Use of IT increases amid labor shortage

Construction contractors experiencing the industrywide labor shortage increasingly are using information technology (IT) to get the most out of their current staff members.

In a recent survey released by the Associated General Contractors of America and software company Sage, 85 percent of 1,281 respondents said they use or plan to use cloud-based mobile construction applications. Additionally, 40 percent said they will increase their IT investment. In a 2012 Sage survey, only 16 percent of respondents said cloud computing was important for their businesses.

Jon Witty, vice president and general manager of Sage Construction and Real Estate, Atlanta, told Bloomberg BNA using software helps contractors estimate what is necessary for a project while cutting what is unnecessary.

"In addition to winning more work, it helps reduce the dependency on labor, which of course is in great shortage," Witty says.

Most contractors are open to hiring workers; 32 percent of survey respondents said they expect to hire up to five workers in 2017, and 40 percent expect to hire more than that. However, 73 percent of respondents reported they are having a difficult time filling either salaried or craft worker positions, and 75 percent said it will be at least as difficult this year to find qualified workers as it has been recently.

Dave Hogan, president of Wadman Corp., Ogden, Utah, says the worker shortage limits subcontractors' ability to know how much work they can handle, increasing risks for general contractors.

"There's a big concern for this spring and summer, when things get into full motion, whether we'll have enough workers to do the work that's scheduled for our area," Hogan says.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said work shortages were a concern; other concerns included increased competition for projects (48 percent), worker quality (46 percent), rising direct labor costs (42 percent) and growth in federal regulations (41 percent).

Despite their concerns, most respondents were optimistic various public and private market segments will expand during 2017 in terms of the available dollar volume of projects, and contractors generally are more optimistic about public sector markets than they were at the start of 2016.

ASTM International standard supports use of liquid-applied polymer membranes

A set of proposed ASTM International test methods will help support the growing number of roofing projects that use liquid-applied polymers. The proposed standard WK40123, "Test Methods for Sampling and Testing Liquid Applied Polymeric Roofing and Waterproofing Membranes That Are Directly Exposed to Weather," is being developed by ASTM International's Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing and will help manufacturers, testing labs and the construction industry as it samples, tests and compares products.

The proposed standard includes ways to test liquid-applied polymeric materials that are cured to form roofing and waterproofing membranes that are directly exposed to all types of weather. By their nature, these materials are seamless and can be useful when working with complex surfaces and custom-fit projects.

ASTM International member Philip Moser, a senior project manager specializing in building technology at Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Waltham, Mass., says these membranes traditionally have been used for waterproofing elevated parking decks but their use in roofing applications is increasing quickly.

"Delivery to the exact point of application in relatively small containers makes these products attractive for small rooftop terraces, congested urban areas and roofs that are not accessible by crane, where delivery of larger containers would create logistical problems," Moser says.

The test methods would be used by manufacturers and testing labs, as well as individuals who write specifications that indicate which test methods should be used to evaluate physical properties.

Additional information about ASTM International's development of standards is available at www.astm.org.

Bloomberg BNA reports increase in first-year wages

The average first-year wage increase was 3 percent compared with 2.9 percent reported in 2016, according to data compiled for all collective bargaining settlements through Jan. 9 by Bloomberg BNA.

The median first-year wage increase for collective bargaining settlements reported to date in 2017 was 2.6 percent compared with 2.5 percent in 2016, and the weighted average was 2.7 percent compared with 3.4 percent in 2016. The weighted average takes into account some data points contribute more to the final average than others, producing a more accurate percentage.

When construction and state and local government contracts were excluded, the all-settlements average first-year wage increase was 3.9 percent compared with 3.3 percent in 2016; the median was 3 percent compared with 2.8 percent in 2016; and the weighted average was 2.7 percent compared with 3.5 percent in 2016.

Manufacturing agreements showed average and median increases of 2.5 percent compared with 1.7 percent reported for both in 2016.

When lump sum payments are factored into wage calculations, the all-settlements average first-year wage increase in 2017 was 3 percent compared with 2.9 percent in 2016. The median increase was 2.6 percent compared with 2.5 percent in 2016, and the weighted average was 2.7 percent compared with 3.4 percent in 2016.

