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Diesel Retrofit Plan Finally Gets Nod; Shafts and Culverts Proposal Nixed

Construction safety advocates finally got the workplace protections they have been seeking for several years on diesel particulate filter retrofits. The Cal/OSH Standards Board voted unanimously on Dec. 15 to approve changes to several safety orders to help ensure that workers aren't run over by heavy equipment refitted with bulky filters meant to cut down on air pollution.

But the board couldn't muster enough votes to adopt another construction-related proposal. This one was meant to protect workers in shafts, culverts and pipelines from dangerous gases. Two Standards Board members remained unconvinced the proposal was necessary and hadn't been fully vetted with construction stakeholders.

Both proposals have been controversial. The diesel filter regulation is based on a petition from Associated General Contractors of California and Operating Engineers Union Local 3. The two groups sought safety rules after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued rules requiring heavy diesel equipment to be fitted with particulate filters, based on studies it believes shows diesel exhaust an unaddressed health hazard.

The construction representatives contended that the CARB rules ignored another serious hazard -- the possibility of workers being run over by equipment where the operators' vision is blocked by the large filters.

To craft a standard that satisfied all sides, the board held endless meetings with CARB and stakeholders, devised a complicated test to demonstrate that a filter did not block operators' vision, slimmed down the procedures after stakeholders balked, and further tweaked the rules to satisfy construction concerns.

Bruce Wick, risk manager for California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors, a vocal advocate on the issue, praised the board for having "the courage and the wherewithal … to get this right. It took a long time, and we're there."

The shafts and culverts proposal was intended to cover a gap in the Cal/OSHA regulations. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health  says that existing Construction Safety Orders requirements for internal combustion engines apply only to work inside buildings or enclosed structures, but are silent on ventilation for shafts 20 feet or less or construction-related excavations. The proposal amended §§ 1533 and 1541 and included a reference to such tunnels and excavations in the Tunnel Safety Orders.

But Standards Board management representative Bill Jackson, safety manager for Granite Construction, insisted that a showing of necessity had not been made on the proposal. "There isn't any showing of reason for doing this … other than it was suggested by the Mining and Tunneling Unit," he said.

Labor representative Guy Prescott objected that construction industry representatives weren't consulted about the proposal before it became an official rulemaking proposal. The board tied 3-3 in its adoption vote, killing the package.

Look for complete details on both these developments in the next edition of Cal-OSHA Reporter.

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