Former TV star and politician Fred Grandy spoke about the ways his life has changed since he starred on TV’s “The Love Boat” in the 1970s and ’80s. Image courtesy of SMACNA.


PHOENIX - There may not have been enough celebrities at SMACNA’s 2006 convention to bring the paparazzi, but for a meeting of sheet metal contractors, it wasn’t too shabby.

Even if the tabloid journalists from Los Angeles did not attend, there were enough well-known names during the Oct. 8-11 event to make people in less star-heavy sections of the country pretty happy.

The Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association hired Glenn Frey, the former lead singer of the Eagles, to perform at the Oct. 11 closing dinner. They brought in Stewart Varney, an award-winning business journalist with Fox News to give his opinions on politics and the world economy. And they hired Fred Grandy, the former congressman from Iowa best known as Burl “Gopher” Smith on the 1970s and ’80s television series, “The Love Boat.”

Add in near-perfect Arizona fall weather and the luxurious surroundings of the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, and it’s not too surprising more than 1,000 contractors attended this year’s event.

When they weren’t golfing or lounging at one of the resort’s numerous pools, there were plenty of business seminars to attend. Here’s some of what was discussed.

Safety expert Michael Topf said human errors are the reason for most accidents. Image courtesy of SMACNA.

Safety first

After a workplace accident or injury, many people look for someone or something to blame. They fault the equipment or their co-workers.

The truth is, says safety expert Michael Topf, the fault is probably closer than many think.

“It all has to do with us - human beings,” Topf told the audience for his Oct. 9 session, “Managing Safety, Health and Environmental Excellence During High Levels of Productivity.”

The president and CEO of Topf Initiatives of Wayne, Pa., Topf has been involved in workplace safety issues for more than 20 years.

“Human factors are the cause of most accidents and injuries,” he said, citing the results of a study he conducted for DuPont in 1983. Why do accidents happen? Stress, fatigue and distractions are big reasons, but even relaxing activities such as daydreams are often responsible, he said.

“Stress is rampant today. Stress is greater than it ever was before,” Topf said. “Start getting your people taught stress-management techniques.”

He gave the example of professional basketball players, who are able to perfectly make baskets in the middle of sports arenas with thousands of shouting, sign-waving fans.

Causes

In his 1983 DuPont study, Topf found the primary causes of accidents were automatic, non-deliberate behaviors, and premeditated actions. This included shortcuts, calculated risks and chances taken to “look good.”

He said such risks are learned behaviors, comparing them to a yellow traffic light. Initially, a person’s conscience would caution them against an unsafe action - like driving through the traffic light. But, if the warning is ignored, a “little voice” tells the person the risk paid off, which excites him or her. And presumably, the shortcut saved time - another benefit.

After a worker takes a safety risk again - and doesn’t get hurt - it starts to form a habit. Employers may even praise the worker for the increased efficiency. This leads the person to think the risk is worth it.

Topf explained the employee’s thought process this way: “If I stop and take the time to do it safely, will I get a whack on my head or a pat on my head?”

This, combined with the natural human belief that bad things “won’t happen to me,” is responsible for thousands of on-the-job injuries and hundreds of work-related deaths annually in the United States, he said.

To prove how pervasive such rationalizing of risky behavior is, Topf asked everyone in the meeting room to stand. He then asked about a series of risky behaviors such as smoking and speeding, inviting those who never engage in them to remain standing while all others had to sit. When he was done with the series of questions, only one woman was still standing. She was given a round of applause.

Robert Menard demonstrated the basics of reading body language during his Oct. 9 session. Image courtesy of SMACNA.

Body talk

There were no leg warmers in sight, but the line “Let me hear your body talk” from Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 No. 1 hit “Physical” could have been the theme for the SMACNA presentation, “What’s a Body to Say?”

Robert Menard’s session was held twice that day, which was probably a good idea: the morning session was standing room only, with attendees spilling out into the hallway.

Although an engineer and construction contractor by experience, Menard now regularly speaks in front of corporations.

The start of his Oct. 9 afternoon session may have been a little rough for the audience. He started it speaking in French, growing more animated by the minute. It was obvious he was upset or excited about something.

After he changed to English, Menard explained that he uses that example to disprove the common belief that 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. If that were true, he said, most people would be able to understand a foreign language just by watching a person speak.

But if 70 percent may be an overestimate, body language does convey a lot, Menard said. You can tell how a person is feeling just by watching their hands. People may try to keep their thoughts private, but whether they are clenched or in pants pockets, hands give them away.

“We don’t know what to do with our hands, because hands say a lot,” he said. “If you want to improve your body language do this: videotape yourself.”

‘Clusters'

When trying to read body language, don’t focus on just one gesture, Menard advised. Body language comes in clusters. These gestures, done together often unconsciously, give away a person’s true feelings.

