Silica dust exposure from power saws is a serious, even potentially fatal, health threat, but BAC officials on the Local and International level are proving that something can be done about it.
In Local 5 Pennsylvania, new contract language calls for the use of wet saws "whenever possible," and in other cases dictates measures like respirators and ducted exhaust fans.
Local 5 President Deeter Garman says he convinced contractors that the alternative "was to get in line for a class action suit." He, and many others, believe that silicosis is a growing health and financial threat to the masonry industry. Another negotiating tool was the BAC Hazard Alert on power saw hazards (see above) which was liberally distributed to members and on job sites. "It really woke our contractors up that we were serious about it," says Garman. He would like to see even tougher language in the next contract, "but we got our foot in the door," he says.
Local 5 also covers silica exposure in its regular newsletters and through an ongoing series of safety training classes, which have so far covered two-thirds of the membership. They’re also educating members and foreman and policing jobsites. "We believe that wet saw cuts can eliminate 95% of the problems," says Garman. "It’s our number one agenda item, and we’re not going to stop until we settle it."
In Eastern Massachusetts, Local 3 President Chuck Raso has new language on the negotiating table that would prohibit dry cutting on all new masonry projects. Raso hopes his action will give other Locals an incentive to propose their own language at contract time.
"I don’t think contractors really understand how bad it can be for a member," says Raso. One thing that helps them focus, he says, is pointing out the potentially disastrous financial fallout if the problem goes unchecked, with asbestos claims the obvious and sobering example to avoid. Taking preventive measures, says Raso, "can be done."
The use of power saws is a serious issue that requires a massive education effort on many levels. Members have to take it seriously, and rethink their own work practices whenever possible. Contractors have to learn how serious we are about protecting our members, including the possibility of legal action if necessary. Business agents and stewards need to learn what they can do, and negotiating committees need to demand enforceable contract language.
What’s happening in your area? We’d like to hear about it. And let us know if you need extra copies of the BAC "Power Saw Hazard Alert." Contact Henry Kramer at (202) 383-3159.
If you would like information regarding silica exposure or silicosis please contact:
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
620 F St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004