advancing one of AGC’s core interests: an effective transportation finance and delivery system.  She isn’t afraid to ‘push back’ against colleagues and interests who would frustrate progress toward achieving that goal.  But her contribution and support of our goals goes way beyond transportation. Rep. Clibborn understands the importance of and has helped lead efforts to reform workers’ compensation laws and to save taxpayer dollars by opposing unworkable public contracting requirements.”

During the 2010 Legislative Session, Rep. Clibborn helped organize a group of moderate Democratic legislators to consider business issues in light of the current economic downturn and to advocate for balance in legislative actions.  For example, she played a key role blocking legislation which would have imposed ill-conceived and costly requirements regarding the use of independent subcontractors. 

Rep. Clibborn, serving her 4th term in the House of Representatives, chairs the House Transportation Committee.  Her experience includes service as Executive Director of the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce and election as Mercer Island City Council Member and Mayor. 

Thanks, Rep. Clibborn!

It’s 8/11, did you remember to call 811?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has marked Aug. 11 as a reminder to call 811 prior to any digging project. Residents and contractors can call the number to have underground utility lines marked for free. The request must be made at least two business days before digging.

“On August 11 and throughout the year, we remind homeowners and contractors alike to call 811 before digging to eliminate the risk of striking an underground utility line,” said Jeff Goltz, UTC chairman, in a press release. “Every year there are more than 250,000 unintentional hits due to failure to call, and we do not want anyone’s project to be added to that statistic.”

Image courtesy of Photobucket

Striking a line can cause injury, damages, fines and outages. The depth of utility lines can vary for a number of reasons, such as erosion, previous landscaping and uneven surfaces.

Projects as mundane as installing a mailbox, putting up a fence, building a deck or planting a tree are examples of those needing an 811 call.

More information can be found at www.callbeforeyoudig.org.

‘Smarter Highways’ coming tomorrow

Monday, August 9th, 2010
Photo courtesy of WSDOT

Motorists traveling northbound on I-5 tomorrow will be greeted by a series of 93 signs that WSDOT claims will reduce congestion and rear-end crashes. If that’s the case, it may be $23.8 million well spent. If not, WSDOT may end up with high-tech egg on its face.

WSDOT installed 15 gantries between Boeing Access Road and I-90 to hold the signs. The signs sit over each traffic lane every half mile and will display speed limits and lane status. Electronic message boards will warn drivers of conditions ahead, such as a blocking accident, and lanes can be closed with a red “X” in the overhead signs.

WSDOT says the system has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in collisions and a 22 increase in road capacity in Europe.

I wonder if Seattle drivers can figure this system out because some tend to be oblivious to traffic signs and others lack driving etiquette. Time will tell.

The project was funded as part of the Alaskan Way viaduct and seawall replacement. It is expected to help manage traffic while those projects are built.

C.A. Carey Corp. and Elcon Corp. were WSDOT’s contractors for the sign project.

Feel free to add your comments on this blog about how the system is working after you drive it. I will be adding a few comments, since I use that route daily.

Check out WSDOT’s Smart Highways video of how the system works:

Construction Unemployment Falls to 17.3 Percent in July

Friday, August 6th, 2010

From ABC’s Economist Anirban Basu
Despite being in the height of the construction season, the nation’s nonresidential building construction sector shed 1,800 jobs in July, according to the August 6 employment report by the Department of Labor. Since July 2009, 38,700 nonresidential construction jobs, or 5.4 percent, have been lost. Nonresidential construction employment now stands at 680,100.

In contrast, nonresidential specialty trade contractors gained 8,000 jobs in July. Still, the sector’s job force is smaller by 183,500, or 8.5 percent, from a year ago. The heavy and civil engineering sector saw a loss of 700 jobs last month after gaining 1,300 jobs in June.
The residential building construction sector lost 9,900 jobs last month, and has lost 55,500 jobs since July 2009. Overall, the construction industry shed 11,000 jobs in July and has lost 376,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Since the beginning of the recession, the industry has lost 1,918,000 jobs, a drop of 25.6 percent. July’s construction unemployment rate declined to 17.3 percent, down from 18.2 percent last year.
Total employment – which includes both private and public – fell 131,000 for the month of July, with the largest share falling in the government sector which lost 202,000 jobs. The severe loss in government sector jobs is a reflection of the termination of 143,000 temporary workers hired for the 2010 Census. Total private employment gained 71,000 jobs in July. Since the beginning of the recession, however, total private employment has lost 7,837,000 jobs or 6.8 percent. The national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.5 percent in July.
Analysis
“Today’s employment data was disappointing,” said Associated Building and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “The expectation among economists was that today’s numbers would have revealed that the nation shed just 65,000 jobs last month. However, the implication is that the economy is recovering more slowly than expected.
“The data also indicate that construction job losses have slowed dramatically, particularly in those segments powered by the stimulus package passed in February 2009,” said Basu. “Still, this news provides stakeholders little comfort since the eventual exhaustion of stimulus support will become increasingly apparent in construction employment data next year.
“There are at least two major implications associated with this. First, at some point jobs associated with privately-financed activities must begin to expand. Second, state and local government support for capital spending and projects must also begin to reemerge if the nonresidential construction sector of the U.S. economy is to avoid another downturn within the next 18 months,” Basu said.

L&I closed today, but you still must file some claims

Friday, August 6th, 2010

To help balance the state’s budget, all 21 Labor & Industries offices will be closed today, including the main office in Tumwater. If you have a work-related fatality or hospitalization today, you still must report the incident within eight hours. That can be done by calling (800) 423-7233 and pressing 1. Also, dangerous worksite conditions can be reported today at the same number.

L&I will reopen Monday on regular hours.

Asphalt scammers hit Cowlitz County

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

The state Department of Labor & Industries says a scam contractor is at work in Cowlitz County.

According to an L&I press release, a young couple was recently persuaded to withdraw cash from the bank to pay for an asphalt paving job. Within a couple of weeks, the asphalt was breaking off in chunks.

L&I says representatives will often approach a homeowner or business and offer to repave a driveway or parking lot cheaply because they have leftover asphalt from another job nearby. The representatives are usually polite, drive nice work vehicles and can be very persuasive.

L&I says it’s not unusual in the summer months for these paving crews to come into the state and hit different communities – often targeting senior citizens. By the time problems appear, they are nowhere to be found.

“Never let anyone rush you into making a decision about home repairs or improvements, no matter how good the deal seems at the time,” said Rich Ervin, L&I’s program manager for contractor registration. “Be wary of great bargains, lifetime guarantees and other high-pressure sales tactics.”

L&I offers these 10 tips to avoid the bad guys.