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Milwaukee launches Fastback II

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Milwaukee Tool Corporation expanded its hand tool offering with the new Fastback II Utility Knife.

The company says the design was influenced by jobsite research and requests to include blade storage for added convenience. The Fastback II has features of the Original Fastback Utility Knife, with the addition of magnetic blade storage that folds into the handle for accessibility.

Designed to activate the blade faster than a two-handed opening, the Fastback II Utility Knife features a Press & Flip-one handed blade opening for easy activation. In addition, a tool-free blade change allows for fast and efficient adjustments, while a thin body design makes it easy for a user to store the knife in their pocket. The new magnetic blade storage will hold one spare blade at a time to keep the profile of the blade as slim as possible. 

An integrated gut hook and wire stripper also increase utility by allowing the user to make cuts without exposing the blade and eliminates the need to look for another tool to accomplish the task at hand. When the Fastback II is not in use, a wire form belt clip attaches to pockets without tearing up material.

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Employers adjust health benefit strategies in wake of reform

BY Stephen Miller

Many employers are making changes to their health plans as a result of health care reform coverage mandates, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ "2013 Employer-Sponsored Health Care: ACA’s Impact" report.

Key findings from the survey of more than 950 U.S.-based employee benefits professionals include:

• Employers’ confidence in their sponsored health care plans increased year to year, but many organizations are planning to modify their plans because of effects from implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

• The vast majority of employers (90%) have moved beyond a wait-and-see mode and are actively developing tactics and taking steps to deal with new rules and regulations stemming from the new health care reform law.

• For the first time, employers were more likely to say their top focus is developing tactics to handle implications of the PPACA.

Sixty-nine percent of employers will definitely continue to provide employer-sponsored health care when health exchanges begin operating, in 2014—a 23-point increase from 2012 (46%). Another quarter of respondents are very likely to continue their employer-sponsored health care plan. 

Increasing cost-sharing

Nearly one in five (18%) employers has already increased participants’ share of plan premiums, and an additional quarter of respondents plan to increase the portion that employees pay for their premiums over the next year. Of those employers planning to make changes, one in four is increasing its emphasis on high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) with health savings accounts (HSAs), while another 14% are assessing the feasibility of adding one.

Companies are also encouraging healthy behavior in employees, with 19% developing or expanding organized wellness programs within the past year. Additionally, within the past year, 14% of employers adopted or expanded the use of financial incentives to encourage healthier lifestyles; another 25% intend to do so in the next year.

More organizations are redesigning their plans to avoid the 2018 excise tax on high-cost or so called Cadillac plans. In 2011 only one in 10 companies indicated it was redesigning its plan to avoid the additional tax, but a steady increase over the past two years means that that number will likely soon double.

Focusing on compliance

Similar responses to health care reform were revealed in a series of roundtables with mostly large employers, held in New York, Chicago and Atlanta by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). In the wake of PPACA implementation, “employers are confronting broader strategic considerations relating to health coverage for their employees,” stated PwC’s May 2013 report on the roundtable findings, An HR Perspective: Focusing on the Future of Healthcare Benefits.

Compliance and reporting requirements were the biggest concern of about 15% of roundtable participants. “Overall, participants had a broad awareness of the issues involved, but there was some confusion about the existence of some of the requirements and how they work and many questions about the details,” the report noted. For example, “New rules will limit out-of-pocket maximums in most plans starting in 2014, but many employers were unaware that co-payments must count toward those maximums, or that it will be difficult to administer the requirement to have co-payments (generally imposed when a patient receives a medical service) apply to the out-of-pocket maximum.”

Nearly half (41%) of roundtable attendees considered “bringing health care consumerism ‘mainstream’” (by offering high-deductible plans with health savings accounts and by educating employees on their use, for instance) and improving participation in wellness and health management programs to be the two highest priorities or changes for their health benefit strategy going forward.

Options for replacing employer-sponsored coverage and paying penalties were still too new for most employers to seriously consider them for their active employee population, the roundtables revealed.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index

BY HBSDEALER Staff

 

A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for June 7, 2013

*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.

Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.

Lumber: An up and down futures market, additional sales to China and firmer quotes extended by western SPF producers carrying very little order file had buyers confused. Despite a few firmer prices, traders were skeptical of any strength in the market. No turnaround was yet evident in the Southern Pine lumber market. With the exception of flat 2×6 pricing, other dimensions continued their slide. Secondaries reported that inventories at some of their customers’ yards remained abundant. Wholesalers experienced spotty trading activity. Coastal species lumber producers sold greater volumes, but not enough to keep prices from falling. Production curtailments announced the week prior had some impact on the market, but to what degree was difficult to ascertain. The sense of stability in the Inland species lumber market that began to develop last week carried over into this week, with the result that prices have begun to show firmness, and buyers are floating more inquiries past mills. Radiata Pine Mldg&Btr, which has been pushed hard this spring, does show a modest retrenchment in the price of 5/4. Both 5/4 and 6/4 Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr thus remain firm in their prices. Even Ponderosa Pine #2 Shop, which has been lagging for many months, shows some renewal and a push upward in price. Ponderosa Pine 1×10 in all grades is either stable or slightly firmer among most producers. The grade having the greatest downward pressure seems to be #2. Eastern White Pine sources report sluggish sales. Most Western Red Cedar mills showed no inclination to raise prices in the lackluster market. In fact, some buyers noted a bit of softness in a few items.

Panels: The OSB market suffered from regional overproduction, coupled with extreme buyer caution. The result was a falling but inconsistent pricing profile, depending on the region. The news of mill closures this week did not have a strong immediate impact. Southern Pine plywood producers sold greater volumes than in previous weeks, but it took lower prices to entice buyers. Where discounts were deepest, wholesalers purchased greater speculative volumes than in past weeks. Truck availability tightened, generating late shipments. Moderate sales and slim order files kept downward pressure on Western Fir plywood prices. Unprofitability is prompting some producers to cut back production. Wholesalers reported sluggish trading. Price adjustments in the Canadian plywood market were downward, and few sources reported any strong conviction that the market was ready to stabilize. Demand for particleboard varied. After experiencing a brief slowdown in sales around the Memorial Day weekend, some particleboard producers saw a return of sales volumes experienced prior to that time. MDF demand was steady, remaining strong.

For more on RISI, click here

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