Category Archives: Global

Each month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues a jobs report, and the March 2024 report garnered quite a bit of attention from the construction industry. In general, the BLS report covers:

  1. Employment Numbers: This section provides data on the total number of nonfarm payroll jobs added or lost during the reporting period. It usually breaks down the numbers by industry sectors such as manufacturing, construction, health care, etc.
  2. Unemployment Rate: The report typically includes the unemployment rate, which is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed and actively seeking employment.
  3. Labor Force Participation Rate: This rate measures the percentage of the population that is either employed or actively seeking employment. Changes in this rate can indicate shifts in the willingness of people to participate in the workforce.
  4. Average Hourly Earnings: This section provides data on the average hourly wages for workers in various industries. It helps gauge trends in wage growth and purchasing power.
  5. Other Indicators: There may be additional information on factors such as average weekly hours worked, part-time employment trends, and long-term unemployment rates.

Overall, the March jobs report highlighted robust job growth in the construction industry and the broader economy, coupled with challenges such as labor shortages and potential inflationary pressures from wage growth. Here are the top takeaways from three construction-related organizations.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC): Nonresidential Construction Adds Whopping 24,600 Jobs in March

  • The construction industry added 39,000 jobs in March, with a year-over-year increase of 270,000 jobs.
  • Nonresidential construction employment increased by 24,600 positions, with growth across all three subcategories.
  • The construction unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in March, indicating strong employment growth in the sector.
  • Despite challenges like worker shortages and materials prices, both privately and publicly financed segments showed substantial employment growth.
  • Wage growth remained strong, potentially affecting future interest rate decisions by the Federal Reserve.

“Today’s release was a blockbuster jobs report and indicates that recession is not arriving anytime soon,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “The 39,000 jobs added by the nation’s construction segment was roughly twice the monthly growth observed over the past year. If one focuses purely on nonresidential construction, monthly job growth was nearly 80% faster than the one-year average.

“Structural transformations in the economy, including replenished domestic supply chains, expanded data center demand and augmented infrastructure, are making it difficult for many project owners to wait for lower construction delivery costs,” said Basu. “Despite the effects of worker shortages, still-elevated materials prices, newly emerging supply chain issues, and the high cost of project financing, both privately and publicly financed segments produced substantial employment growth in March. This comports with ABC’s Construction Confidence Index, which shows that a large share of contractors intend to grow their staffing levels over the next 6 months.

“As always, the jobs report was not completely positive,” said Basu. “Those in search of lower inflation and interest rates will not be comforted by this release. While economywide year-over-year wage growth softened to 4.1% in March, the monthly wage growth figure suggested a pace of compensation growth that will render it difficult for the Federal Reserve to substantially reduce interest rates in 2024. The notion that interest rates will remain higher for longer remains firmly in place, which means that project financing costs will likely be an ongoing issue for construction demand, especially in privately financed segments, for the foreseeable future.”

Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Analysis: Construction Sector Adds 39,000 Jobs between February and March with Increases in Every Residential and Nonresidential Category

  • The construction industry added 39,000 jobs in March, the largest monthly gain since January 2023.
  • Employment increased across all five types of residential and nonresidential categories.
  • Despite the growth, firms are facing significant labor shortages, as indicated by record job openings.
  • Average hourly earnings for construction workers rose by 4.9% over the year, reflecting the industry’s struggle to find enough workers.
  • AGC urged federal officials to address the gap between investment in education and training programs and the demand for construction workers.

“All types of construction firms were hiring in March,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s Chief Economist. “But the record number of construction job openings at the end of February indicates contractors would have hired even more workers if they were available to keep pace with demand.”

Sage Policy Group Analysis: A (Nearly) Perfect Jobs Report

  • Payroll employment increased by 303,000 in March, exceeding expectations and matching the fastest monthly growth since January 2023.
  • The unemployment rate fell to 3.8%, driven by strong growth in the labor force and
  • Average hourly earnings grew by 0.35% in March, contributing to a 4.2% annualized rate of increase, which could impact inflation.
  • No industries lost jobs in March, with significant gains in sectors such as private education, health services, and construction.
  • The report suggests a robust labor market with low unemployment and growing job opportunities.

Sage Policy Group COO Zack Fritz noted, “We’re approaching Oprah levels of labor market
performance—you get a job, you get a job, everybody gets a job!” In answering the question, what do we take from this, Fritz wrote, “You can forget about recession. This is about as good as jobs reports get. Sure, you could quibble about the faster-than-ideal growth in average hourly earnings, and this report ups the odds that we’ll be waiting until the second half of the year for rate cuts. Still, employers are hiring, unemployment is low, and the labor force is growing. What more could you want?”

To learn more from these three organizations, visit,, and

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced a final rule clarifying the rights of employees to authorize a representative to accompany an OSHA compliance officer during an inspection of their workplace. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on April 1.

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act gives the employer and employees the right to authorize a representative to accompany OSHA officials during a workplace inspection. The final rule clarifies that, consistent with the law, workers may authorize another employee to serve as their representative or select a non-employee. For a non-employee representative to accompany the compliance officer in a workplace, they must be reasonably necessary to conduct an effective and thorough inspection.

Consistent with OSHA’s historic practice, the rule clarifies that a non-employee representative may be reasonably necessary based upon skills, knowledge, or experience. This experience may include knowledge or experience with hazards or conditions in the workplace or similar workplaces, or language or communication skills to ensure an effective and thorough inspection. These revisions align OSHA’s regulation with the OSH Act and enable the agency to conduct effective inspections. OSHA regulations require no specific qualifications for employer representatives or for employee representatives who are employed by the employer.

The rule is in part a response to a 2017 court decision ruling the agency’s existing regulation, 29 CFR 1903.8(c), only permitted employees of the employer to be authorized as representatives. However, the court acknowledged that the OSH Act does not limit who can serve as an employee representative and that OSHA’s historic practice was a “persuasive and valid construction” of the OSH Act. The final rule is the culmination of notice and comment rulemaking that clarifies OSHA’s inspection regulation and aligns with OSHA’s longstanding construction of the act.

“Worker involvement in the inspection process is essential for thorough and effective inspections and making workplaces safer,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives employers and employees equal opportunity for choosing representation during the OSHA inspection process, and this rule returns us to the fair, balanced approach Congress intended.”

