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Oct. 26, 2004: Safety Roundtable Discusses Issues Impacting Contractors

October 26, 2004
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ROCKVILLE, Md. - The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) recently held its first Safety Directors Roundtable. Thirty-seven individuals attended, including contractors, representatives from MCAA-affiliated associations, and a representative from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Camille Villanova from OSHA's Directorate of Construction kicked off the meeting with a presentation on current OSHA activities affecting the mechanical contracting industry. Her presentation included the status of rulemakings on hexavalent chromium, confined space for construction, crane safety, hearing protection in construction, and silica. She also provided information on partnerships and alliances with the agency, how to access information from OSHA's Web site, and the potentially harmful substance manganese.

OSHA's rulemaking initiative on confined space for construction prompted discussion among the participants. The general consensus was that OSHA's existing confined space standard for general industry is being used effectively in the construction industry and an additional standard, which the attendees felt would create unnecessary, costly provisions, is unnecessary. Villanova recommended participants send their comments to the OSHA docket as soon as an official proposal is published.

Paul Thomas (Kinetic Systems, Union City, Calif.) presented three new best practices promotions, including a safety poster contest to help reduce hand injuries, a mandatory requirement for workers to wear the appropriate gloves at all times, and the Kinetics Safety Card, which empowers each employee to stop work if necessary to avoid an incident. The presentation prompted discussion about best practices for protecting mechanical construction workers from injury.

A discussion of service worker fall prevention/protection from low pitched and flat roofs, led by Ryan Murphy (Bassett Mechanical, Kaukauna, Wis.) was next on the agenda. Participants agreed that this is one of the more difficult safety issues because acceptable, permanent tie-off points are rare on rooftops. Participants offered several suggestions for dealing with these challenges, including:

  • Requiring owners to install anchorage points as a pre-contractual agreement or by contract;

  • Turning down jobs when no acceptable anchorage points are available; and

  • Pursuing mandatory anchorage point installation as part of permitting requirements for new construction at local levels.

    Falls from ladders were the next topic of discussion, as they are the most common fall issue in the mechanical contracting industry. It was suggested that contractors use step ladders that exclude the top two rungs, which prohibits workers from stepping too high on the ladders. The platform in the middle of this type of ladder also helps workers keep their balance. Some participants expressed concern about motivating workers to use these ladders, which are heavier and more cumbersome than other ladders; however, the overall safety benefit outweighs the necessity for additional motivation.

    Ed Woodard (Brandt Engineering Company, Dallas) followed with a discussion on claims handling, absence management, and return-to-work issues that generated discussion about ways to keep workers' compensation expenses to a minimum through proper claims management, including:

  • Getting workers back to work as quickly as possible even if they can't do their regular jobs for awhile;

  • Aggressively approaching fraudulent claims; and

  • Paying out of pocket for injury claims whenever possible and only where legal.

    Next on the agenda, Mark Gauger (MCA of Western Washington, Seattle) led a discussion on manganese. Participants agreed to share with MCAA any local union documents they see that include references to manganese. Peter Chaney, MCAA director of safety and health, described MCAA's proposed alliance with OSHA, which would provide objective data so that MCAA could argue against a requirement for mechanical contractors having to monitor for manganese under all circumstances. Gauger stated that there is currently a class action lawsuit against welding rod manufacturers, and that attendees should watch the outcome of the suit closely.

    Dan Fousek (MCA of Cleveland, Cleveland) gave a presentation on beryllium and how it affects the mechanical construction industry. Fousek provided each participant with a booklet and offered his expertise to the participants if it's needed in the future.

    A presentation on MSDS BinderWorksâ„¢, a material safety data sheet (MSDS) service designed specifically for the mechanical contracting industry, was given by Scot Stoltenberg (MCA of Iowa, Urbandale, Iowa). Participants expressed a great deal of interest in the program, saying that this system is more efficient and effective than other, more general MSDS services.

    Don Campbell (P1 Group, Lenexa, Kan.) led discussion on recent changes to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Code NFPA 70, which imply that service workers must be in fully insulated suits and use electrician's gloves when working on energized units. The participants' consensus was that compliance with NFPA 70-2000 is unrealistic and unnecessary for service worker protection. Villanova pointed out that OSHA requires compliance with NFPA 70-1986, but that this does not prevent OSHA from citing an employer who is not in compliance with NFPA 70-2000 under Section (5)(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Chaney stated that it would be very difficult for OSHA to make a general duty clause citation stick, and recommended that participants inform him immediately if their companies receive a (5)(a)(1) citation. The group decided that the issue should be researched to determine whether it needs to be addressed by MCAA at the federal level.

    Jim Schick (University Mechanical Contractors, Mukilteo, Wash.) led a discussion on workers' compensation fraud, during which participants shared their experiences. Several participants offered recommendations for dealing with fraud, but the general consensus was that because cases take so long to bring to fruition the costs are astronomical.

    Publication date: 10/25/2004

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