Hot Topics from Washington D.C.
It?s August and Congress is in recess, but there are still lots of ?hot? topics to report on from where I sit in Washington, D.C. Here?s a brief overview of some of the issues MCAA has been working on lately on your behalf.
In Massachusetts and Florida recently, OSHA issued citations for violations of 29 CFR 1926 250(b) (5), the prohibition against leaving more materials on scaffolding than necessary for immediate operations. When the contractor disputed the violation in Boston, a request for interpretation was submitted to OSHA whereupon their Office of Construction issued a directive, now published on its website, confirming that it is in fact a violation to leave more than even incidental amounts of materials on scaffolding at the end of the work shift.
Now as we all know, it?s been common industry practice to leave some materials on scaffolding at the end of the shift each day; we?ve been doing it since before the dawn of time ? or at least prior to the promulgation of the scaffolding regulations in 1971. We in industry would argue that some materials provide greater stability to the scaffolding. In addition, tenders normally only put enough materials up for the bricklayers to complete part of the job, working in corkscrew fashion, in order to avoid moving them continually from one work area to the next. More importantly, removal of most materials would require dismantling of scaffolding guardrails, thus creating fall hazards.
So why all of a sudden is this now an issue? MCAA officials were asked just that the other day in a meeting with OSHA?s Director of Construction, Bruce Swanson. We all agreed that it must have been a case of an overly ambitious ?competent person? or in oxymoronic terms, an OSHA inspector who interpreted the standard far too literally. But we also made it very clear to Mr. Swanson that removing materials from scaffolding would cause far greater health and safety hazards than it would ever prevent. Understanding that economic concerns are secondary to OSHA, MCAA officials, including our President Bill McConnell, did point out that the cost implications of their interpretation are enormous.
To coin a phrase from ?Jerry Maguire?, we asked OSHA to let us help them help us resolve this problem. Mr. Swanson asked us to put together a letter to OSHA outlining our concerns with the interpretation and ask that they define ?incidental amounts of materials?. OSHA will then likely issue a new interpretation or directive which is brick and block specific to materials handling, use and storage; their policy will not apply to other industries. We are hopeful that OSHA will address this problem expeditiously so additional citations can be avoided. In an effort to speed things along through the channels at OSHA, MCAA?s Director of Government Affairs, Marian Marshall, also met with Congressional staff who directed the health and safety agency to find a reasonable solution to the scaffolding issue at the earliest possible date. We are encouraged with the dialogue, both with OSHA and Congressional contacts, thus far and will keep you posted as to further developments.
MCAA is also in the process of forming an alliance with OSHA on several issues important to our industry, one of which is scaffolding. We expect that once this Alliance is signed by Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw and MCAA President McConnell we will be able to work closely with OSHA to put together a scaffolding safety program amenable to both parties. It is MCAA?s hope that the Alliance will be in place by early October.
Two months after the House of Representatives approved the Association Health Plan bill (H.R. 660 ? the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2003) with a strong bipartisan vote, the outlook for the legislation (S. 545) in the Senate remains unclear. During the month of July, just prior to the August recess, AHP coalition members, including MCAA, participated in several meetings with Senators and their staff to discuss potential support for the AHP legislation. It was apparent from those meetings that many Senators continue to maintain a neutral position on the bill. A number of Senators indicated they are leaning in favor of the bill and still others indicated they may suggest changes to the legislation which would enable them to support it. While we didn?t gain any new cosponsors, we did make some progress with a handful of Senators.
It should be stressed, however, that many Senators told us they have not heard enough from their constituents to warrant their support, so if you haven?t communicated that to them, please do so. If we are unable to convince the Senate to act on this legislation this fall, our window of opportunity may close for good. Given the steady increase in health insurance premiums over the last four years, I doubt seriously that any of us want to miss a chance to lower overall health benefit costs for small businesses, their employees and their families. MCAA will continue to work diligently to enact AHP legislation this year.
After months of hard work, MCAA has convinced members of the Senate and House to introduce legislation authorizing a tax credit for mason contractors and other construction companies with a certified apprenticeship training program. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado will be introducing the bill in September. Senator Allard?s version is significantly different from the last version of the bill. In a nutshell, it will provide a tax credit of up to $10,000 per year for the first two years of an apprenticeship training program certified by either the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training at the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Council. Only construction trades recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics would qualify for the tax credit. Each company could hire three new apprentices per year under this scheme.
In the House of Representatives, Congressman Mark Foley of Florida will be introducing a similar bill. The one distinct difference in his legislation is he allows all trades with certified training programs ? from amateur radio operators to automotive mechanics to tool and dye makers ? to be eligible for the tax credit. In MCAA?s view, this will make the bill far too expensive and potentially diminish its chances of passage.
MCAA will be working hard to find additional cosponsors for the Senate legislation and make every effort to schedule a hearing on the bill at the earliest possible date. If any of you would like further information on this legislation in order to ask your Senators to support it, please let the MCAA Government Affairs Director, Marian Marshall, know as soon as possible.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.