OSHA's Absence Frustrates Construction Committee

If 90 percent of life is just showing up, OSHA rulemaking officials ignored this axiom of popular wisdom when they failed to make an appearance at the most recent meeting of the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH).

The committee's noise and silica work groups, meeting in Washington last month, asked for an update from OSHA's directorate of standards and guidance on rulemaking for these two hazards, but no OSHA official attended the work group meetings.

An OSHA spokesperson, asked to explain why the agency did not respond to the work group invitations, sent the following statement via e-mail. "Jennifer Silk, OSHA's deputy director in the directorate of standards and guidance, provided a regulatory update to the full ACCSH committee on silica and hearing conservation in construction on June 23."

Despite the evident lack of progress on OSHA rulemaking, attendees and members of the silica, noise and trenching work groups said the meetings were productive.

"It's a little disappointing that OSHA sent no one from the health standards office," commented Scott Schneider, co-chair of the three work groups and the director of safety and health at the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America.

Hearing conservation for construction workers is listed as a "long-term action" in OSHA's most recent regulatory agenda and a proposed rule on silica is due April 2006. Both items have been on the rulemaking agenda for years.

The noise work group "expressed their frustration that no one from OSHA decided to attend," according to the minutes of the meeting. The work group also was frustrated at the "delays and slow pace in addressing this important issue."

The silica work group minutes also registered "serious concern" about the absence of an OSHA rulemaking official. The trenching work group asked OSHA for an update on the response of Acting Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare to the work group's recommendations. Schneider said OSHA did not provide this information either.

Robert Krul, chairman of ACCSH and director of safety and health at the United Union of Roofers and Waterproofers & Allied Workers, asked OSHA why it sent no one to the work group meetings.

"I don't have an answer," Krul said. "If OSHA has cogent reasons not to respond to the invitations, it's up to them to say so on the record."

Some people who attended the silica work group meeting had specific questions about the provisions of the proposal that remained unanswered, according to Edward Pachico, associate director of safety and health services for Associated General Contractors. Pachico is not an ACCSH member, but he attended the silica, hearing and trenching work group meetings.

Trenching Cave-Ins "Really Tragic"

"It is unusual that after being invited by the work group co-chairs, no one from OSHA was present," commented Pachico. "Without someone from OSHA it made it hard to progress very far, although we had a very productive trenching work group meeting."

For example, trenching "Quick Cards" have been an enormous success, according to Pachico. He said the agency initially printed 100,000 and demand has been so great that OSHA has just printed another 100,000. The work group has decided to work on a new card aimed at employers or middle management that would focus more on the "why," rather than the "how," of trenching safety.

Schneider said there was a good exchange of information at the trenching, hearing and silica work groups.

"We're trying to improve targeted enforcement on trenching and partner with people such as firefighters and building permit people who have access to those doing small jobs," Pachico said.

After hearing a presentation offered by OSHA at the meeting, Krul believes OSHA is frustrated with the continuing loss of human life due to trenching cave-ins.

"They're trying to cite people, but for some the citation is the cost of doing business. The loss of human life here is really tragic."

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