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December 11, 2003 7:28 AM CST

Medical Removal Protection - A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

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If this website were equipped with audio-visuals, I could get a show of hands from contractors across the country who might be familiar with Medical Removal Protection standards (MRPs). Since that's not possible, I'll tell you this is my first experience with them and, while seemingly harmless on the surface, they are anything but. These MRPs are expensive, controversial and ? as it should come as no surprise to anyone in today's society ? they've been the subject of much litigation.

So what are these so-called Medical Removal Protection standards? They are standards triggered when an employee is found, after a healthcare provider's evaluation, to have significant enough exposure to a toxic substance that they must be temporarily removed from the job. That shouldn't be a problem, right? After all, we want to ensure the continued good health and safety of our workers. But these programs require employers to retain the full-pay, benefits and seniority of the worker. The standards vary as to how long a worker must be off the job or assigned to another position where he or she would not be exposed to toxicity in the course of their duties.

And, of course, time off the job depends a lot on the worker's health progress and continued screening to determine just when they could safely return to work. Sound a lot like workers compensation? Not exactly.

According to OSHA, the MRPs serve vastly different purposes; they are deemed to be preventative health programs. Unfortunately, these MRPs may result in higher workers compensation costs. However, for some companies that may not have a high enough rating, they'll have to absorb the cost difference. I didn't see any hands go up from anyone who is vaguely familiar with MRPs, and that's probably a good thing. But I've got bad news. Your train may soon be arriving at the station! Here's the scoop.

As mentioned in the "President's Message", the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a draft proposed standard for silica exposure. I can't give you too many details now; I'll just sum up my opinion of it in one word: horrendous!

Among other things, the draft standard contains ? as an option ? the MRP provisions. Why am I so concerned about this if it's just an option? Because OSHA has been including MRPs in their standards for more than 20 years, so precedent has been established. MRPs were first included in the lead standard; they were even included in the ergonomics standard. Since then MRPs have been adopted as part of the exposure standard for asbestos.

Since OSHA is just now getting started on a new and stringent exposure standard for silica, it may be a while before those of us in the construction industry to find out just how bad all this will be. MCAA is going to do everything it can to reduce the proposed standard's impact on industry ? better yet we'd like to kill the "standard."

In the meantime, everyone needs to be aware of the possible financial implications. OSHA has done preliminary cost estimates for all the requirements in the standard and they are a real wake up call. For the MRP provisions alone, the economic impact is $41 million per year for an anticipated 1,286 cases. What I want to know is how can anyone forecast the number of workers who may need to be temporarily taken off the job due to overexposure to silica? I'd like to find out who they are so they can play the lottery for me. The odds are about the same. Stay tuned!


About the Author

Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.

 

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