The rule goes into effect on May 31, 2024. For more information, visit

With each new year comes a new (and/or continuing) set of supply chain successes and challenges. In early 2024, geopolitical developments and technological advances continue to affect how supply chains and companies conduct business. Internally, businesses must also adjust to more staff reductions and retirements, and further develop their new and mid-career supply chain staff. Organizations continue to reevaluate their approaches and look for ways to improve.

At the beginning of 2024, the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) concluded its 10th annual Supply Chain Management Priorities and Challenges research, including a survey of more than 350 professionals from around the world and across multiple industries. As in previous years, the research examined organizations’ supply chain management priorities, performance, and anticipated trends.

The results reveal that fewer organizations achieved their business goals in 2023. Yet organizations remain focused on the future, with many anticipating further digital developments and investments in their supply chains.

2023 Was Not an Easy Year

Although many aspects of business returned to something resembling a pre-pandemic state in 2023, the majority of organizations in APQC’s research did not achieve all their business goals for the year (Figure 1). Looking back on 2023, we see that a majority of organizations (62%) missed their 2023 targets, and four in five organizations reported falling short of their competitors’ or peers’ performance.

These drops in performance reflect the ongoing uncertainty that supply chains have been facing and continue to face. The results are a cause for concern, given that a larger proportion of organizations fared worse in 2023 than in previous years. In 2024, as organizations try to catch up to their peers, they will need to seek new ways to meet their goals while dealing with new and different challenges. Organizations should evaluate which factors make the most impact on their business and determine whether there is the potential for these to affect business goals long term.

Diving deeper into the data, APQC finds that compared to the previous few years, organizations are trending more positively in terms of performance on specific goals related to customer satisfaction and return on investment (ROI). It is an encouraging sign to see performance on several additional goals trending upward from 2022 to 2023, even though overall achievement remains low. To continue to see improvement in these goals, 2024 needs to be a year of improved flexibility and adaptability for supply chains as global uncertainty continues.

Major Trends Affecting Supply Chains in 2024 and Beyond

In terms of trends affecting supply chains, research participants anticipate that technological advancements and stronger data and process management practices will make the biggest impact over the next 3 years (Figure 2). Big data and advanced analytics, supply chain digitization, data management, and process standardization make up the top four trends anticipated to make the greatest impact.

For the third year in a row, big data and advanced analytics is in the top spot. Emerging technologies are helping supply chain professionals make sense of ever-increasing amounts of data, but it is hard to keep pace with all the internal and external sources. With the digital supply chain, organizations are integrating physical processes with digital data; and implementing digital workplace tools, focusing on achieving the desired ROI from these investments.

Strengthening foundational data and processes are in the third and fourth spots for anticipated impacts on supply chain. In its first year on the survey, data management highlights the importance of having well-managed underlying data models, clear data governance, and more critical data-related processes. If the underlying data is not reliable, the decisions the organization makes based on that data are questionable. Just as organizations need a good data foundation, they also need a solid process foundation to maximize efficiency and technology investments. Standardized processes are also key for effective business continuity plans as organizations cope with continued uncertainties and rapid changes in the external environment.

Changes in legal and regulatory requirements, and pressure from other stakeholders (e.g., customers, and investors), are driving the impact of sustainability and environmental and social issues on supply chains. But as organizations make public net zero promises, many of them are scrambling to create an actionable plan to hit those targets in time, especially for the more complex Scope 3 emissions from the value chain.

In addition, it is notable that the percentage of respondents anticipating these trends to have a major impact on supply chains has increased substantially over the last year. In the previous year’s research, 34% of respondents expected that big data and advanced analytics would make a major impact, whereas in the most recent survey, an astounding 65% of respondents said this would make a major impact. Similarly, 41% of respondents last year believed supply chain digitization would make a major impact within the next 3 years, and in the latest survey, that amount jumped to 64%.

Obstacles to Improvement

APQC also asked supply chain professionals about obstacles to improving their organizations’ supply chain processes. The top four obstacles experienced by respondents are the following:

  • Implementation of new technologies,
  • Lack of collaboration across functions and externally,
  • Lack of governance/poor data management, and
  • Talent/labor concerns (e.g., staffing shortages or strikes).

Given that technology had such a prominent spot among trends for the next 3 years, it is not a surprise that the implementation of new technologies has surfaced as an obstacle for 52% of survey respondents. There has been a lot of buzz around new technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomous vehicles. It can be difficult to identify how to operationalize these technologies within the supply chain—especially AI. Additionally, with the adoption of any new technology comes the need for organizations to address cybersecurity to prevent disruptions caused by security breaches. This obstacle also reflects the increased need for strong change management as organizations sort out their process changes, new roles and responsibilities, and more.

Fifty percent of research participants rated a lack of collaboration across functions and externally as an obstacle to improvement. This obstacle has consistently been rated highly in APQC’s annual research. To address this challenge, APQC advocates for using knowledge management approaches and techniques to provide support and guidance for collaboration. Disconnects in the supply chain can lead to ripple effects that impact customers and their ability to receive orders on time, in full, damage free, and with accurate documentation. With increased uncertainty, supply chain leaders need effective collaboration to be resilient and responsive. Poor data management and governance also present a foundational issue to supply chains. Having clean, well-managed data is critical to the success of systems across the organization. Having inaccurate data can affect a company’s ability to use analytics effectively, automate activities, and more.

Last year, labor concerns held the top ranking for organizational obstacles. Although 2024 has already had its share of labor challenges, supply chains are not alone when it comes to dealing with labor concerns such as strikes, lack of qualified candidates, unfilled vacancies, layoffs, etc. However, given the business-critical role that the supply chain plays in getting products and services to the customer, addressing this obstacle needs to be an organizational priority.

Overcoming Obstacles

APQC found that organizations are taking a variety of measures to address their supply chain obstacles. Most try to be adaptable in the face of volatile conditions, with 84% of respondents saying that their organizations have reevaluated or modified their supply chain strategy to overcome obstacles.

In addition, 55% expect to increase their budget for supply chain tools, technology, innovation, and initiatives in 2024. In light of the inflationary environment for businesses, this ensures that supply chains can continue to meet the needs of the business while implementing and operationalizing new technologies.

