MCAA Contractors Meet with Head of OSHA
Last week, several MCAA contractors, Executive Director Mike Adelizzi, Government Affairs Director Marian Marshall and representatives from ABC, the Mechanical Contractors and others met with Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to discuss the agency's efforts to formulate a new exposure standard for silica. The meeting was very productive; in fact, I'd have to say that it greatly exceeded our expectations.
We met with Mr. Henshaw for about an hour and discussed with him our concerns about the potentially devastating impact of any new standard which included provisions for employee monitoring, regulated areas, medical screening and medical removal protection. We also made it clear to Mr. Henshaw that our members highly value their employees and go to great lengths to protect their health and safety on the job every day with solid work practices and sophisticated engineering controls. The combination of those efforts, in our view, limits and/or prevents exposure to the point where incidents of silicosis in the masonry industry have declined dramatically and are continuing to drop. It was therefore explained to Mr. Henshaw that general industry standards simply do not translate to construction; job sites are simply too dynamic and variable. For example, regulated areas could contain the entire work area, making them next to impossible to establish and control. Requiring monitoring of employees in those regulated areas would hinder productivity, delay project completion, increase costs and jeopardize jobs. In fact, some jobs are of such limited duration that the results of monitoring would be useless. We also explained that medical screening - whether pre-employment or periodic - doesn't make sense, primarily because the disease (silicosis) takes a long time to manifest itself and employees are so transient, you'd never really know which company he or she may have been working for when health problems arose. The potential for liability is very high and worker's compensation premiums are likely to increase exponentially.
In my view, our comments made a significant impression on the Assistant Secretary. In fact, he told us that he wants to keep an open mind on the development of the silica standard and will work with us through our Alliance to look at better work practices and more sophisticated engineering controls to address exposure concerns. He also made it quite clear, he'd like monitoring to go away; as a CIH, he's performed monitoring and he's not convinced its benefits outweigh the costs. More importantly, Mr. Henshaw told us that he would appreciate our assistance in providing OSHA with testing data collected during the performance of a number of masonry-related tasks in a variety of conditions. If the data demonstrates that there is not a significant risk of exposure in our industry - which we believe it will -- OSHA would work with us to minimize the impact of any silica standard ultimately proposed.
Obviously we have a lot of work in front of us. But I'm confident that by working together with other construction trade groups to coordinate this effort, we will be successful in convincing OSHA that what is really needed to address this issue is greater enforcement of the existing standard, and more education and training of employers and their workers, NOT the heavy handed approach that OSHA has been contemplating for the last several months. I look forward to working with all of our members on this effort.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.