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December 1991, Vol. 114, No. 12
Safety and health: fabricated structural metal
Martin E. Personick, Elyce A. Biddle, and Amy Lettman
"Whether rain or shine
She's a part of the assembly
line. She's making history
working for victory."
-Rosie the Riveter, song by
R. Evans and J. Loeb, 1942
Rosie the Riveter, symbol of the industrial resolve of American women during World War II, would encounter a spate of technological changes on today's factory floors. Her riveting hammer, for instance, once the primary method of joining metal parts, has all but disappeared, supplanted by the welding torch and welding machine. This article examines work activities and their associated safety issues in fabricated structural metal, an industry that exists in a factory setting where workers cut, shape, and join metal parts for use primarily in industrial and commercial buildings and, to a lesser extent, in bridges, ship sections, Transmission towers, and offshore drilling platforms.1
During the latter part of the 1980's, some 2,500 structural metal fabricators, employing nearly 80,000 workers, competed in a $9 billion market for their products.2 Seven major centers for fabricated structural metal manufacturing - the States of Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia - accounted for two-fifths of total employment in this industry.3 Small establishments (fewer than 20 workers) continued to be numerically important in fabricating structural metal, constituting a clear majority of the industry's total plants; they were, however, but a fraction (about one-eighth) of its total employment.4
Through the years, fabricated structural metal manufacturers have experienced a high incidence of workplace accidents and injuries.5 The industry's 1989 injury and illness rate of 24.4 per 100 full-time workers, for example, was nearly double that for all manufacturing (13.1) and almost triple that for private industry as a whole (8.6). That year, half the injury and illness cases in fabricated structural metal were serious enough to require workers to take time off from their jobs or to be assigned light duties or shortened work schedules.6
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1 Fabricated structural metal has been designated industry number 3441 in the 1987 edition of the Standard Industrial Classification Manual, prepared by the Office of Management and Budget. The industry is part of a broader grouping of establishments manufacturing primarily fabricated structural metal products (number 344), which includes metal doors and window frames (number 3442), boiler shops (number 3443), sheet metal work (number 3444), architectural and ornamental metal work (number 3446), prefabricated metal buildings (number 3448), and miscellaneous metal work, such as concrete reinforcing bars (number 3449). Establishments engaged primarily in fabrication work at the site of construction are excluded from this grouping of industries.
For an account of the various primary and secondary products manufactured by these industries, see 1987 Census of Manufacturers: Fabricated Structural Metal Products, MC87-1-34C (Bureau of the Census, 1990).
2 1987 Census of Manufactures:Fabricated Structural Metal Products, table 1a, industry number 3441.
3 Employment and Wages, annual Averages, 1989, Bulletin 2373 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 990), p. 231.
4 Country Business Patterns, 1988: United States, CBP-88-01 (Bureau of the Census, 1990), table 1b.
5 Incidence rates represent the number of injuries or illnesses, or both, per 100 full-time workers and were calculated as
NIEH x 200,000
N = number of injuries and/or illnesses;
EH = total hours worked by all employees of the industry during the calendar year; and
200,000 = base for too full-time equivalent workers (employees working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year).
A variety of useful incidence rates may be computed by making N equal to the number of injuries only, or the number of lost workday cases, and so forth. In each instance, the result is an estimate of the number of cases or days per 100 full-time workers.
6 See Occupational Injuries and Illnesses in the United States by Industry, 1989, Bulletin 2379 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1991), table 1. For fabricated structural metal, the injury and illness rate for lost workday cases (12.1) was 50 percent of the rate (24.4) for total cases. For all manufacturing, the corresponding calculation came to 44 percent.
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