2024 Focus Areas

In addition to examining major trends and supply chain obstacles, APQC’s annual research includes insights about organizations’ overall supply chain areas of focus for 2024. An area of focus is one targeted for investing resources, innovation, and hiring. For each area of focus, respondents provided two more detailed priority areas. Figure 3 shows the top five areas of focus for 2024, as well as the corresponding results from 2023.


The 2024 top five areas of focus are the same as in 2023, but in the most recent research, more organizations indicated each as a priority. The top area of focus, supply chain planning, was named an area of focus by 90% of respondents—increasing 4 percentage points from 2023. For all other areas, there was at least a jump of 12 percentage points for respondents rating each as an area of focus. This increased focus marks an important time for the profession. Supply chains are in the spotlight; now they have to shine and rise to the occasion.

Supply chain planning. Respondents focusing on supply chain planning indicated integrated business planning and demand planning and forecasting as their top two priority areas. To address disruptions and global uncertainty, companies need to pull their resources together to ensure that they align business goals and supply chain operations. This leads to the creation of an effective consensus forecast and supports scenario planning to prepare for potential disruptions.

Organizations intend to conduct benchmarking against similar companies, improve collaboration, implement new technologies, and standardize processes to start addressing their supply chain planning priorities.

Sourcing and procurement. Respondents focusing on sourcing and procurement named supplier relationship management, risk mitigation, and sustainability as their top priority areas within this function. Supplier relationship management has consistently been a top priority area within procurement over the years.

This speaks to the need for companies to focus on developing close relationships with key suppliers. APQC advocates for shifting procurement from a focus on transactions to fostering strategic relationships that benefit all parties involved. With increasing regulation related to sustainability, voluntary disclosure in the past has now become required. Many businesses now must disclose and verify their suppliers’ sustainability data or face the threat of financial penalties or disrupted shipments.

The actions organizations intend to take with procurement include implementing new technology and capabilities to increase supply chain visibility. They also intend to further standardize their procurement processes and identify and implement proven practices.

Innovation. Innovation helps organizations stay ahead of the curve even when facing rapid changes, multiple disruptions, and rapid technological advancements in a global context. The top focus area in innovation for 2024 is operational or process innovation, which enables organizations to find new, different, and more effective ways of going to market and operating their organizations and supply chains. It is followed by product and service innovation and creativity as top priorities. There is a large difference between the percentage of respondents selecting operational or process innovation (46%) and those selecting product and service innovation (30%). This speaks to the desire organizations have to find better ways to drive more effective supply chains versus introducing new products or services. To make these process improvements stick, leaders must adopt change management practices that address staff concerns and resistance.

Organizations intend to integrate innovation into organizational goals and implement new technology and capabilities to meet their priorities. They also intend to increase open innovation ecosystem collaboration, embrace new business models, and identify and implement best practices. Overall, companies are looking for new, more collaborative ways to innovate and drive supply chain and enterprise-wide improvements.

A Culture of Preparedness

APQC’s latest research in priorities and trends for supply chain professionals indicates that 2024 is shaping up to be another challenging year for supply chains. Disturbances continue, such as the volatile freight costs caused by shipping disruptions at the Suez and Panama Canals.

As such, supply chain professionals anticipate that a greater number of trends will make a major impact on supply chains. To address potential obstacles, at least 55% of organizations plan to increase their supply chain budgets. They are also focusing attention on more aspects of the supply chain in 2024.

The theme for supply chains this year is preparation in the face of uncertainty. To support resilience, organizations aim to tackle data governance and management, and to leverage new technologies that enable greater visibility and create more effective scenario plans. They also aim to tighten their processes to support clear roles and responsibilities.

In a recent article, Supply Chain Management Review discussed the need for organizations to consider disruptions to be the new norm, and APQC agrees. Strong organizational leadership remains essential for supply chain preparedness and talent management. Leaders can support supply chain professionals who collaborate effectively while embracing the full use of technology. They should also create a culture of preparedness that ensures the entire organization is ready to face almost certain uncertainty.

Marisa Brown is Senior Principal Research Lead at APQC.

About APQC
APQC helps organizations work smarter, faster, and with greater confidence. It is the world’s foremost authority in benchmarking, best practices, process and performance improvement, and knowledge management. APQC’s unique structure as a member-based nonprofit makes it a differentiator in the marketplace. APQC partners with more than 500 member organizations worldwide in all industries. With more than 40 years of experience, APQC remains the world’s leader in transforming organizations. Visit to learn how you can make best practices your practices.


NIA is proud of the professionalism, creativity, and artistry of our Contractor members.
To celebrate the craftsmanship of NIA mechanical and industrial insulation contractors,
in 2023 we unveiled the first-ever NIA Insulation Project Art Gallery Showcase and Competition. We invited all NIA insulation contractors to submit photographs and a brief description of projects representing their most creative and artistic efforts. At Fall Summit, we posted all the submissions anonymously, and attendees voted for the top three projects in terms of number of parts insulated, aesthetics, difficulty of installation, and well-installed application. As a new regular column, we will profile the projects submitted, focusing this month on the 2nd place winner, Thermal Solutions, Inc. We encourage NIA Contractor members to participate in the 2024 Insulation Project Art Gallery Showcase and
Competition, and possibly be featured in future articles.


Insulation Contractor: Thermal Solutions, Inc.

Industry Segment: Food Processing

Type of Plant/Facility: Distillery

Temperature Range: Above-Ambient System

Region: Southeast

System Designed/Application Type: Cellular Glass Covered with Stainless Steel Metal Jacketing (see Table 1 through Table 4 for all product types used).

Project Description and Goals

A large distillery in the Southeast had a new construction/expansion project that involved insulating new mash cookers, stills, and vessels. Goals for the project included achieving energy savings; personnel protection; and process, condensation, and corrosion control.


