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From the Editor

By this point, MCAA members have surely become fully aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) draft proposal for a silica exposure standard (for a re-cap, see pg. 8). I'm not going to argue the semantics of this proposed standard; my job is not to voice my opinion, but to keep my eyes and ears open to news of interest to mason contractors.

With that in mind, I must bring to your attention the whistleblower disclosure that was filed by Dr. Adam Finkel, OSHA Administrator for the six-state Rocky Mountain Region, on Oct. 9, 2003.

In a nutshell, Finkel's disclosure states that OSHA has, since 1999, disregarded the recommendations of its own medical and scientific staff, refusing to inform, educate or give a blood screening test for hundreds of active and retired OSHA inspectors who may have been exposed to beryllium.

To quote Finkel: "Of the many health hazards U.S. workers are exposed to, the toxic metal beryllium is unusual, both in its potency (high risk of disease following extremely low exposures) and the fact that one of the adverse consequences of expose — a progressive and generally fatal lung disease known as chronic beryllium disease (CBD) — apparently results only from exposure to this one substance."

According to Finkel's data, approximately 20% of the current and retired OSHA inspectors are recorded to have been exposed to beryllium. He goes on to say, "It is important to note that these measured exposures must be a subset of the true extent of the number of OSHA personnel exposed and of the cumulative amount of beryllium each has inhaled, because OSHA inspectors only take the trouble to sample for a particular substance if there is evidence or reasonable suspicion that workers are being overexposed to it. Thus, in some unknown fraction of the many hundreds of inspections a typical OSHA compliance officer would conduct during his/her career, beryllium was present in workplace air but never sampled for."

Finkel explains in his report that those exposed to beryllium become sensitized, much like the build-up of an allergic reaction, which can happen in as little as one exposure. Sensitization to this substance can be detected in an exposed worker by taking a $150 blood test of the individual, called the beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT). Of those sensitized, 1/3 to 1/2 of those people will never develop CBD, especially if they are caught early and receive treatment, including removal from further exposure.

OSHA's web site concurs with Finkel's scientific information on beryllium exposure. OSHA's web site also states that "dust control is the primary preventative measure."

Finkel goes on to list several personal beliefs as to why OSHA has refused to inform and test exposed employees. These reasons include: OSHA's belief that personnel are not at high risk of CBD; concern about the costs involved; a belief that OSHA inspectors who were exposed to beryllium were careless and therefore do not deserve to be tested; and a concern about liability and/or public image.

If some of this is sounding slightly familiar to the current silica situation, then you might be right.

The ultimate question is: If OSHA refuses to follow decent protocols for their own issues, how are mason contractors and other industries supposed to follow unreasonable protocols for silica?



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