Thursday, February 16, 2006

Worker Protection

Project Scope: Kitchen Replacement in a 1950’s house.

My phone rang.

“I think we need to take off all the plaster on the walls,” said one of my workmen.

“Why?” I asked.

“It is in pretty bad shape and the electrician needs to do a lot of channeling to run wiring for the new outlets.”

I told my workman that I would be stopping by later in the day to look at the condition of the plaster and make a decision.

“Continue removing the plaster on the ceiling and let me know when you are done,” I said.


“Are you wearing your respirator?” I inquired.


I arrived to the site during the clean-up phase of the ceiling tear-out. The walls were in bad shape. Definitely better to remove the plaster and backer board than attempt to channel it and repair the cut-outs. No surprises…

What was not so surprising was the mold found on and in the wall behind the sink base cabinet and the white-fibrous material wrapped around the heat ducting and water lines in the ceiling.

So, here you have it -- the worst case scenario for a Remodeler!!! EPA, OSHA , industrial hygienists and occupational health care providers would have a field day with this one. The exposure to lead, mold and asbestos is highly likely. EPA regulations are silent on worker protection, but worker protection is the reason OSHA exists.

The Occupational Safety Act of 1970, which created OSHA, specifically states the following laudable goal: “To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.”

Sounds simple, but in practice most remodelers do not take the necessary precautions to ensure their workers are at a minimum complying with the regulations specific to dust control or maximize profitability by implementing comprehensive dust control policies, procedures and systems. I think remodelers keep their head in the sand on this issue as opposed to addressing it head on out of shear lack of understanding and a preference for maintaining the status quo. Granted, reading government regulations is as about as exciting as sanding drywall mud, but nonetheless as important as any other requirement imposed on small business in this day and age.

It is unreasonable to expect to be in full compliance. The regulatory agencies and more importantly, the enforcement agencies realize that the vast majority of remodeling companies cannot fully comply. It is however, reasonable to expect remodelers to gain some baseline understanding and move in the direction of better dust control for the sake of protecting your workers.