Partners in Paving

The National Asphalt Pavement Association, its members--contractors and paver manufacturers--team up with the asphalt industry, federal agencies and the unions to improve the safety of paving work crews.

Article December 28, 2000
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On Jan. 9, work initiated by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) bore fruit at a signing ceremony at the Department of Labor offices in Washington, D.C. The signers of the document agreed to improve conditions for asphalt paving crews by using an asphalt fume ventilation system on pavers--also known as engineering controls. Guidelines for the system also have been written and made available by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Besides the improved health benefits to workers this agreement also was important because it brought together many groups who cooperated to bring about these changes. Mike Acott, NAPA president, comments on the importance of the occasion, ÒWe welcome this historic agreement as the culmination of a years-long process in which people representing every segment of the industry have cooperated, collaborated and partnered for the good of all.Ó

Joseph A. Dear, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), adds, ÒThis occasion really is quite significant because this is really what we said we were going to do when we first came to Washington, bring employers, trade associations, and labor associations together to work on issues. I hope it will be a model for other initiatives.

The unique partnership between OSHA, FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and NIOSH on the public side, and industry and labor associations on the private side, has resulted in an agreement that will benefit the people who build our country by paving our roads.Ó

Byron Lord, chief of highway infrastructure, FHWA, agrees, ÒThis is a real celebration of partnership. This is a case where, by bringing people together, we have succeeded in making the environment better for the people who pave our roads.Ó

John Spangher with Milestone Contractors, Columbus, Ind., was one of the many contractors who cooperated on the project. ÒThis is one of the few instances where union and management worked together to accomplish a task.Ó

Industry associations also cooperated. Bernie McCarthy with the Asphalt Institute comments, ÒWe cooperated with [NAPA] and tried to do what we could. We participated and contributed our expertise.Ó

Tom Skinner of Blaw-Knox Construction Equipment Corp. said, ÒI recall so clearly how this initiative was started by Bob Thompson in 1993. Every side has made tremendous contributions. I think that's the greatest thing about it everybody working together.Ó

In addition to the industry associations and federal agencies, paver manufacturers--Blaw-Knox, Caterpillar, Cedarapids, Champion and Roadtec--participated in developing the engineering controls and equipment and provided machines for testing. Dynapac also participated on the task force groups and at the meetings, and are presently testing their control systems.

A concern since the 1970s

There has been an ongoing discussion about asphalt fumes since the 1970s. Acott explains, ÒNIOSH had a 1977 document in which they looked at the health effects of fumes. At that time there was significant debate going on with NIOSH about health effects. [NAPA] had our own studies going on jointly with the Asphalt Institute on the irritation effects from fumes.Ó

When crumb rubber was being looked at as an additive to asphalt there was concern over how the fumes from the rubber would affect the paving crew. This sparked more studies. ÒWith the crumb rubber mandates there was concerns about what the health effects would be. There was a major study by the FHWA on crumb rubber,Ó states Acott.

It was in this environment of studies and discussions concerning the health effects of asphalt fumes that NAPA decided to approach the problem from a different angle. Bob Thompson of the Thompson-McCully Co., Belleville, Mich., and a member of NAPA initiated the association's efforts.

Acott explains ÒSome of the scientific studies that were being done were very inconclusive. So we decided to see what could be done to remove the fumes away from the worker.

ÒFrom that point there were a series of initiatives which took place. Initially the equipment manufacturers developed several prototype designs and we tried them out in various locations around the U.S. When we felt that these designs worked well we decided that the right thing to do was to involve the federal government. We managed to get some significant funding through the FHWA for NIOSH to evaluate the systems.Ó

By finding a method for diverting the fumes away from the paving crew, much time was saved rather than waiting for the studies to decide if asphalt fumes presented a health problem or not. It was a case of solving a problem before it was conclusively proven to be a problem. Now that the agreement will take effect on July 1, paver crews will be spared exposure to the fumes whether or not there are health effects involved.

Reactions to the agreement

But what does this agreement really mean? How will it affect the contractor, his workers and the manufacturers who supply the equipment? In its simplest form it means that all pavers weighing 16,000 lb or more, manufactured after July 1, will have to include engineering controls. These controls must demonstrate a capture efficiency of 80% under controlled indoor conditions.

There is some concern about existing pavers. Plans were discussed to retrofit these pavers but there were some questions about the costs. The Associated General Contractors (AGC) recommended that the guidelines written by NIOSH not require retrofit of existing pavers. The AGC felt that the controls should be phased in as existing pavers are replaced with new ones, equipped with the engineering controls.

NIOSH decided not to include the retrofit of existing pavers in its guidelines. They were concerned because current research only applied to new equipment. As it is stated in their guidelines, ÒRetrofit applications pose real challenges to manufacturers, who must develop kits for reducing worker exposures without creating tripping hazards from duct work, increased noise exposure from externally mounted exhaust fans, or undue burdens on paver hydraulic or electrical systems.Ó

However, NIOSH encourages manufacturers to offer retrofit kits. They also plan to address the issue of retrofit in the future as research develops. Manufacturers have listened to this encouragement and will offer retrofit kits for their existing pavers.

There also is some concern over the contractor's acceptance of these new controls. Tom Walter, senior marketing communications specialist, Caterpillar, explains, ÒSome people want it but some people see it as a pain, but will comply with it. It is not something that the customers are driving. It is being driven by the initiative.Ó

But the initiative was never something that was meant to be rammed down anyone's throats and NAPA's handling of this indicates that. ÒWe have tried to keep the contractors well informed on this, as well as the paver manufacturers. We've had numerous sessions, conventions, and we covered it in our magazine. We kept the Asphalt Institute, AGC and ARTBA briefed as well as the FHWA, NIOSH, OSHA, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers Union and the Laborers Health and Safety Fund,Ó says Acott. ÒWe have not seen a lot of resistance.Ó

One of the big winners in all this is the worker. As the testing of the new engineering controls wind down benefits are already being realized. ÒThe testing is virtually completed and the results show that these machines have a very high capture efficiency of the fumes while in the field. We are continuously getting reports back from the workers that there are benefits,Ó states Acott.

The immediate benefit is an improved comfort to the paving crew. Acott comments, ÒThe fumes are irritating and the temperature is hot. [The controls] are a general improvement of the work place environment particularly for the paver operator and the people that are working directly around the paver. The screen workers. They seem to see an immediate improvement in their working conditions.Ó

Walter agrees, ÒThere is no scientific proof that the asphalt fumes are causing a health problem. It is probably more of a comfort issue than a health issue.Ó

Linda Rosenstock, director, NIOSH, says ÒThese guidelines are only the beginning of a process to develop controls for all types of paver equipment--old, new, large and small. NIOSH will continue to build on this effort with industry and labor.Ó

Mike Acott, president of NAPA, also believes there is more work ahead. ÒI don't think this whole thing is over. As the pavers are introduced in the field I expect there will be some fine tuning. We need to continue to look at how effective they are and listen to the responses from the workers. We have a working group comprised of industry and NIOSH that will keep our eyes on this.Ó

One area that will be investigated

is small pavers. Manufacturers of small pavers have been kept apprised of what has been happening to their bigger brothers.

ÒThere are discussions going on now between NIOSH and the small pavers to see what can be done. But I don't expect within a year or two that suddenly there will be any changes with small pavers. There's still some testing to be done,Ó says Acott.

For a copy of the NIOSH guidelines call (800) 356-4674 and ask for publication No. 97-105.

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