As you probably know from reading the articles on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed silica standards (see pg. 8 in the January 2004 and February 2004 issues), MCAA and its Director of Government Affairs, Marian Marshall, are doing everything in their power to protect the interests of mason contractors. Marshall has been working the issue from every possible angle and suggested that contractors should visit Washington to personally discuss the silica proposal with the Assistant Secretary of Labor, John Henshaw, who heads up OSHA. It was the right call.
In late April, MCAA's Executive Director Mike Adelizzi, Marshall and several MCAA members met with Henshaw and a number of other OSHA officials in Washington with the sole purpose of discussing the agency's draft proposal on silica exposure. In an hour's time, this group explained in detail the concerns we have with several key provisions put forth by OSHA, specifically monitoring, regulated areas, medical screening and Medical Removal Protection. The MCAA representatives explained to Henshaw that if the standard contained these four provisions, they would not only be technologically infeasible, but the economic impact would be such that many of the smaller companies would likely fold.
For starters, construction sites are very dynamic and variable. There can be as many as 20 or 30 contractors on-site at one time, workers are often transitory, and jobs can be of limited duration. Therefore, it makes little sense to require monitoring for exposure every single day. In many of these situations, by the time lab reports were obtained, they would be essentially useless.
Secondly, silicosis takes a long time to manifest itself. To require medical screening periodically for crewmembers, as well as for pre-employment purposes and after an employee is terminated, makes no sense. Also, masons can and do work for several companies; as such, it would be difficult to determine on whose job site an employee may have gotten sick.
As explained to the Assistant Secretary, a requirement for regulated areas would add yet another unbelievable complication to the job site demarcated areas would have to be labeled, productivity would be enormously hampered, and liability concerns would increase. There are just too many people coming and going. Workers would have to remove all their monitoring equipment and protective clothing before they could leave the regulated area to take a break, and projects could be substantially delayed. These are unanticipated costs that are difficult to factor in to any job and even more difficult to pass on to customers.
When these circumstances were described to Henshaw, it was quite clear he had a better understanding of the problems our industry has with OSHA's silica proposal. In fact, he finally admitted that, as a Certified Industrial Hygienist, he had done monitoring and didn't find it all that productive or useful, so he'd like to do away with that concept. Henshaw also told MCAA representatives that he would be willing to work with us to ensure that productivity was not adversely impacted and jobs are not lost due to over-regulation.
As a result of this meeting, MCAA has formed a Silica Task Group to put together a set of industry-wide work practices, improving engineering controls and protective equipment. This task group will then likely have testing done to ensure that those practices and engineering controls can and do meet the existing permissible exposure limit for silica. Once all of this is completed, MCAA will present the findings to OSHA. We fully expect the efforts of this task force to minimize the effects of any possible future standard on our industry. With any luck, we might even be able to eliminate the need for a silica standard altogether.
These are positive developments, and we should be grateful for the active participation of our members and staff to work toward an equitable solution to this vital issue.
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