It's October (when I'm writing this message), so baseball is on my mind (maybe next year, Boston and Chicago), and I decided perhaps it was time to use scare tactics (in honor of Halloween) to tell mason contractors across the country why it's now more important than ever to be a member of the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA).
Yes, I know, I've told you this before. Some of you are still scratching your head wondering why you should spend the money. "What can MCAA do for me and my company?"
Let me sum it up for you in one word: silica.
Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite and many other materials, and it is classified as carcinogenic when inhaled. In the case of the masonry industry, silica poses as a health threat when it becomes airborne through blasting, drilling or cutting of brick, block, stone or mortar. Overexposure to airborne crystalline silica can cause a disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease called silicosis. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) web site, more than one million U.S. workers including many of our crewmembers are exposed to crystalline silica and each year more than 250 die from silicosis.
As I'm sure you are all aware, OSHA has a standard on permissible exposure limits (PELs) for silica, and workers are required to wear respirators or take other precautionary methods to limit exposure to the dust particles. As contractors, we must do what we can to limit workers' exposure to silica.
As if silicosis weren't scary enough, OSHA has decided the existing PELs do not offer enough protection. As of the end of October, OSHA issued a draft proposed standard on silica that just may be stringent and costly enough to wipe out some of our businesses. This proposed silica standard is worse than the asbestos standard. "Just how bad can that be," you ask? Worker exposure to asbestos has resulted in lawsuits, lost jobs and bankrupt companies.
By OSHA's own preliminary estimates, should it be promulgated, the annual impact of the silica standard on construction industries is $700 million. And that is just a "rough" estimate of direct impacts. Undoubtedly, there are numerous indirect impacts that OSHA has not even begun to contemplate.
If you are as concerned as I am about this possible standard becoming a reality, then you should take the time to read the article in this month's magazine by MCAA's Director of Government Affairs, Marian Marshall (page 8). While she can't elaborate on OSHA's draft proposed exposure standard on silica because it is just that, a draft I can tell you that she's directly involved in trying to either scale it back dramatically or kill it altogether.
In early November, OSHA and the Small Business Administration held roundtable teleconference discussions to take comments on the potential impacts of the proposed silica standard on small businesses. There were two panels of 11 members each one for construction and one for general industry. Thanks to Marshall, the construction panel had three participants who are MCAA members. Does anyone think that would have ever happened if we didn't have a lobbyist in Washington?
That's just one reason why it pays to be a member of a trade association with representation in our nation's capital. And silica is just one of the many issues Marshall and the rest of the MCAA staff are diligently pursuing on our behalf. The MCAA organization is also involved in the development of codes and standards, workforce development and promotion of masonry at the local, state and national levels. I, for one, am extremely grateful, and I am more than happy to support an organization that supports me, my business, and my industry. It's time for more mason contractors to do the same.
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