The main clusters are:
  • Openness. This could be seen in a person offering their hands in a palms-up pattern. It shows a person has nothing to hide.
  • Defensiveness. This cluster is often demonstrated by crossed arms or other protective movements.
  • Boredom or impatience. This can be seen by a foot quickly tapping or yawning, although both of those actions could be misinterpreted. A person could just be tired.
  • Evaluation. Raised eyebrows are the most common signal.
  • Suspicion or secretiveness. Either of these gestures could be expressed by squinting, which is why more than one cluster is needed to discern what a person is thinking.
  • Confidence or control. Thumbs up and palms down is a common way to say, “I’m in charge.”
  • Anticipation. Rubbing hands together is common when a person is excitedly waiting for something.


University of Kentucky Professor William F. Maloney, Ph.D., warned that the sheet metal industry is facing a worker crisis in coming years if recruitment efforts aren’t improved. Image courtesy of SMACNA.

Warnings

While most of SMACNA’s convention was upbeat, University of Kentucky Professor William F. Maloney, Ph.D., threw in a cautionary monkey wrench with his Oct. 11 presentation, “Meeting Future Work Force Needs.”

Maloney said construction in general, and the sheet metal industry in particular, is facing a worker crisis that threatens its survival. In his research, he noted that there is a huge need for employees. Maloney estimated 6,200 new sheet metal workers are required per year to replace those retiring during the next 10 years.

The downside, though, is that the work force is shrinking, he said. The U.S. birth rate, at 13.9 births per 1,000 people, “is the lowest since records have been kept.” Meanwhile, the ratio of male-to-female births - 1.06 males for every female - “is dropping as fewer males are being born.”

At the same time, Maloney said that the number of male workers in sheet metal, as well as the HVAC industry in general, is dropping, while the female participation rate is increasing. His research concluded that by 2020, the overall U.S. work force will be 69 percent Caucasian, 14 percent Latino, 11 percent African American, and six percent Asian.

With that in mind, Maloney told his audience that the first thing the industry, as well as each individual, must do is “change or become extinct.”

“If SMACNA and the SMWIA (Sheet Metal Workers International Association) do not change the way they do business with one another and if SMACNA and the SMWIA do not change the benefit and finds structure, there will be no unionized sector in five years,” he warned.

This was the third time Maloney has spoken about this issue at a SMACNA-sponsored event.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail (addy) devriesj@bnpmedia.com.

Outgoing SMACNA President Keith Wilson (left) presents Ron Rodgers from the association’s College of Fellows with the 27th annual Contractor of the Year Award. This was the first time that the honor has been given to a group. It was established in memory of Edward Carter, founder of Snips magazine.

Sidebar: SMACNA hands out Contractor of the Year, other awards at event

It might be tough to fit the name of this year’s Contractor of the Year on the plaque.

That’s because for the first time, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association gave the award to its College of Fellows, a group of 100 contractors that SMACNA says pool their knowledge and experience to serve the industry.

At an Oct. 11 ceremony held during the group’s 63rd annual convention, Arizona contractor and college chairman Ron Rodgers accepted the award for the group. Outgoing SMACNA President Keith Wilson of New Mexico praised the group as he presented the honor.

“Last year the College of Fellows expanded this education assistance by offering endowed scholarships to anyone within SMACNA who wanted to allow them to handle the paperwork and accounting,” Wilson said. “To date, they have had a number of contractors and chapters take them up on this exceptional educational opportunity for our young people.”

Since 1987, the college has awarded almost $250,000 in scholarships to more than 50 students.

The Contractor of the Year Award was established in memory of Edward Carter, the founder of Snips magazine.

SMACNA gave out several other awards during the Oct. 11 luncheon ceremony.

Georgette Ezyske of Central Sheet Metal Fabricators Inc. of Middlesex, N.J. was given the Special Legislative Service Award for her political activism and advocacy.

Edmund J. Bransfield, CEO of Wm. J. Donovan Co. of Philadelphia was named Legislative Contractor of the Year. Wilson called him “an exemplary participant in contractor legislative and political affairs at the local, state and national levels.”

Former SMACNA President George L. “Butch” Welsch was given the Distinguished Legislative Service Award. Wilson said he was “an articulate and positive leader for our industry in the public arena.”

The Petersen-Dunn Award, also known as the Chapter Executive of the Year, was given to Phil Gillespie, director of the Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Central Indiana and the Fort Wayne Area Sheet Metal Contractors Association. The award was established in 1984 by retired chapter executives Web Petersen and Gale Dunn.

David McCoy, executive director of the New Mexico Sheet Metal Contractors Association was named the Executive Legislative Advocate of the Year.