What The Industry’s Professionals Think About The Upcoming OSHA Silica Rule

Words: Bronzella ClevelandAs you’ve read in our earlier breakdown of the upcoming enforcement of OSHA’s final rule on crystalline silica exposure, there are components that can be confusing. Certainly, once the rule is put into effect, it will change the way that many contractors do business. This rule has caused some controversy, with many feeling that while it is always helpful to put worker safety at the forefront, there are some irrelevant and complicated elements to this new rule. Masonry is buzzing about the implementation, so we had the opportunity to connect with several people whose businesses will be directly affected by the rule. First Reactions To The Silica Rule Brandon Hartsell, PM, Gates Construction Company: “The industry is so large; how will it be enforced? Will there be a special division within OSHA solely responsible for this? If masonry is suddenly being governed, what about other trades?” Glenn Hottmann, Owner of G & G Enterprises: “I wasn’t too surprised. I knew that there would be some sort of additional standards forthcoming in our industry eventually to help regulate dust.” Mike Sicking, Safety Director, Swanson Masonry: “I was a bit surprised by it because I had not heard of it being a hot button issue causing a lot of injury cases.” John Jacob, Regional VP, J. Construction Company: “Oh I was mad. When I first heard about this silica regulation, I was very concerned they were trying to implement what they’re not enforcing at this point now. In the past, I believe the PEL limit was at a higher limit that was supposed to be enforced. My main concern was if they can’t enforce the higher limit, how can they think they can enforce a lower limit? The problem was enforcement.” Joe Bonifate, President of Operations Arch Masonry & Restoration: “We took this very seriously and that is why we prepared a public comment and I appeared in D.C. to give testimony [at the Legislative Conference].” Mason Hill, Vice President Hill Masonry: “I thought it was very bold of OSHA to make the changes they did. As they have a silica rule on the books that they have admitted to failure when it comes to proper enforcement.” Melonie Leslie, General Manager of G & G Enterprises: I wasn’t surprised that there were additional safety standards going into effect. The world in general is always trending towards providing a better and safer environment for people. However, I will say that it was quite overwhelming regarding all the requirements. Paul M Cantarella, President Cantarella & Son, Inc.: “Flustered! I know that improving safety on jobsites is very important, but at the same time workers have to be able to do their job. Like most projects today (they want it done yesterday)!! Schedules are getting tighter and tighter, while new safety rules come out that slow the process down even more. Safety is the most important thing to me above all else. We don’t mind adapting to new rules and regulations, these rules are here to keep us safe, but the new silica rule is so off the wall it’s not even funny.” Gary Joyner, Regional VP, President Joyner Masonry Works Inc.: “Not surprised at all. After all, silica has been on OSHA’s regulatory agenda for more than a decade. The requirements are much too complex and need to be simplified. I.e., the rule is 100’s of pages long and absolutely should be condensed.” Thoughts On The Rule Glenn Hottmann: “You can’t put a dollar amount on someone’s life. Safety in our workplace should be the number one priority. The rule will probably get adjusted as we go along and we all need to learn to adapt to it through following Table 1 or air monitoring. Our industry as a whole then needs to use the knowledge and information we gain from adapting to the rule to work together to allow us to become more cost effective.” Mike Sicking: “As a business owner I am always in favor of protection to the workforce. I do feel that it places smaller contractors at a disadvantage with the time and monetary requirements for compliance.” John Jacob: “We recently got a citation for silica exposure, due to the neglect of using proper PPE, proper cutting methods and that’s the only enforcement in my career; and I’ve been in the masonry industry for about 25 years. So in 25 years they’re just now trying to enforce it, it really concerns me. That’s what I was thinking initially, then after a little research on what we have to do. My initial mind frame was they would treat this more of a hazard. Possibly be held to a super-high criteria, on maybe using PPE to the utmost (maybe using scuba gear).” Joe Bonifate: “The rule is not feasible in all situations for all affected industries. The current rule is adequate but not enforced properly.” Mason Hill: “I feel that it’s going to be a very difficult challenge for the construction industry, and an unnecessary one at that. Everything about this new rule has blatant governmental overreach written all over it, from the burden put on the industry to the new era of rulemaking for OSHA. With this new very complex / confusing rule how will OSHA effectively and fairly enforce the standard across the board for all.” Melonie Leslie: “Safety should always be the priority. While we may not like the standards put into place, they are there to help make the work place safer. Given the amount of requirements contained in the rule, it will be important for companies to assess their operations and try to create a condensed set of guidelines and work practices for their employees to follow. This will help ensure success in complying with the rule. The MCAA and other associations have been working hard at the legislative level to fight and now try to re-open the rule. But, in the meantime, the rule is coming and we need to adjust our operations to comply. