The construction industry has a reputation for sometimes being slow to change, and in some instances that reputation is understandable. After all, many practices used on the job site are tried and true – the way construction firms pour cement, lay brick and erect steel has been virtually unchanged for decades.
But while many longstanding construction techniques are still the best way to do business, one area where construction firms have a responsibility as employers to continually evolve, change and adopt new standards is worker safety. That is why OSHA’s final rule on silica dust exposure announced last month is so important – it was a change long in the making that reflects not only our better understanding of how construction work affects the well-being of our employees, but also how we can avoid a safety issue that is not as immediately evident as other on-the-job hazards. It’s easy to recognize the safety concerns right in front of us – like scaffold and fall protection, machinery safety and tools and equipment inspection – but our industry also needs to think long-term about how hazards we’re exposed to can affect our workers.
As a national commercial contractor managing construction projects across the country, Englewood Construction is in the unique position of not only looking out for the safety and well-being of our own staff, superintendents and workers, but also monitoring the overall safety of job sites where any number of subcontractors and partners are involved. I’m happy to report that in many instances, we already see excellent silica protections in place as part of industry best practices, such as wet-cutting of concrete and masonry materials and implementation of other dust control measures.
We work with many responsible subcontractors who have a genuine concern for employee safety and are properly ventilating work spaces as well as preemptively recommending or even requiring that their workers use respirators when appropriate. Likewise, we and our trade partners follow industry standard practices of alerting other subcontractors on our job sites when silica dust is present, and we advise them on appropriate preventative precautions such as limiting access to the area or wearing a respirator.
OSHA safety standards are set as minimum requirements, but the reality is many companies regularly go above and beyond these standards, whether it relates to silica or any other safety concern. And in an industry where workers regularly encounter on-the-job hazards, doing the utmost to ensure safety is an important part of company culture and often a source of company pride.
That said, while many of the new silica guidelines formalize existing best practices, elements of the silica rule will require real change and will take time, effort, and yes, money, to implement consistently. It is easy to see the cost of added protection for our workers, but how do you put a price on workers’ health and long-term well-being? Change rarely comes easily, or quickly, but when it is for the safety and wellness of the workers who are the heart of our industry, it is something we should all welcome and embrace.
Director of Operations
Tel: 847-233-9200 x712
You can reach me at CTaylor@eci.build