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Essential, responsible employers lessen need for OSHA virus exposure standard

Our Chairman’s Report series continues this month with visits to Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute’s Marshall Brown (ACM Chemistries; pages 50-52) and Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s J. Seroky (High Concrete Group; pages 54-57). When asked how their organizations addressed national and state government pandemic response mandates from mid-March on, their refrains are consistent with what we heard last month from 2020 National Concrete Masonry Association Chairman Tom Finch (RCP Block & Brick): Producers successfully expedited new measures to identify and isolate potential virus spread among team members and customers. Thanks to online conferencing tools, ICPI, NCMA and PCI members have been able to spontaneously share best practices and metrics for ensuring healthy workplaces in unchartered waters.

Heightened sanitation and safety procedures permeating concrete production sites over the past four months reinforce an argument against an American Federation of Labor and Council of Industrial Organizations pitch for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) covering workplace exposure to infectious diseases and Covid-19. The Big Labor umbrella counts among its members the unions representing construction materials production and downstream crew members, including Bricklayers, Cement Masons, Ironworkers, Laborers, Operating Engineers and Steelworkers..

As noted in Government Affairs (page 10), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed an AFL-CIO petition for an order compelling the agency to issue an ETS. The group filed the document in May after an early-March appeal to OSHA for a coronavirus exposure standard.

“The Post-it length response to our petition acknowledges the ‘unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 pandemic’ but repeats the false claim by Big Business that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration already has done what is needed to protect workers,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka noted in a statement on the Appellate Court decision. “The court’s action fell woefully short of its duty to ensure the Occupational Safety and Health Act is enforced.”

The court observes in an order formatted as a legal document versus Post-it Note: “OSHA’s decision not to issue an ETS is entitled considerable deference.” The agency has regulatory tools at its disposal to ensure employers are maintaining hazards-free work environments. OSHA is authorized to issue an ETS if it determines “employees are exposed to grave danger” from new workplace hazards and an ETS is necessary to protect them accordingly.

In lieu of a penning “a static, intransigent rule ... OSHA’s resources are better deployed by developing timely and situational-specific guidance documents, which can be adjusted and adapted as the agency and public health authorities better understand the pandemic,” Associated Builders and Contractors Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Workforce Development Greg Sizemore and National Association of Home Builders Chief Executive Officer Jerry Howard explained in a joint statement on the court order. “We remain committed to collaborating with state and local officials to diligently identify and implement new health and safety protocols to protect employees amid the outbreak.”

ABC and NAHB were joined by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Mason Contractors Association of America and U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a brief urging the court not to grant the AFL-CIO request. Workers are better protected from virus exposure by construction industry best practices versus a “one-size-fits-all” regulation, the groups contend, adding: “Guidance on how to maintain the spread of Covid-19 in the aviation industry would naturally be quite different from guidance directed at the banking or construction industry.”

OSHA recommends that employers continually monitor federal, state, and local government guidelines for updated information about ongoing community transmission and mitigation measures, as well as for evolving guidance on disinfection and other best practices for worker protection. Reports from the field suggest that many concrete producers are heeding agency guidance and greeting healthy team members for daily duty.