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in compliance. Companies need to start thinking about the adjustments they need to make now instead of waiting until the enforcement date.” Paul M. Cantarella: “My first thought is like a lot of other Mason contactors that took the first MCAA Train the Trainer class at last year’s MCAA annual meeting in Vegas. “It’s almost easier to just shut your business down”. I can’t imagine having to vacuum all the lifts of a scaffold before you can tear it down. Employees will have to have a change of clothes so you don’t bring the silica home. But in the same breath there is probably a lot of good in the new rule. I feel they need to refine the rule to make it more realistic for Mason contractors to comply and be able to stay in business. The new rule could definitely make some contractors really think about closing the doors, which is not good for the construction industry as a whole!” Gary Joyner: “A simple well-thought-out rule that protects the Health and Safety of our employees is necessary.” Opinions On The 30-Year Requirement For Record-Keeping Brandon Hartsell: “Many times, in this Industry, turnover is rampant. I believe digital filing will be the key to keeping those files safe. File it in a safe place and move on.”   Glenn Hottmann: “The thirty-year requirement for medical records is a little heavy. They have to ask themselves how many or what percentage of companies are still in business after thirty years. If you think about it, you can usually dispose of your personal income tax records after seven years and business records after eight to ten years depending on the state. I think that this part of the rule will change in the future.” Mike Sicking: “That’s not a problem. There are many young workers in the industry who may only be middle aged at 30 years of service.” John Jacob: “That really is another thing too. I don’t want to use the term, but I’m going to use the term. We have a transient workforce, so we’ll see the same worker every seven years; they potentially go on to other companies. This is not 100% of my workforce but the large majority of my workforce. Now that’s a lot of paperwork, I’ll probably get between 130-150 people in a year with a different transition or a different turnover. So that’s a lot of paper, and if we do health monitoring, to me that means that we get a baseline start so they’ll initially get a physical. Then after that they would have future physicals so we can monitor how they’re progressing, if it’s their environment or just their health together. So it’s a large cost for one, and for two: it’s an administrative nightmare to try to track these guys down to try to monitor them. With a transient workforce, it’s fine if they work for you, but as soon as they leave you’re going to have an issue in regards to tracking them down to do that. I don’t know if it’s actually going to work with us tracking them. Other than the ones that are in our employment at that time.” Joe Bonifate: “There are no documents I know of that must be kept for that long. This is an unrealistic and burdensome task.” Melonie Leslie: “The 30-year medical requirement seems quite heavy. Most companies are not in business for 30 years. Also, most employees no longer work at a company for 30 years or more and especially not in our industry. However, given that a typical person would live longer than 30 years from their first exposure, I can see why this requirement was added.” Paul M. Cantarella: “Again that is way off the wall. Employees can be in situations that could affect their health on weekends and weeknights, which have nothing to do with work. How would anyone know what was caused at work and what was caused while the employee was not at work?” Gary Joyner: “The 30-year requirement is unreasonable, costly, and impractical. As well as a great challenge for field personnel and office staff to manage accurately.” On Testing New and Leaving Employees Brandon Hartsell: “New employees – I am fine with. It would simply be a part of the paperwork. Leaving employees – I think it more than likely depend on what terms they are leaving.” Glenn Hottmann: “I think that testing all new employees would be costly. And, if we have the new silica rule in place there wouldn’t be a reason to test leaving employees.” Mike Sicking: “This can also be viewed as a mechanism to protect the contractor in the event that it may prove that the exposure was not a result of employment at their company.” John Jacob: “I think it’s a good thing; the health