California Averts Statewide Dry Cutting Ban
By Julie Trost
The masonry industry dodged a bullet by working with stakeholders and SB 46 author, Senator Richard Alarcon (D-San Fernando Valley), when Senator Alarcon withdrew the bill in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on the last day of the 2005/06 legislative session. In his statement withdrawing the measure, Senator Alarcon said that the withdrawal was based on good faith discussions with Cal/OSHA and the opposition (namely a construction industry coalition co-chaired by the California Conference of Mason Contractor Associations—CCMCA and the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors--CalPASC) to pursue the matter through regulatory channels. This was a cooperative effort to bring a worker safety issue to the appropriate arena by letting the regulatory process do its job based on sound evidence and practical solutions without the legislature rushing a decision on how it should be done.
When SB 46 (Alarcon) was introduced on January 5, 2005, it was an innocuous enough bill on workers' compensation reform and rate regulation. It was not considered a critical threat to the masonry industry—it was not even on the radar. That all changed when, on June 13, 2006, the bill was amended to propose a statewide dry cutting ban.
As amended, SB 46 prohibited the dry cutting or grinding of masonry materials except in instances where it was determined that the use of water was not feasible. Problem was the bill did not identify "feasible" conditions nor did it identify who ultimately had the power to define "feasible" conditions.
Furthermore, SB 46 stated that if wet cutting was not feasible and dry cutting had to be performed, then employers would be required to meet all of the following controls:
- Use engineering and work practice controls, such as vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air filters or other dust control systems,
- Perform dry cutting in a designated area away from craftworkers, and
- Provide employees with full face respirators as part of a complete respiratory program.
San Francisco and New Jersey enacted similar measures (San Francisco in May 2006 and New Jersey in December 2004) and were serving as the models for this new California standard which was being rushed through the legislative process in the last weeks of the legislative session with an August 31 deadline.
CCMCA and CalPASC convened the first coalition meeting on July 12 with a handful of industry organizations and their contractor members and began to formulate strategy and identify other potentially impacted trade groups. With little more than a month to kill SB 46 before session ended on August 31, the race was on. In the days and weeks ahead, the modest July 12 coalition grew to become a veritable who's who of construction and business trade organizations. The coalition support combined with the tremendous outreach of member contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers culminated in the withdrawal of this detrimental measure.
But the work is not over yet. In an August 30 letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, Senator Alarcon asked that the administration direct Cal/OSHA to immediately convene an advisory committee to develop a standard addressing the dry cutting and grinding of masonry materials and its correlation to silica exposure. Furthermore, Senator Alarcon indicated that if progress on a silica standard is not made before the end of the 2007 legislative session, he will introduce another bill to deal with the issue.
So, now we have entered the next phase of this campaign. This time, however, the issue of dry cutting and silica exposure will be handled in the appropriate arena--Cal/OSHA--with a more feasible timeline so that it can be dealt with under careful consideration with the input of all interested and affected parties. CCMCA and CalPASC will continue to be active participants throughout the process.
About the Author
Julie Trost is the Executive Director of the Mason Contractors Association of California, Inc.