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What’s on AWCI’s Safety Radar?

The Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry strengthened its commitment to helping its members be safer and healthier both on and off the job site when the organization hired Pete Chaney as its new director of safety, health and risk management earlier this year. With Chaney’s extensive knowledge in this arena, he is helping to guide AWCI safety/health programs, and he is staying on top of legislative and regulatory issues that may affect wall and ceiling contractors. This article presents his report on the work AWCI is doing to help its members run successful—and safe—businesses.

Wall & Ceiling Industry Worker Safety

AWCI is working to establish safety and health resources to address the most common causes of injuries among wall and ceiling industry workers. Initially, the association will produce new safety and health resources emphasizing the following areas:


Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention. Most of the musculoskeletal injuries in our industry come from the improper handling of materials by hand, especially drywall. Injuries are mostly to the lower back, but also to the shoulder and upper back from overhead work. Forthcoming resources will concentrate on material handling safety, including proper lifting techniques, getting help with heavy and bulky objects, use of materials moving and handling equipment whenever possible, stretch and flex exercises before work and after lunch, and overall worker wellness.


Fall Prevention and Protection. Falls from elevations are still a leading cause of injury in our industry. Most of the falls occur from scaffolds, aerial lifts, leading edges, floor holes, wall openings and ladders. AWCI plans to emphasize fall prevention and fall protection. Fall prevention prevents a fall from occurring and includes guardrail systems, floor and wall coverings and fall restraint systems. Fall protection helps protect workers who do fall from enduring serious injury, and includes fall arrest systems, fall rescue plans (procedures and equipment for rescuing workers suspended in fall arrest systems) and safety nets. Falls from ladders occur mostly due to workers reaching out too far while climbing or working on a ladder, carrying tools or equipment in their hands while climbing and/or improper ladder setup.


Fall Prevention on Walking and Working Surfaces. Falls from walking and working surfaces are also a significant cause of injury in our industry. Much of the time, inadequate housekeeping is the cause: tools and building materials left on the ground in walking paths and work areas, extension cords strung across walkways, mud, snow, ice, grease, etc. left on the ground in the work areas, and improper material staging.


Hand Injury Prevention. Hand injuries in our industry occur mostly from handling building materials with sharp surfaces, such as thin metal wall studs, or performing work around sheet metal ducts or other sharp-edged areas. However, many of the hand injuries could be prevented by the use of proper work gloves. In the past, work gloves were bulky, hot to wear causing hands to sweat excessively, affected hand and finger flexibility and dexterity, etc. But the latest state-of-the-art work gloves technology makes wearing gloves much more comfortable, eliminates most of the older work glove issues, and often enhances worker performance.


Helmets versus Hard Hats. Head injuries are a common occurrence in the construction industry. The causes range from items falling from overhead, such as tools or materials being inadvertently dropped by someone on a lift or a ladder, or workers falling and striking their heads against objects because their hard hats fell off on the way down. Workers are also being struck by objects carried by other workers, such as wall studs or 2 x 4s being carried over the shoulder. The problem is significant enough that head injury prevention in construction was the theme for last month’s national Construction Safety Week. The construction industry is slowly progressing toward the use of helmets in lieu of hard hats for worker protection. Several major construction entities, such as Clark Construction and Turner Construction, are already requiring helmets in place of hard hats on their projects because helmets provide significantly more protection than hard hats. For example, helmets and hard hats both provide protection against objects falling from overhead, but helmets provide side impact protection that hard hats do not. Also, helmets come with chin straps to keep them in place in case a worker falls (most hard hats do not have chin straps), and helmets fit snugly enough that they would stay in place for initial impact even without the chin strap if a fall were to occur.


Watch for future AWCI safety resources addressing these items of concern.

Regulatory Affairs

AWCI is also closely watching several regulatory items and will work with OSHA and other stakeholders to steer the rulemaking process toward standards that make sense in terms of worker protection, and that are not unnecessarily costly and/or burdensome to wall and ceiling industry contractors. Here is what is presently on AWCI’s safety radar:


COVID-19 Healthcare ETS (Proposed Rule). OSHA is currently developing an emergency temporary (ETS) COVID-19 standard for the healthcare industry and is considering whether to make the standard applicable to construction companies performing work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. AWCI is opposed to the inclusion of the construction industry in the standard because construction work is fully isolated from COVID-19 patients and is, therefore, an extremely low risk activity.