tracking is a good thing to take care of our workforce. The bad thing is when they’re leaving the company, that health monitoring is virtually impossible because some of our workers disappear. But it comes with an administrative nightmare, a financial burden, and all out hassle. But if we want to survive in our industry we’ll have to comply. Just like when they instilled the hard-hat regulations, or safety glasses, we have to take care of our workers also.” Joe Bonifate: “The new rule can create an issue for many workers seeking employment in the affected fields.” Melonie Leslie: “While testing all new and leaving employees would provide companies a potential baseline of exposure when the employee starts and then an ending level of exposure, it would be costly to do. Furthermore, given the transient nature of our industry, it may be near impossible to complete this for every employee. Doing this also may not fully release a company of the liability of an employee with silicosis, given that usually silicosis occurs after exposure to low levels over a long period of time.” Paul M Cantarella: “Again someone can put themselves in a situation when they are not at work and they can expose themselves to silica. Most masons and laborers do side work together on the weekends and weeknights. So what happens to the employees that do side work all their lives not using dust control measures? That will now be pinned on some mason contractor who will have to pay medical expenses!” Gary Joyner: “A simple method of testing exposure could go a long way in protecting employers and employees.” The Impact On Day-To-Day Operations Brandon Hartsell: “We will be impacted but I don’t think it will be detrimental to our operation. Will it slow things down? Possibly, but look at all the other factors we use each day to stay safe. Compare this to a lanyard tie off system. I am sure when this first came to light, it was dreaded as a slowdown mechanism as opposed to a safety device. Now, these are required by all GC’s and it is simply another part of a person(s) uniform. The silica rule will slow us to start, but we adapt and make the best of a safer situation.” Glenn Hottmann: “In our day-to-day operations we will have to do additional monitoring to ensure employees are following the new rules we put in place. In addition, we will need to take into consideration the silica rule when bidding and planning future work.” Mike Sicking: “We will follow new improved safety procedures to minimize silica exposure. These always seem burdensome in the beginning, but once the routine is set in place it is really not that big of a deal.” John Jacob: “It really didn’t change our day-to-day operations, other than putting more machinery out there to control the dust.” Joe Bonifate: “We will change our use of controls and no longer be able to do the occasional cuts without controls. This will make things like cutting for an electrical box or for an arch a challenge. Right now the bulk of standard cuts are made with controls in a cut area but custom cuts are made on the scaffold as the units are placed with the use of N95 dust mask.” Mason Hill: “At this time it’s really hard to say due to the complexity of the rule with regard to the interaction of other trades involved, not to mention many other trades are ill informed or have limited knowledge of the impending silica rule and how it will affect them. With that being said, I think it’s going to forever change the way we do business. It’s to going to require a lot more forward thinking than what already goes into a project. It’s going to come down to planning our each and every move of each employee to ensure the safety of everyone and proper implementation of the rule.” Melonie Leslie: “This rule will require additional monitoring of not only our employees and their work practices but of new and additional equipment. New work practices will have to be enforced and different equipment will need to be maintained. We will also need to factor this new rule in when we are bidding projects and planning our activities on site.” Paul M Cantarella: “Besides some extra paperwork and little extra time to perform some of the daily task, we are hoping it will not affect our bottom line too much. We might have to add a few dollars in the bid to cover extra procedures, but so should all the other contractors bidding the job. With the MCAA’s help we will be able to put all the proper procedures and paper work in place to comply with the new silica rule. Most of the tools that we have purchased through the last few years have come with dust control.” Gary Joyner: “The changes we will implement are to attempt to go 100% dust free, which is not going to happen, but 100% effort will be there. Keep in mind every hour of every day, our crews are cutting, chipping, grinding and mixing. It is not like hitting the delete key or using an eraser.” How Have Companies Prepared For The Rule Brandon Hartsell: “We participated in the Train the Trainer event which came to Charlotte, NC. Aside from this event, Gates Construction hosted our own event at Tucker Kirby in Charlotte, NC. We had 40+ people attend. The event took place on a Saturday. Various