This was a highly complex project that presented challenges on multiple levels: size, scope, complexity, and scheduling, as well as the complications presented by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new construction/expansion effectively doubled the size and production capability of the distillery, but the facility continued operation uninterrupted during it. It was a project of massive scale involving all of the trades working together. Thermal Solutions Project Foreman Dan Lowry complimented the project managers and the General Contractor, calling them “stellar,” saying he was impressed at how well they handled the safety and scheduling of everyone. Lowry explained the insulation contractors and tradesmen had to keep out of the way of facility staff but also take all the necessary steps to ensure the distillery stayed within code for food production—for example, diligently establishing and maintaining barriers to keep insulation and other construction materials from possible contact with the processes in production.

The project also presented physical challenges that made Thermal Solutions’ corporate focus on safety paramount to successful completion. Lowry described vessels “6 feet in diameter and 50 feet tall,” adding that because grading on the site did not allow for the use of lifts, “the first hurdle was to get to the job.” Given the height and size of the vessels, “everything had to be done off very large ladders, using beam straps, retractable lanyards, and harnesses tied off above 4 feet.”

Mother Nature kicked in to make things interesting, too. In a project that Lowry estimated was overall 60% outside and 40% inside, weather conditions can be critical. For example, while new construction was underway, a cold snap moved in that threatened
existing outdoor process elements. Thermal Solutions’ team insulated more than 3,000 feet of piping in the course of 5 days, working in below-zero temperatures to keep production rolling.

And, of course, Covid-19 hit just as the project was slated to begin, which delayed full startup almost a year. Lowry gave General Contractor ABEL Construction Company, Inc. high marks for their coordination of schedule, safety, and workflow involving multiple trades—all impacted by shortages of labor, supply chain issues, and the need to accommodate new, pandemic-related requirements—so that despite starting a year late, the overall construction finished on time. For its part, Lowry credited Thermal Solutions for being as prepared as possible and having a solid strategy to keep to its schedule. On the production side, President John Stevens’ and Managers Jude Malone’s and Tony Kirk’s proactive approach to project management meant that when other companies were scrambling to get materials, Thermal Solutions’ team already had what they needed to get to work. Lowry noted materials were back-ordered 3 to 6 months, and “you could not buy duct wrap,” but Thermal Solutions had everything in stock. When Covid restricted the number of people allowed on site, they sent in a limited team to get measurements so they could prefabricate some of the equipment, and they established smaller teams of work crew units to limit possible exposure to the virus.

Thermal Solutions’ Approach

The expansion project was completed in phases, with the mash cookers built first. Once they were completed, the facility was actually erected around them.

Mash Cookers

The application includes a high-heat cooker that requires a quick cool-down. Thermal Solutions utilized a cellular glass application with stainless-steel jacketing. Cellular glass was chosen because of its heat retention, rigidity, self-supporting nature, and the environmental conditions of the facility. In addition to meeting the customer’s goals regarding energy savings, process control, personnel protection, and condensation and corrosion control, the design provides for system longevity, which reduces long-term maintenance costs for the customer. Table 1 offers an overview of the mash cooker
insulation solution.

With a distillery, because even slight fluctuations in temperature can affect viscosity and other factors that make the difference between a smooth bourbon, for example, and a ruined batch that possibly also causes damage to expensive process equipment, mechanical insulation is mission critical. At the same time, the production processes involve equipment that needs to be maintained. Recognizing that removing insulation to give workers access for preventive maintenance often results in damage to the insulation (or worse—insulation destroyed and not replaced), Thermal Solutions’ proposed covering elements such as flanges and valves with removable insulated blankets to allow easy access and insulation replacement once maintenance was finished. Table 2 lists elements of the removable cover solution.


Table 3 lists elements and products used for the thumper.

Additional Tanks and Vessels

Thermal Solutions was also responsible for insulating a centrifuge tank, chill water tank, and process water tank. Table 4 details the insulation system components and products used for each.

Project Takeaways

Key takeaways from this project reinforce themes mechanical insulation contractors stress are important with every job.

The Value of Coordination on Design to Meet Customer Objectives

From using ceramic spray on piping to provide thermal control for process performance and facility personnel safety in areas where space was confined to covering equipment such as flanges and valves with removable blankets to facilitate access for preventative maintenance, to changing the original spec from smooth stainless steel to a thicker gauge of embossed metal for improved durability (and appearance, as smooth stainless steel would show scratches that would inevitably result from mechanical and human abuse over time), Thermal Solutions was able to work with the Project Engineer and customer to identify materials and applications that would best meet project objectives.


Thermal Solutions’ corporate culture of safety made a huge difference on this project. For example, in addition to the site challenges, and the added concerns of protecting everyone from a dangerous, pandemic virus, working with stainless steel can be extremely dangerous. The team spent thousands of manhours crafting and installing the stainless steel elements without a single injury. Calling up the image of how easy it is to get a serious cut from just the lid of can of tuna, Lowry said the company’s impressive performance statistic resulted from their commitment to safety. “Every piece of stainless steel had a safety edge. [We made sure there would] never be a sharp edge on any of the stainless steel jacket we installed.” All personnel wore necessary protective equipment without fail, including Kevlar gloves and arm guards.

Precision Installation

The project benefited from having a team with outstanding experience, skills, and training, including a supervisor with more than 19 years of experience and a talented and committed 19-year-old apprentice. As just one example of the complexity of the installation, Lowry explained how “the ceramic coating used starts out very thick—almost like drywall mud—and has to be mixed to a specific consistency.” A large, industrial paint sprayer was used for application, with different tips and nozzle sizes as appropriate. Anything within 8 feet had to be completely covered to protect it against overspray. Two layers were required to ensure thermal retention, for both process efficiency and personnel protection, and each layer needs to be of a precise thickness. Additionally, each layer needed to dry before application of another layer or equipment use.

Due to the number of protrusions, this complex required precise design and application. In every aspect of installation, the project illustrated the exemplary craftsmanship of Thermal Solutions’ team of insulators.

Customer Focused on Quality, Willing to Invest

Lowry noted, simply properly insulating steam lines pays for itself in a year or less. When you run through all the ways using the appropriate materials and installing them properly saves energy and money—including the human and financial costs of not providing adequate personnel protection, and the cost of process inefficiency or downtime—the benefits are obvious. Still, some projects seek to cut corners, which makes projects with customers who recognize the value and budget the up-front cost for short- and long-term gain so satisfying. This customer was focused on the quality of the project and saw the benefit of insulation. They were very interested in having a system that would last for decades.

