I’m sure you’ve enjoyed a few minutes of quiet time browsing the millions of YouTube videos. For the most part, the postings provide entertainment and education.
But I suggest taking some time to view two new postings about a subject that will directly affect how you will be managing your work sites soon. “Stop Silicosis” and “Deadly Dust” were produced and posted by the U.S. Department of Labor to portray how silicosis can affect the lives of unprotected workers. The two videos, developed 75 years apart, are remarkably similar in content as they show the devastating effects of a preventable occupational illness.
These videos are sure to get a lot of views. They are also highlighted on the new OSHA website designed to draw popular and legislative support to the recently announced rulemaking efforts to promulgate stricter exposure levels on crystalline silica exposure. OSHA’s proposed rules have been in development for several years. So it’s safe to say that OSHA is prepared with a thorough approach to securing the new rules.
The legislative clock is ticking. On Aug. 23, OSHA held a national news conference to reveal the new rules and to announce that the 90-day public comment has begun. The announcement has been picked up by many leading news sources. And most of them supported the OSHA proposed guidelines.
The masonry construction industry seems to be a target for a portion of these new rules. So it’s no surprise that an image of a mason cutting a concrete block in a cloud of dust is prominently positioned on the website as an example of why these new rules are needed.
MCAA is attempting to draw support from fellow contractor groups to provide a strong voice on the silica rulemaking process. MCAA has had some good history in working with OSHA. In early 2004, OSHA and MCAA formed an alliance to focus on encouraging employers, including small businesses, to increase employee access to safety and health information and training resources. One of the points of emphasis was reducing and preventing exposure to hazards associated with silica. The alliance lasted almost three years.
But when OSHA started discussing these new silica exposure rules in 2011, MCAA found itself in a more competitive position. It prepared a position paper urging congressional intervention to stop OSHA from issuing new rulings. MCAA asked Congress “to consider relevant, unbiased technical information supporting development of a fair and equitable standard that will protect workers without destroying their jobs and the businesses that employ them.”
Obviously, OSHA believes that the science behind the new rules is strong enough to move forward. Its current guidelines enforce 40-year-old permissible exposure limits (PELs) for crystalline silica in general industry, construction, and shipyards. It believes the PELs are outdated, inconsistent between industries, and do not adequately protect worker health. OSHA believes that “the proposed rule brings protections into the 21st century”.
I’ll leave you with two thoughts: For the most part, mason contractors working on large construction projects fully comply with providing safe work conditions that limit worker silica exposure. But how can a contractor be responsible for a worker's non-clock or previous employment experience regarding exposure to silica? OSHA and industry can find an equitable way to address this concern.
Even so, we must remember that there is popular support for OSHA’s new rules. In its videos, OSHA has put forward the sad stories of John Steele and Bill Ellis to illustrate the drastic effect of silica exposure. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the masonry industry improves its reputation in protecting our craftsmen.