vendors attended and all present received certification through MCAA.” Glenn Hottmann: “We have prepared our workforce for enforcement of the rules by training them and emphasizing how important this issue is. In addition, I am showing them my commitment as an owner by purchasing new equipment to meet the standard requirements, training them how to use it properly and constantly reminding them it is for their own safety and wellbeing.” Mike Sicking: “First, we have presented silica awareness training to all employees with a potential for exposure. We then evaluate how we do things and alter our work procedures to minimize exposures without totally relying on PPE. We then utilize a silica exposure control plan customized to our company that is incorporated into every job.” John Jacob: “As soon as we found out, months ago, we found training for our people. We have a third party on a quarterly basis, giving exposure training for silica. Machinery was our next step, the different vacuums and equipment we use.” Joe Bonifate: “We have created a new policy and sent our head superintendent to the Train the Trainer.” Mason Hill: “We started with the Train the Trainer classes. Then we proceeded to use that training to do small group training for our team members.” Melonie Leslie: “In order to prepare, we have gone to the MCAA Silica Train the Trainer course, trained our competent persons and our employees. We also have invested in new and additional equipment to field test their feasibility and effectiveness. In addition, we are reviewing work practices and modifying them appropriately to meet the rule’s requirements. But most importantly, we are emphasizing with our employees how important this rule is for their own health and that is why they should care about this rule and use the new controls being put into place.” Paul M Cantarella: “First is being a member of the MCAA. Secondly we sent two employees to the MCAA Train the Trainer class in Las Vegas.” Gary Joyner: “Our company through the efforts of the MCAA, have trained key people to train our whole workforce.” Advice For An Unprepared Contractor Brandon Hartsell: “This will be a problem we face many times. I think we all know, not everyone plays fair in this field. We see this every day. I would try and point them in the right direction. The best and easiest way is simply by utilizing the MCAA Website. It is simple to get enrolled in a class.” Glenn Hottmann: “As a contractor, if you haven’t been preparing for this silica rule, you need to get on board because it is not going away. The rule is here to stay just like the regulations that were implemented in our auto and trucking industry for emissions control. As a whole, it cost that industry to achieve the emissions standards but in the end, it has made our work place and world a better place to live in.” Mike Sicking: “Don't be overwhelmed. It is a bit daunting when you look at the whole process, but the key is to break the requirements down into components and attack them one by one.” John Jacob: “They need to do their due diligence, they need to keep up with their regulations a lot sooner than now. If they’re now just learning about silica regulations, they’re way behind. The rule was supposed to be implemented at the end of this month. That would give them days to comply instead of months. Also they need to make legislative bodies know what is going on in the industry and how it’s affecting their jobs and workforce. For example, I approached my congressman and told him what is being done in our industry that is raising my prices, and could possibly kill my jobs, or my future jobs. So that way there are less voters now in my industry that are supporting him. So we need to make sure that are readers of the magazine understand that they know what is politically happening and making sure their congressman and representative know what’s going on in their district.” Joe Bonifate: “Implementation will take time, so start now if you haven’t already.” Mason Hill: “Be informed. Start by signing up for MCAA’s Train the Trainer class, because this new standard contains a large amount of new administrative requirements that this class can help with. Read the rule, obtain a copy of OSHA’s small entity compliance guide for the respirable crystalline silica standard for construction. Understand that an increased cost of business will result from compliance, as compliance requires investment. Consult with tool companies to help with choosing the right equipment to meet this new standard. Train your team, and make the commitment this isn’t going to go away I’m afraid.” Melonie Leslie: “The silica rule will affect everyone in our industry in some shape or form. Not only are contractors affected but our equipment manufacturers, our materials manufacturers and the list goes on and on. It is not going away and we need to all work towards finding the most cost effective ways to comply. Start working on implementing the rules now by training your employees and evaluating equipment and work practices that will work best for your company before you are under the gun of the enforcement date. This won’t be natural for everyone at the