New Silica Regulations Being Challenged

We have presented at length the new Silica Regulations released on March 25, 2016. Although the rule is scheduled to take effect on June 23rd, 2017 it is currently being challenged in the US Court of Appeals.  The consolidated case features various challenges from both labor and employers and is currently awaiting a decision from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among the employers filing challenges were the American Foundry Society; the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association; and the National Association of Home Builders. From labor groups, statements were filed by the AFL-CIO and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

All the employers asked for judgement on OSHA’s justification to set the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica at 50 micrograms, and whether complying with the PEL is technologically and economically feasible.  They also want judgement on OSHA’s preference for reducing silica exposure through engineering controls, such as wet cutting and indoor filter systems instead of workers using respiratory protection.

Concrete Dust

The unions focused on requirements for when employers must offer silica exposure testing to workers and the rule not including a “medical removal” provision that would provide some job and pay protection for workers who can’t be exposed to workplace silica.

Currently compliance requirements are not until June 23, 2017.  However this could be moved back depending on the time it takes for the court to rule on these issues.

OSHA Warning on Heat Related Illnesses

Thousands become sick every year and many die due to heat-related illnesses.  With temperatures rising, prepare your employees for working outdoors in excessive heat.

They must know the signs of heat-related illness—

  • Heat Stroke is the most serious and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include: confusion, fainting, seizures, and hot, dry skin. CALL 911 at any sign of heat stroke.
  • Heat Exhaustion symptoms include: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue, and heat rash are less serious, but are still signs of over exposure.

 

They also must know how to handle heat-related illness. If you can,

  • move the person to a shaded area
  • loosen his/her clothing
  • give him/her water (a little at a time)
  • cool him/her down with ice packs or cool water.

 

Water Rest ShadeBut the best way to beat the heat is through preventative measures that will help avoid these issues. Tell your employees to follow these procedures:

  • Hydrate every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Know the symptoms and what to do in an emergency.
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers.
  • Acclimate – be sure to get used to the heat and build up tolerance.  Many people who die from heat were either new or returning from a break.  If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.

 

 

Searching for Energy in Massachusetts

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are looking for energy sources to power Massachusetts into the future. With the news that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant will be closed by May 2019 and the rejection of Kinder Morgan’s $3.3 billion natural gas pipeline into Massachusetts, the Commonwealth must find additional energy sources. Experts estimate that 8,000 megawatts will be lost in the next four years.

At this critical juncture, advocates see an opportunity to push investment in renewable energy. In 2015 alone, two dozen renewable energy companies spent over $1.5 million pushing for greater diversification of energy sources. This push has already seen some results.

In April, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill raising the net metering cap on solar energy in the state. This after SolarCity spent $220,000 lobbying state lawmakers last year. However, solar power alone will not fill the need for energy in the Northeast. That’s why the Governor has been pushing for legislation to encourage utilities to purchase as much as 2,400 megawatts from Canadian hydropower plants.

windmillIn addition, lawmakers, including Rep. Thomas Golden (D-Lowell), see a new opening for the development of offshore wind power. Failed projects such as Cape Wind have provided lessons learned for a new crop of developers. Most now plan to build further out to sea where the turbines would not be visible from land. Detractors who have questioned the cost of wind power were also rebuffed by a University of Delaware study which concluded that the prohibitive factor in wind power was the initial installment of the transmission cables, but that once these investments were made, the cost of offshore wind would decline by 55% thereafter.

While lawmakers work on a new state energy plan, developers are pushing to require utilities to sell 2,000 megawatts of wind power over the next decade. At that scale, project costs are estimated at $10 billion. Smaller scale projects in Rhode Island have included union members from laborers, carpenters, electrical workers, ironworkers, elevator constructors, plumbers, pipe fitters, cement masons, operating engineers and stevedores.