A Truly Rewarding Project

Lowry called this project “one of those jobs that’s just perfect for a good mechanical insulator” because it called for a full range of capabilities and experience. “From fabrication to the materials used—polyiso, ceramic, material wool, you name it—we took measurements and cut our own. We got to run the entire gamut of skills.” Thermal Solutions submitted this project to NIA’s competition because it illustrated the exemplary craftsmanship of the company’s insulators. Lowry said the project’s success truly depended on the outstanding performance of a core team that included Vincent Benningfield, Rodney Dreher, Gary Hahn, Jason Hillerich, and Tyler Langley. Lowry summarized, “It was just a fantastic project. The materials were correct, the installation was solid… things just flowed very well.” The competition was created after this project was concluded. Lowry emphasized that the insulators were not thinking about winning a prize; this was just a normal project for them. When thinking back, he said what really stands out to him was how the entire team worked well together during a difficult time, from the Lead Project Engineer to the General Contractor to all the other trades. Lowry is extremely proud of the work his team accomplished. “We have a core group that are animals when it comes to teamwork… All the guys knew it, too. This was one of those jobs where the project manager more than one time thanked me. Everybody respects what you’re doing for them.”

In the end, that makes this a truly rewarding project for everyone.

NIA congratulates 2023 competition winners:
First Place: Elite Insulation, Inc.
Second Place: Thermal Solutions, Inc.
Third Place: Argus Contracting, LLC

We thank all the entrants who helped highlight the diversity and creativity of the mechanical insulation industry:

  • DKB, Inc.
  • Gribbins Insulation Company
  • Hudak’s Insulation Inc.
  • I&I
  • Kerco, Inc.
  • Luse Thermal Technologies
  • Performance Contracting, Inc.
  • Taurus Insulation, LLC
  • Texoma Industrial Insulation, Inc.

Watch for future articles with details on other projects submitted.

Do you want to make improvements but are not sure how to get started? First, when someone is looking  to make improvements to a facility or plant, mechanical insulation should be one of the initial systems considered, especially if emissions, energy, or financial savings are needed. Mechanical insulation offers a wide array of benefits, and the project pays for itself quickly.  Elite Insulation, Inc. strongly recommends getting advice from a professional mechanical  insulation consultant at the beginning of the planning process. An insulation professional can identify areas of potential energy savings, predict long-term results and return on investment (ROI), and help select insulation to meet your design needs and goals. They can also protect you from scheduling delays and extra costs. The mechanical insulation industry has so many variables that it is almost impossible to navigate them without knowledge and experience in the trade. You do not want to be swayed by or misinformed by people whose profession is not mechanical insulation or whose main knowledge field is a different area. Also, be wary of people who are willing to save a few dollars on the project by reducing the overall system performance or the continual energy savings. A few thousand dollars shaved off a project could mean hundreds of thousands or millions for the owner over the system’s lifetime if their solution involves reducing the insulation.

I Didn’t Know You Could Do That: Customer Comments and Questions

Over my 20+ years of experience, here are some of the comments I have heard from my customers when I share my knowledge and help spread correct insulation information.

  • “We didn’t know the mechanical insulation system was supposed to look like that.” Customers who say this are typically talking about the quality of the work and the details of installing the correct insulation system: No gaps, crushed material, or globs of silicone; straight cuts; nice clean sealed ends; no lack of care.
  • “We bought these really cool and expensive pipe supports/anchors because we didn’t know what to use.” These customers were talked into using and spending money on a product by another trade or individual—and this often involves a product that does not give the spacing or the continuous insulation required.
  • “We were told that we didn’t need to design this insulation system because the contractor built another one of these in a different state and would just do it the same way.” Unfortunately, each state has different temperatures, humidity, conditions, codes, and regulations. Not every contractor is knowledgeable about all the different requirements moving from state to state.
  • “They told us it was only getting 1/2” thick insulation, so they ran it that way, but the spec said 1 1/2”. What do we do now?” This customer needs to contact the engineer and figure out the next step or run it with the correct spacing.
  • “We didn’t know we could have PVC jacket/fittings in anything other than white. It has helped greatly knowing where all the different systems are running to!” Not only can you do color coding with PVC for your customers, but also with metal jackets/fittings.
  • “We were told that they always use PVC fittings on the elbows outside because they don’t make metal fittings for them.” They do make them, and if the elbow is too big for a stamped fitting, it can be gored. Gored fittings are done using layered segments of metal to cover the elbow.

