The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 06, 2012

Michigan Laborers celebrate 40 years of training

By The Building Tradesman

By Guy Snyder
Michigan Construction

On a bright, clear, and very warm June 20, the 40th anniversary of the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Fund was celebrated at an open house at its Perry institute. Tours and demonstrations at the impressive facility were conducted during the afternoon, showcasing the skill training the union has provided to its over 13,000 members and retirees.

Located on a 125-acre site, the Perry institute is one of three training facilities operated for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council. Others are located in Wayne and Iron Mountain and each provide training on a wide variety of subjects.

The common misperception of a construction laborer is an individual wedded to a shovel, as depicted in a Laurel and Hardy movie from the 1930s. Yet to become a 21st century journeyman level construction craft laborer requires a minimum of 400 hours of classroom training and 4,000 hours of on-the-job training. The career is often very demanding and requires a vast repertory of knowledge and manual dexterity.

Laurel and Hardy wouldn’t last an hour. The Three Stooges would be arrested in five minutes.

To meet contractor needs, the Perry institute offers classes in 16 environmental remediation subjects, ranging from hazardous waste to asbestos and lead abatement, with a lot of others in between. There are also 37 construction activity courses, covering such diverse areas as:

  • Concrete technology, with four different levels, each requiring 80 hours of training.
  • Scaffold erection and use, a 40-hour class.
  • Pipe fusion and pipeline safety, each 40 hour classes. Pipelaying is an 80 hour class.
  • Construction supervisor and estimator training, a 40 hour class.
  • MIOSHA Construction Safety, offered in 16 hour and 30 hour classes.
  • Qualified Rigger and Signal Person training, a 40 hour class.

Many of the classes requiring construction craft laborer apprentices to pass independent certification examinations.

The training is certified by a third party evaluator — International Accreditation Services — and college credit is often available.

Contractors with specific needs for the laborers also don’t have to send them to one of the training institutes — the training can come to them. The Laborers offer a mobile training unit outfitted with Wi-Fi computer networking designed for on-site training and computer testing.

The unit has its own power source, heaters, and air conditioning. It has digital projection equipment and space for classroom instruction as well as “hands-on” instruction. It’s designed with the same educational technology provided in Perry, Wayne, and Iron Mountain.

The afternoon included a guided tour of the Perry institute, where approximately 5,000 to 6,000 construction trade laborers are trained annually. Visitors were first brought into a training bay where hazardous waste instruction was provided, along with components for confined space work, the remediation of asbestos and lead, and working with natural gas lines.

Often this work is performed by laborers wearing Hazmat suits with self-contained breathing apparatus. The suits come in various grades for accommodating different degrees of risk and have to be handled with care and appropriate support. We were told taking them off was often a multiple step process requiring a number of people to properly decontaminate the equipment.

At another training bay the tour was shown examples of decorative concrete stamping. It also paid a visit to a classroom where laborers were being taught management and communications skills to improve productivity, from the craft level up.

One of the outdoor demonstrations focused on the recovery of workers who have fallen off of a high structure, such as bridge or a wind turbine. Assisting the laborers was a special team from the Lansing Fire Department, using a specially outfitted truck.

While a personal fall protection harness can save a worker’s life, dangling for an extended period in one can be quite harmful, explained Tim Ness, one of the fire fighters. Compromised blood circulation caused by the harness can cause a traumatic build up of lactic acid in the victim’s legs. Even 20 minutes of dangling will produce life threatening levels.

Ness said special training is needed for this kind of rescue, both medical and with the special equipment that’s deployed. Even though there are safeguards, such as double-lines, a rescuer always has to remember, “gravity is gravity.” Problems in setup and unanticipated equipment failure can turn fatal.

An interesting technology useful for locating buried valves and utility lines was also showcased. In a class the laborers started offering in 2011, hand shoveling is eliminated in favor of a system manufactured by Ditch Witch using a high pressure water lance and vacuum.

The instructor, James Chapman, said a typical water pressure of 2,500 pounds per square inch is used, but it can vary based on the type of soil. One first tests the settings in a location clear of underground obstructions. Then, after locating the valve or pipe electronically — in this case, also using equipment available from Ditch Witch — the water jet from the launce cuts and liquefies the soil which is then vacuumed away into a holding tank, for later disposal. Within a very brief period the underground utility is exposed and verified without it suffering physical damage.

Though the technology has been long available, Chapman explained utility companies are only now increasingly requesting it, not only in the field but at their power plants, where underground pipes, lines, and valves are often rampant — and not very well charted. The method can keep construction craft laborers safe on the surface and not in a hole, relatively little in the way of soil is disturbed, and the process takes far less time and physical exertion.

Of course those who are still wedded to a shovel may miss all of the sweat and strain. Yet the more productive and safe a construction craft laborer can be, the better for all.

INSTRUCTING AN on-the-job productivity class during the open house at the Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Institute in Perry is Assistant Director Daryl Gallant.