OSHA Infectious Disease Standard. OSHA is developing an infectious disease standard that is likely to affect all industries. The standard is not presently on the fast-track but warrants careful observation by AWCI.


OSHA Heat Illness Standard (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking).
The agency is developing a standard on heat illness prevention to help protect workers from heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope and heat cramps. Stakeholders are currently debating over what would be the best trigger to require implementation of the standard. For example, the trigger for implementing California’s heat illness prevention standard is 80° F. However, many stakeholders believe the trigger should be based on ambient air temperature, relative humidity and in some cases other factors. AWCI is not opposed to a reasonable heat illness standard, but the association is watching this one carefully.


OSHA Recordkeeping Reporting Requirements – Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (Proposed Rule). In May 2016 OSHA revised its recordkeeping rule to require employers to electronically submit their recordable injury and illness data directly to the agency. Employers with 250 or more employees were required to submit OSHA recordable injury and illness report forms 300 (log), 300 A (summary) and 301 (accident report) or equivalent forms. The immediate past administration rescinded the requirement due to worker personal information confidentiality concerns; however, the current administration is working to re-impose the requirements. OSHA recently published a proposed rule that would require employers with more than 100 workers to submit their OSHA 300, 300A and 301 or equivalent forms annually. AWCI is still concerned about worker confidentiality and will oppose the proposed rule.


OSHA Targeting Employers for Failure to Submit OSHA 300A Forms. OSHA is starting a new enforcement initiative targeting employers who have failed to submit their OSHA 300 A form, which is a summary of their recordable injuries and illnesses. Employers are required to submit the form annually. The agency is using data from the reporting tool, known as the Injury Tracking Application, and inspection records to identify employers who have not submitted the form as required. OSHA will issue citations and impose fines to non-compliant companies.


OSHA Powered Industrial Trucks – Forklifts Standard (Proposed Rule). OSHA has proposed a rule to revise its existing Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (forklifts) for construction by incorporating by reference the applicable provisions of the most relevant national consensus standards. The original OSHA standard incorporated by reference the American National Standards Institute’s B56.1 from 1969, which has been revised 12 times since its inception.


Forklift manufacturers are largely the impetus behind the proposed rule because newer technology used in forklift manufacturing, which improves forklift safety, efficiency and effectiveness, makes the manufacturers non-compliant with the current standard. AWCI will support the rule as proposed because, under the right safety conditions, it would allow employers, under the right circumstances, to use powered industrial trucks not constructed in accordance with the national consensus standards incorporated by reference in the OSHA standard. If an employer can demonstrate that a forklift it uses was designed and constructed in a manner that provides employee protection that is at least as protective as the national consensus standard incorporated by reference in OSHA’s standard, it would still be acceptable for use.


OSHA Hazard Communication. The agency recently proposed a rule to revise its existing Hazard Communication Standard. The proposed changes mostly affect the manufacturers and suppliers of chemical substances. The proposed rule would change criteria for classification of certain chemical related hazards, update existing labeling requirements, establish new labeling requirements for small containers and make technical amendments to the contents of Safety Data Sheets (detailed chemical information safety sheets).


One proposed provision, which involves Safety Data Sheets, concerns AWCI. Presently manufacturers and suppliers of chemical substances are required to provide the employers who purchase the substances with a Safety Data Sheet for each of them. However, the proposed rule would require employers to generate their own SDSs for chemical substances that are mixed in their workplaces. For example, if an employer mixed paint with a paint thinner, it would be required to develop and produce an SDS for the newly created chemical compound. AWCI believe the onus for developing and producing SDSs for chemicals that are ultimately mixed downstream should be on the manufacturers and suppliers. Those entities should be required to anticipate what chemical substances are likely to be mixed by employers downstream and generate appropriate SDSs as needed. AWCI will oppose this provision in the proposed rule.

Pete Chaney is AWCI’s director of safety, health and risk management. He can be reached at [email protected].

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