A List of Mechanical Insulation Project Considerations

There are many areas where a knowledgeable mechanical insulation professional can help with preventing excessive costs and achieving savings. Here is a basic, step-by-step list of considerations that a knowledgeable mechanical insulation professional can walk you through.
  1. Identify what systems are in your facility and what you are looking to improve or add. This could include duct work (supply/return/outside air/exhaust/etc.), plumbing/domestic water (hot/cold/recirculating), hot water heating, steam (high/medium/low pressure), chilled water—cooling of ambient air/equipment/process/etc., uninsulated valves, pipes, or equipment, and many more! You need to know what you are working with to understand your future needs.
  2. Doing an energy audit on the facility will show your baseline and possibly reveal areas that may need attention that were not previously known. By having an insulation energy audit done, you can really see how much money is being spent and what you will be able to save going forward. Then you can consider applying for energy rebates, and they can help with project costs. They will not cover the costs 100%, but they can offset them, and any amount is better than nothing. Professional mechanical insulation companies may have one or more individuals who have been certified through NIA’s Insulation Energy Appraisal Program™.
  3. Having mechanical insulation professionals on the project also will protect you from beginning to completion. They will look over the local codes, the insulation specifications, and other trades’ work (electricians, painters, ceiling grid contractors, plumbing, ductwork, etc.) that may adversely affect the insulation work schedule and help prevent problems. A consultant also will make sure the contractor that you decide to go with is buying the correct insulation and thickness, and that they ship and store it in the manner recommended by the material’s manufacturer. Hiring an NIA Certified Thermal Insulation Inspector™  will ensure correct installation of the insulation to the specification, performing a non-biased inspection with results given to the owner’s representatives to review, including recommendations for corrections, if there are any. The inspector should never be the one to discuss corrections with the insulation contractor or individuals doing the work. Companies may have one or many individuals who have gone through the Thermal Insulation Inspector Certification program and are certified by NIA.
  4. In the early stages of planning, knowing the other trades that impact the outcome of the insulation installation is also very important. For example, working with these trades, informing them, and having them install their work to avoid situations that could compromise the integrity of the insulation installation. What hangers/supports will they be using, and are they compatible with the system that is being installed? For example, you do not want to use a pipe-sized hanger/insulation support that has thermal transfer (heat) on a chilled water line (cold) since it has direct contact to the system and will likely cause condensation under the insulation and compromise the entire system design. On a chilled water system, you want to design the system with insulation that has the correct density to avoid crushing at pressure points and to use a hanger/insulation support that allows the insulation to be continuous. Having the correct insulation support inserts (a 360-degree, high-density section purchased from the insulation company by the mechanical contractor as they run the system) can help, with everyone seeing the thickness of insulation so that correct spacing for routing is maintained, keeping installers from having to notch the insulation or reduce the thickness of the insulation. Penetrations through walls, floors, and ceilings also need to be a focus point. Insulation thickness is important for everyone to know, so the insulation can be continuously installed to avoid gaps and uninsulated areas. It is also important to know if any of these penetrations need to have firestopping/fire proofing done so that it can be addressed beforehand, avoiding any wasted time or extra cost.
  5. It is important to understand the path of the system: whether it is going to be inside, outside, exposed, concealed, etc. For example, it may be simpler for a trade to run a pipe outside than through a congested area, but make sure you take everything into consideration. If you are in an area that could freeze, that pipe will need heat tape/tracing and thicker insulation versus not needing to be insulated at all. Making that decision without checking with everyone could run up costs by tens of thousands, if not more, just because it was easier for one trade. This is why knowing the routing is so important, and someone with understanding and experience could pay for themselves by preventing an incorrect, costly rerouting.
  6. What materials do you need to use on your system? It depends on what type of system you have and the requirements and goals you have for the system. Is your goal preventing corrosion under insulation (CUI), heat retention/temperature control, energy savings, condensation control, personnel protection, occupants’ comfort, or freeze protection? Are you trying to achieve more than one goal? Designing the system to fully include all of the proper components and then making sure it is installed correctly makes all the difference. When selecting materials, the state/location of where the facility/plant is located as well as what the insulation will need to withstand will be factors in the process. These factors may not be conducive for certain insulation materials to be installed. What insulation thickness do you need (most commonly, but not limited to, between ½”and 4”)? Do you need a protective jacket or coating?
  7. If the system is outside, make sure the correct materials are being used to ensure the system’s lifespan and a good ROI. Make sure the seams are placed in an orientation that will cause water to shed and prevent water intrusion. Use banding instead of screws to reduce the number of punctures to the jacket and a vapor retarder (a vapor retarder inhibits water vapor from traveling to lower temperature surfaces, where it may condense; it will either be a jacket, film, or coating). If the system is inside, and in an area with water/wash down, make sure a PVC jacket and fittings are used with glued joints/seams. Joints/seams should NOT be installed with tape on the outside, silicone or a box store adhesive, or thumbtacks. All joints/seams should be glued together with an approved manufacturer’s PVC glue/adhesive, with water shed being followed. With a PVC jacket, if the saddle supports are a concern—as in a food production area—you may want to have the saddles installed underneath the PVC so that product and water do not have a place to stay, mix, and possibly create mold. A saddle is a metal shield to help spread out the weight of the hanger/support from the system to reduce the compression of the insulation or cutting through the jacket.
  8. Does your system require maintenance of pumps, strainers, controls, etc.? To do the maintenance, do you need to remove or cut into the insulation and jacket covering it? This destroys the insulation, resulting in paying for it to be fixed. There is an easy solution. These are areas where removable blankets or boxes should be utilized so they can safely be removed, maintenance can be performed, and then the insulation blanket or boxes reinstalled. Companies manufacturer or fabricate these removable covers differently, so make sure you discuss what your needs are; ask suppliers how they intend to manufacture them; and ask for a sample to be made, if possible.
  9. Additional system considerations include:
    •  Does your system require a multilayer insulation system with staggered joints/seams? This type of insulation system is used to reduce thermal short circuits and moisture draw, and achieve thickness required by the specifications.
    •  Do you need valve extensions installed? Valve extensions are important and almost always a must. They extend the valve handle so the required insulation thickness is consistent or can be built up to cover the valve body without impeding the turning ability of the valve and allowing a much tighter seal. One more thing with your valves: If they are in a wet area, or outside, turn the valve downward to keep water from entering the valve handle penetration.
These are only some of the considerations you need to think about when it comes to improving your facility or plant. With so many materials and project environments, there are endless variables and solutions from the mechanical insulation industry. In addition, the world is becoming more aware of energy use, and costs are only increasing. Educating yourself in mechanical insulation requirements and needs for your facility/plant will only benefit you in the future. The mechanical insulation system is a very important part of your daily energy consumption and should not be an afterthought. It is also a health and safety consideration for your organization. It can be overwhelming for someone not fully educated in the industry. Do not be fooled by individuals who say they can do numerous trades. Make sure you research and talk to others they have worked with in the recent past. If anyone says you do not need to talk with someone to figure the mechanical system out, that should be a red flag.


Opportunities in Retrofit and Renovation of Existing Buildings

Addressing commercial typology trends, organizational commitments, levers of transformation, and decarbonization technologies, the report covers a lot of ground. The section “Retrofit and Renovation” discusses how making the existing building stock greener and more energy efficient will help us reach climate goals. The report states:

Retro-commissioning (RCx) is a valuable tool for identifying and maximizing potential
energy savings. For example, every 1% of retro-commissioning market penetration results in energy savings of almost four billion kBtu, the equivalent of over 830,000 metric tons of CO2 e per year—more than the average of two U.S. natural gas-fired power plants operating for an entire year.

According to the data, growth in commercial sector renovations and retrofits is projected to increase up to 11% annually by 2027 with additional funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“IRA amendments to the commercial building incentive known as Section 179D update the financial benefits for energy efficiency retrofits to existing buildings,” shares the report, explaining that buildings constructed before 1980 that have not been renovated since 2000 make up 37% of the national gross commercial floor area; 47% of the tax deductions provided under Section 179D are tied to these buildings.