Unions and companies clash over OSHA hearing loss rule

Union representatives and employer representatives are voicing their disagreement regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) proposal to revise its rule for whether an employee's hearing loss should be considered job-related, according to Bloomberg BNA.

OSHA and union representatives refer to the potential change as a "clarification" of existing requirements that determines hearing loss must be recorded if work has contributed to it in any way—even if work is not the predominant contributor to the hearing loss.

However, employer representatives say such a change would result in companies recording hearing losses that were not job-related. The Construction Industry Safety Coalition advised OSHA that the "proposed revision is more than a clarification, it is a substantive revision to the record-keeping provisions for occupational hearing loss."

OSHA believes many workplace cases of hearing loss aren't recorded in OSHA-mandated injury and illness case logs from which the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were about 195,000 cases in 2015. The proposed hearing-loss provision is one of 18 potential updates OSHA is considering to be included in a draft rule (81 Fed. Reg. 68,504); the comment period closed Jan. 4.

OSHA says the change would be consistent with record-keeping guidance it issued in 2012, which said "any contribution from work" makes a hearing loss work-related. The Coalition for Workplace Safety disagrees, saying when OSHA issued the hearing loss record-keeping rule in 2002, OSHA said "it is not appropriate to include a presumption of work-relatedness for hearing loss cases to employees who are working in noisy work environments."

All seasonal worker visas claimed for first half of fiscal year

Employers have claimed all 33,000 visas available during the first half of fiscal year 2017 for low-skilled, seasonal workers outside of agriculture.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Jan. 10 was the last date it accepted new petitions for H-2B workers with a start date before April 1. It is expected businesses will scramble to claim the 33,000 H-2B visas available during the second half of fiscal year 2017; those visas are for April 1 through the end of September, so there likely will be more demand, especially from the landscaping industry, which often needs seasonal workers to start in the spring.

A returning worker exemption was included in a fiscal year 2016 government spending measure, but it expired in September 2016. The exemption allowed H-2B workers who came to the U.S. on visas in one of the previous three fiscal years to return without counting against the cap. Several businesses that typically would have applied during the first half of the fiscal year now will apply during the second half because they were waiting to see whether the returning worker exemption would be reinstated.

There still are a few exceptions to the cap, including current H-2B workers already in the U.S. who are seeking an extension of stay or change in employer or terms of employment.

ICC supports efforts to update Saudi Arabia's building code

The International Code Council (ICC) is supporting the Saudi Building Code National Committee's (SBCNC's) efforts to update the Saudi Building Code.

Mark Johnson, ICC's executive vice president and director of business development, and Saad Othman Al-Kasabi, SBCNC chairman and governor of Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization, signed an agreement providing SBCNC with access to the 2015 International Codes. SBCNC will use current provisions of the 2015 International Codes to update the Saudi Building Code, which will improve building safety, trade and innovation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

"The Code Council is pleased to support the efforts of the SBCNC to update its codes to reflect the latest features in building safety, sustainability and affordability," says Dwayne Garriss, president of ICC's board of directors.

"The SBCNC is delighted to see both our organizations' efforts have been crowned in the signing of this important agreement," says Ahmad Al-Turki, SBCNC's general secretary. "This agreement will confirm and establish further scientific and cognitive exchange, scientific research reports, development of techniques and professional qualification and serve those concerned in the building and construction industry, as well as improve and develop the building and construction sector. In addition, it will boost economic relations and trade, particularly in the construction industry."

Roofing contractor fined for fall-protection violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Redhawk Roofing Inc., Libertyville, Ill., after investigators observed employees working without adequate fall protection at heights up to 23 feet, according to www.osha.gov.

On Dec. 16, 2016, OSHA issued one repeated citation as a result of the company's failure to provide adequate fall protection; improper rigging of fall-protection systems; allowing workers to carry loads up ladders; and failure to enforce the use of protective eyewear among workers using pneumatic nail guns and electric saws. Redhawk Roofing previously was cited for the same hazards in 2014 and 2015. Proposed penalties for the company's most recent safety violations total $63,494.

"Each year, hundreds of workers suffer severe injuries when they fall on the job," says Angeline Loftus, area director for OSHA's Chicago North Office. "Redhawk Roofing needs to immediately review its safety procedures and follow OSHA standards to protect workers on the job before disaster strikes."

Redhawk Roofing has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Redhawk Roofing is not an NRCA member.


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