OSHA, Unions Reach Agreement Over Hexavalent Chromium Standard

SETTLING a legal challenge over OSHA's 2006 hexavalent chromium standard, the agency has agreed to implement new inspection procedures at construction sites where portland cement is being used.

As per an April 6 agreement with the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), AFL-CIO, Laborers’ International Union of North America and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, OSHA will issue a new document to provide specific enforcement procedures for compliance officers to follow at all construction sites where employees are working with portland cement. The document, Portland Cement Inspection Procedures, will explain how existing OSHA standards and requirements (air contaminants, personal protective equipment, sanitation, hazard communication and recordkeeping) apply to operations involving portland cement and collects all of the applicable provisions in a single inspection checklist.

"Ultimately, the real winners are the workers because they will have the level of protection on the job that the regulations were meant to secure almost 40 years ago," said Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO. "All the standards in our settlement agreement that employers must meet have been on the books, so it's nothing new for contractors. But OSHA now must see that employers comply with the regulations."

Portland Cement Inspection Procedures also will be published as Appendix C-1 to the OSHA compliance directive on the Chromium (VI) standards ("Cr(VI) directive") to be issued to regional administrators later in 2007. While the Cr(VI) directive has not yet been finalized, OSHA is forwarding the Portland Cement Inspection Procedures to regional administrators and state designees in advance for immediate action. In a memo to regional administrators, OSHA is instructing compliance inspectors to review and implement the new Portland Cement Inspection Procedures.

Although the settlement agreement does not apply in the 22 states and territories with OSHA-approved state occupational safety and health plans in the private sector, OSHA strongly encourages these states to implement the new Portland Cement Inspection Procedures.

According to the Building and Construction Trades Department, the effects of exposure to hexavalent chromium are well documented. Very small quantities of hexavalent chromium in the cement can cause some exposed workers to develop allergic contact dermatitis, a skin disease so severe that they are unable to work with cement, essentially ending their career. Prolonged exposure to portland cement can cause severe caustic burns, require skin grafts or even limb amputation. Inhaling large quantities of dry portland cement during terrazzo work, jobsite mixing of concrete and mixing mortar can cause severe lung hazards, the group stated.

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