“If all existing commercial buildings in the United States were retrofitted with energy efficiency upgrades in compliance with their respective states’ current energy code, $314B of tax deductions could be recognized, resulting in $66B in net total tax savings,” estimates the report.

With subsections on whole life carbon savings, building ownership and occupancy, funding and incentives, and commissioning and retro-commissioning market penetration, the report paints a picture of just how many opportunities exist to decarbonize through existing buildings.

For more insights on retrofitting trends and opportunities, explore the State of Decarbonization: Progress in U.S. Commercial Buildings 2023 at

A first-of-its kind report released in early December 2023 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), an authority on green building and the global developer of the LEED green building program, reviews 30 years of data from the U.S. commercial real estate sector. The State of Decarbonization: Progress in U.S. Commercial Buildings 2023, released at the Conference of the Parties (COP) summit, found the U.S. has made vital, yet unequal, progress in decarbonizing commercial real estate. The report identifies levers and outlines pathways for all 50 states to achieve decarbonization targets.

Produced in collaboration with the global sustainable development firm Arup, the inaugural State of Decarbonization report is the first ever to deliver both key historical data and targeted opportunities for future improvement. Importantly, the report identified high-opportunity areas that can be decarbonized faster, such as deep retrofits in refrigerated warehouses, where emissions grew in recent years; and older commercial buildings, where pre-1980 buildings account for nearly 40% of gross commercial floor area in the United States and could utilize nearly half of the expanded commercial energy efficiency tax deduction in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act, a key lever for decarbonization, per the report.

The report underscores that the United States has the tools it needs to reduce building-related emissions, and new federal funds provide the real estate sector with a unique, immediate opportunity to deploy critical improvements swiftly and widely across the nation. For example, the investments from the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy and climate action provisions could enable the building sector to meet its proportional share of the Paris target early, in 2029.

With proven decarbonization strategies long championed by USGBC becoming available and cost-competitive, commercial buildings have become 37% less carbon intensive and 26% more energy efficient on average. However, despite these significant reductions, the report found that the overall sector emissions of commercial buildings have remained flat since 1990, a result of significant increases in total building floor area.

“This report confirms our progress to date on U.S. commercial building decarbonization and serves as a powerful call to deploy proven solutions at greater speed and scale across all sectors and communities,” said Peter Templeton, President and CEO, USGBC. “We can and must work together—with partners across and beyond the building industry—to seize immediate opportunities for achieving our urgent goals.”

“This report is a crucial resource in understanding where we are presently, where we need to be in the very near future, and the strategies we can leverage to help us meet our critical climate goals,” said Robert Kay, Arup’s Americas Climate and Sustainability Services Leader. “We must accelerate decarbonization progress from where each city and state is at right now in order to reach our objectives.”

The State of Decarbonization report was released as USGBC and other global leaders convened at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. USGBC has participated in the annual COP meeting since Copenhagen in 2009, where the organization was a lone but influential voice bringing much-needed attention to the central role that buildings must play in addressing climate change.

With full citations, sources, and methodology provided, report analyses focus on energy and operational emissions where data are more robust and actions more mature. This report complements critical new resources for building decarbonization, including the RMI-USGBC report Driving Action on Embodied Carbon in Buildings, released in late September 2023 (available at It will help policymakers, advocates, and companies understand the landscape and develop strategies to achieve the urgent scale of action needed.

Alongside the report, USGBC has announced LEED v5, the forthcoming leadership standard that aligns building decarbonization action with the urgency of the 2030 and 2050 Paris Agreement targets while also addressing critical imperatives related to human health, resilience, biodiversity, and equity.

The State of Decarbonization: Progress in U.S. Commercial Buildings 2023 report can be read in full at

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has announced the final rule on worker classification, titled “Employee or Independent Contractor Classification Under the Fair Labor Standards Act [FLSA],” scheduled to take effect March 11.

This rule aims to clarify worker status as either employee or independent contractor under the FLSA. It rescinds the 2021 Independent Contractor Rule, which designated “core factors” to evaluate in determining an employment relationship. The new rule considers
multiple factors equally, including:

  • Opportunity for Profit or Loss Depending on Managerial Skill: This considers whether the worker can make money or lose money based on their ability to manage their work effectively, including using their judgment and business skills.
  • Investments by the Worker and the Employer: This factor considers whether the worker or the employer has invested money or resources in a way that resembles a business investment or a more typical worker’s investment.
  • Degree of Permanence of the Work Relationship: This considers the working relationship’s status as long term or ongoing.
  • Nature and Degree of Control: This factor considers whether the potential employer determines the worker’s work schedule, directly supervises how the work is carried out, or imposes restrictions on the worker’s ability to work for other employers.
  • The Extent to which the Work Performed Is an Integral Part of the Employer’s Business: This factor considers whether the specific tasks performed are integral to the overall functioning of the business.
  • Skill and Initiative: This point considers whether the worker uses specialized skills to perform the work, and whether those skills resemble managing a business rather than simply performing a job.
  • Additional Factors: This allows for consideration of other factors not listed that may be relevant to indicate whether the worker is in business for themself, as opposed to being economically dependent on the potential employer for work.

Defining an Independent Contractor

As used in the FLSA, the term “independent contractor” refers to workers who, as a matter of economic reality, are not economically dependent on an employer for work and are in business for themselves. Such workers play an important role in the economy and are commonly referred to by different titles, including independent contractor, self-employed worker, and freelancer. This rule is not intended to disrupt the businesses of independent contractors who are, as a matter of economic reality, in business for themselves.


When the rule was initially proposed, SHRM expressed concerns around the lack of clarity over how to evaluate a worker relationship, which could lead to ambiguity in worker classification. SHRM had advocated for retaining the 2021 classification test, emphasizing its clarity and consistency.

SHRM remains committed to providing updates and resources to help human resources (HR) professionals navigate this final rule, and it continues advocacy efforts aimed at supporting your needs and concerns. For additional summaries of this act or other HR policies, visit

For more information on the Employee or Independent Contractor Classification Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, visit

Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are the most common workplace injury, costing U.S. businesses in the private sector nearly $17 billion a year, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Recognizing the impact these injuries have on workers and businesses, the National Safety Council (NSC) developed the MSD Solutions Index, an annual benchmarking survey, and recently released the inaugural findings in the MSD Solutions Index Pledge Community Report, which focuses on three main pledge commitments of advancing MSD risk reduction, innovation and collaboration, and safety culture.

