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Safety in the balance: Congress seeks action as OSHA drags feet on regs

BY Brae Canlen

Back injuries, shoulder sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries in lumberyards commanded the attention of Congress this summer during budget deliberations for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Members of the House Committee on Appropriations expressed dissatisfaction with OSHA’s progress in developing ergonomic guidelines for 13 industries, one of them being “lumber/building material–retail.” The Appropriations Committee also directed OSHA to step up its enforcement of ergonomic hazards, which it described as “the leading cause of workplace injuries.”

OSHA has been working on ergonomic standards since 2002, when a special committee recommended that guidelines be established for a total of 16 industries, including lumberyards and millwork/plywood/structural manufacturers. So far, OSHA has completed standards for only three: poultry, nursing and grocery. The last one was issued in 2004.

The Appropriations Committee recommended $503 million for OSHA’s fiscal year 2008 budget, a 3.3 percent hike over last year. But a report accompanying the funding bill, H.R. 3043, contained a number of directives on how the money should be spent.

“Report language doesn’t have the full effect of law, but [it’s] usually taken pretty seriously,” said Sarah Owen, director of government affairs for the National Lumber and Building Materials Dealers Association. The NLBMDA sent letters to every member of the Appropriations Committee back in June, cautioning against stepped up OSHA enforcement against building material dealers in the absence of clear ergonomic standards that lumberyards can follow.

H.R. 3043 was adopted by the House in July and now awaits a Senate vote. The bill appropriates funding for a number of programs that fall under the departments of labor, health and human services, and education.

Another provision in H.R. 3043 deals with who will pay for personal protective equipment like hard hats, back harnesses, safety footwear and work gloves. OSHA has indicated that it will issue a rule mandating employer responsibility, but the committee is getting impatient with OSHA’s “lack of progress” on this issue, adding, “The rule is particularly important for Hispanic workers who disproportionately work in low-wage hazardous jobs and have a much higher fatality rate than other groups of workers.”

OSHA has been studying the issue of personal protective equipment and expects to issue its new rules in November, a spokesperson told HCN. The directives will cover what employers are responsible for providing, according to OSHA. As for the ergonomic rules, OSHA just finished a set of guidelines for the shipbuilding industry and is “in the process of selecting the next industry we’re going to work on,” the spokesperson said, adding that lumberyards “are on our radar.”

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The return of a market

BY HBSDEALER Staff

San Diego Two relatively optimistic housing market forecasts factored heavily in an active day of seminars and award presentations at the ProDealer Conference held here last week.

In the conference’s kickoff presentation, Joshua Rosenbaum, director of the UBS Global Industrial Group, explained that only a matter of time stood between the current housing problems and a return to normalcy. “It really is a question of when, not if,” he said.

Of the six key macroeconomic factors — described as “pillars” — of the housing industry, five remain solid: GDP growth, interest rates, unemployment, inflation and non-residential construction spending. Housing starts, the sixth pillar, lags dramatically from 2006.

The question of “when” the return would come was addressed in detail at a later presentation on commodity pricing given by Paul Jannke, senior vp-wood and timber information for RISI. He pointed to research that predicts housing starts will remain weak until late 2008. Pointing to underlying demand created by population growth and household formation, Jannke described the overbuilding of 2003, 2004 and 2005 as a key cause of the dramatic decline in housing starts in 2007. The good news, said Jannke, is that 2009 should see starts jump back to the 1.7 million to 1.8 million level, following a 2008 housing start figure in excess of 1.5 million.

“With the weaknesses forecast in 2007 and 2008, we will have completely made up for the overbuilding” of the previous four years, he said.

If housing starts fall further to the 1 million level, as some expect, the silver lining would be a faster correction and a faster return to housing starts more in line with the underlying demand, he added.

The 11th ProDealer Conference held here at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort wasn’t all about forecasting and finance. A “Custom Builder Panel” on Thursday morning focused on the needs of custom builders and their expectations from pro dealers.

The best way to build a relationship with the custom builder is to do the research and bring solutions to the table, said David Payne, vp-Payne & Payne Builders. Sometimes, the solutions for builders address problems that they didn’t know they had, he said. “The smartest thing for a dealer is to find the time to talk to us to identify our faults, then provide solutions.”

And the panel agreed that when the relationship between the dealer and the builder loses the qualities of a partnership, the relationship is in jeopardy.

In addition, Basketball star Bill Walton, who rose to fame playing for the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers, gave some advice on what to do “when the ball bounces the wrong way” during his Sept. 19 talk. He also reminisced about his days at Dixieline Lumber in San Diego, where the 15-year-old freckled redhead unloaded lumber as a part-time job.

Also at the conference, the annual ProDealer of the Year Awards Dinner recognized two companies that represent innovation and success in the LBM market — Kent, Ohio-based Carter Lumber and Fairfax, Calif-based Fairfax  Lumber & Hardware, the respective recipients of the ProDealer of the Year and Independent ProDealer of the Year awards.

The 11th Annual ProDealer Conference, sponsored by Home Channel News, kicked off with a City of Hope golf tournament. The first place team, winning with a score of 142, was Bruce Brushwood of Moulding & Millwork, Mark Donovan of Forest City Trading Group, Laura Dwyer of Dupont and Mike Fletcher of Moulding & Millwork.

The ProDealer Conference ran through Sept. 21.

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Toro names new member to board of directors

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Outdoor products company Toro has named Inge Thulin, vp-international operations for 3M, to its board of directors.

Thulin joined 3M in 1979 and served in various sales and marketing roles at its location in Stockholm, Sweden. He subsequently served as area vp for Europe, Asia and the Middle East and was named executive vp-international operations in 2003.

“As Toro’s revenue from non-U.S. markets continues to rise and we expand our manufacturing, design and distribution capabilities around the world, his perspectives will be invaluable in positioning the company for long-term growth and profitability,” said Michael Hoffman, chairman and CEO of Toro.

Thulin’s appointment brings the Toro board to 11 members.

Toro had sales of $1.8 billion in 2006 and is a leading provider of outdoor beautification products.

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