beginning but repetition will eventually make it second nature.” Paul M. Cantarella: “For the contractors that are doing the larger jobs if you’re not getting ready for the new rule by now then you will surely never have a plan in place to comply with the new rule when it comes time. Last piece of advice would be to join the MCAA and they will help you throughout the process.” Gary Joyner: “First of all, if you have been reading our magazine and ignored the ruling it will be even more costly and more importantly it shows you are not looking after your workforce. Advice…Good time to pay attention.” How The Rule Will Change The Industry Brandon Hartsell: “We are faced with new standards in which are shaping the ever-changing Masonry Industry. Cutting a brick when I was 20 vastly differs from how I’d go about it today. We must make sure all employees understand the rule and are trained with correct PPE.” Glenn Hottmann: “Our industry will be a safer place to work in. It will be costly until we all adjust to these new rules on silica. Our masonry industry will recover and move on because we are American and we live in the greatest country in the world, the United State of America.” Mike Sicking: “On the negative side I think it will force some of the smaller contractors out of business over fear of the unknown cost and responsibilities in the future. On the positive side it will become another everyday safety routine that workers will automatically do without question. This ultimately supports a stronger safety culture within the organization.” John Jacob: “I don’t think it’s going to change the industry as a whole, but rather the mind frame of how we do the work. So it’s going to change us in how we prepare for our jobs, creating a culture within our workforces. Making sure that there’s no dust, or very minimal dust, that we pay attention to our surroundings, and we’re training our employees accordingly. The readers would want to know what’s happening in the political realm right now to see if it’s ever going to change. If President Trump can possibly get with his department of labor and see if it’s going to trying to revert this rule, or put a stay to it. To see if they can regulate what was actually instilled years ago instead of what they’re instilling now.” Joe Bonifate: “I have serious concerns that if the new rule is strictly enforced many or our clients will begin to push designers away from masonry on future projects, which will cause the loss of jobs. Mason Hill: “Realistically the entire silica containing industry could face backlash due to the added cost, limiting our reach and our ability to stay competitive. At best this rule will give the industry a cleaner way to do business.” Melonie Leslie: “This new rule will be a challenge to initially overcome. But, this will provide a safer working environment for everyone. If the enforcement level is to the level that they are saying, there may be some small companies who have extreme difficulty coming up to the new standard since it not only involves changes to controls but also a lot more paperwork and medical costs. Ultimately, our industry has always been resilient. If we band together to become innovative and efficient we can overcome the obstacles given to us.” Paul M Cantarella: “I think there are a lot of other trades that don’t even realize that they will also be affected by the new rule. They will definitely be caught off guard. But as a whole I think the Mason Contractors that have made safety a top priority in their company will have an easy time complying with the new rule. The contractors that don’t make safety a top priority will literally be “left in the dust.” Safety always! Gary Joyner: “I think the biggest change you will see will be monetary. There will be a great deal of money spent on new personnel to manage this new rule and enormous amounts of money spent on dustless equipment. It has the potential to be the single most industry-changing event in masonry construction. The ripple effects of this decision will be felt throughout every aspect of our business. So many questions remain about how the construction industry as a whole will handle this ruling. How will it affect unit-priced masonry? Hopefully, the rule will bring our industry on par with others that have previously addressed silicosis. But, it can achieve such a pinnacle IF all installation of masonry systems are governed by the same rules with the same intensity. I for one, am all for transparency and creating a safe and effective workplace, but to a ‘draft’ of such a ruling is our government as its finest. I have had the opportunity to question numerous department of labor officials about the nuances of this ruling and each reply has been a resounding ‘I don’t know’.” “Final thoughts. The next time you are at the beach, a nice breeze is blowing, just enough to get the sand (silica) stirred up. Look to your left, and then look to your right, you probably just witnessed 1,000 people exposed to silica dust. If the proposed ruled goes into effect, we’ll need to have respirators on the beach. Just saying.”
Photos: Masonry Magazine, SPEC MIX
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