Respondents represented the manufacturing, professional, transportation and warehousing, healthcare, utilities, and several other industries. Organizations received an overall index result, as well as results for the three pledge commitment subsections, that fell into one of five results categories representing MSD prevention maturity: novice, reactive, advancing, proactive, and innovating.

Major insights included:

  • No organization earned a perfect score, underscoring the complexity of MSDs and their prevention. However, 85% of organizations received overall results in the advancing (39%) or proactive (46%) categories, while 15% were in the reactive category. Further, 54% rated their workplace’s ability to prevent MSDs as either very good or excellent.
  • For the three subsections:
    • Risk Reduction: 44% of organizations received a result of advancing.
    • Safety Culture: Respondents showed slightly higher average scores, with 42% in the proactive category.
    • Innovation and Collaboration: Overall results demonstrated slightly lower average scores, with 31% scoring as reactive, though more than half of organizations exhibited advancing, proactive, or innovating results.
  • Larger organizations, which have more than 1,000 employees, are generally more effective at mitigating MSD risk, as they are more likely to have mature, long-standing safety programs and resources to adopt more complex MSD solutions and technology. In contrast, the majority of small- to medium-sized businesses established their safety program in the last 5 years.
  • Eight in 10 pledge members have some form of MSD prevention or ergonomics program in place, and 65% have methods for tracking MSD rates across their workplace.
  • Nearly two-thirds of organizations regularly conduct employee perception surveys, and nearly 90% have methods in place for workers to share suggestions for safety improvements. Notably, the MSD Solutions Index showed that when it comes to safety decisions related to workstation design, employees’ physical work environment, and workflow, frontline workers are regularly consulted on these issues, which leads to stronger safety cultures.
  • Nearly 85% of organizations reported that psychosocial risk factors contribute to MSDs in their workplace. These risk factors include things like mental health, fatigue, lack of tracking, and lack of personnel and proper equipment or tools.
  • More than 80% are currently using technology in their workplace to prevent MSDs, and just as many are effective at ensuring these best practices are broadcast widely across their organizations.

In addition, the report outlined several steps and actions organizations should take, including:

  • Engaging senior leadership, designating an MSD solutions champion to represent the workforce, and creating and empowering an MSD solutions team to collaborate throughout an organization;
  • Collecting and responding to employee feedback regularly and measuring the progress of an MSD program and safety culture, and tracking the impact, solutions effectiveness, return on investment, and year-over-year change;
  • Identifying risk factors with involvement from frontline workers and implementing appropriate changes; and
  • Ensuring MSD solutions are equitable for all employees.

To learn more about these efforts, visit

The construction industry is considered one of the true pillars of the global economy. In the eyes of many, as the construction industry goes, so goes the world. Millions of people rely on this segment for employment, and the incomes derived from its jobs cycle through economies across the globe. For this reason and so many others, the condition of the construction industry is always in the crosshairs of financial and economic thought leaders. This segment is that important, but it is not immune to trends.

As in any other part of the business world, trends affect the construction industry. Managing them is one of the many factors that separate the market leaders from the rest of the pack, still trying to make their mark and find their way in this critical yet ultra-competitive economic space. This article reviews four of the top trends construction professionals should remain abreast of for 2024 and beyond.

  1. Adopting the Latest Technologies
    In the early stages, when technology began knocking on the doors of the construction industry, professionals were hesitant to infuse it into their mix. Most held fast to the tried-and-true principles and methods that had shaped the industry for centuries. All that has changed, as more and more are beginning to see the value technology brings to the table and are rapidly adopting it. Several factors are driving this shift, with the increasing complexity of projects, the need for efficiency, and recognized improvements in communications leading the way. From CMS systems to building information modeling (BIM), drones, and more, the industry’s race to embrace technology is in full swing.
  2. Being Green and Sustainable
    We have only one planet, and the responsibility of maintaining it rests of every shoulder that calls it home. As the challenge to preserve our world continues to gain momentum, builders, architects, and engineers have become hyper-focused on doing their part. In the coming years, clients will be more apt to partner with and provide lucrative build opportunities to those who mirror their values. With that being the case, those who champion green ideals and a focus on sustainability stand to gain.
  3. Using Prefabricated Materials
    Construction traditionalists are used to building everything on site by hand, piece by piece. Those methods are still present on some sites, but with each year, the prevalence of prefabricated materials grows. Prefabricated materials increase efficiency, reduce labor costs, and align well with green/sustainability initiatives. As professionals continue realizing the value of this method, more and more will look to infuse it into their production mix during 2024 and the coming years.
  4. Increasing Worker Safety Efforts
    It seems intuitive to think that the industry would have programs and resources to ensure worker safety. While no one wants to see a worker injured, the race to finish fast and increase profit margins often overshadows the importance of creating a safe working environment. As the industry continues evolving, worker safety will move to the forefront. Better safety includes improved training, frequent inspections, and more resources allocated to this area. The payoff from these efforts will be seen in terms of injuries and lives: fewer injuries derailing careers, and more lives being saved because proper safety protocols are in place.


Construction is a pillar of the global economy, and there is no getting around it. The
industry provides jobs, circulates dollars, and fuels various market segments. If the goal of any construction entity is to be a contributing force, it is crucial to remain abreast of the trends and directions of the market. Technology is here, so market leaders should not shun innovation. Leaders should use and embrace the many advancements and position their businesses for growth. The planet should be a priority, too, so infusing methods that protect the environment, including use of prefabricated materials, must be a focus. Finally, workplace safety is rising, as more firms work to protect their most valued asset: their people.

Trends are good things; in many cases, they come and go. Those professionals who show a willingness to adapt to and adopt them are likely to be the ones positioned to stay.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.

Lynn Pearcey, MBA, is a Copywriter for AIA Contract Documents. AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. To learn more about how AIA Contract Documents can help you with your business, visit AIA Contract Documents software allows users to efficiently create, share, and manage the industry’s leading construction documents.