The safety and health of workers is what matters most

Reducing exposure ensures both worker protection and the overall success of the asphalt pavement industry

Mike Acott / June 10, 2019
Mike Acott

Workers in the asphalt industry face various health and safety hazard situations, including active work zones, construction equipment, overhead power lines, and thermal burns.

While employers strive to provide a safe work place, proper protective equipment, and safety training, safety and health also must be a shared responsibility among workers. For example, when workers see an unsafe situation develop, they should be empowered to shut down a paving or production operation.

At the national level, the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s (NAPA) role has been to assist companies in complying with health and safety regulations as well as provide safety training tools, such as our recently released online work-zone safety training modules. However, too often when it comes to regulations, industry’s reaction is to oppose a regulation in the face of poor or inadequate science and concerns about potential financial burdens. So how do we reconcile protecting worker health and safety with this tendency to oppose regulation?

At the heart of NAPA’s approach are three major factors: Collaboration and partnerships with government, labor, and scientists; reliance on scientific studies that evaluate potential health impacts; and protecting workers by reducing exposure to a particular substance.

Regarding scientific studies, I remember an interesting exchange between NAPA past Chairman Bob Thompson and the director of NIOSH. We were talking about animal skin-painting studies to evaluate asphalt fumes. 

Bob said: “It will be our mice against your mice, so can’t we study it together and agree on the testing protocols?” 

Unfortunately, many scientific studies are conducted using test parameters that do not equate to realistic field exposures, nor do they account for other occupational and non-occupational confounders.

Industry must invest in research when concerns like these are raised. Additionally, to increase the credibility and validity of these studies, we have found there should be early involvement with our partners regarding the design of such studies and possible co-funding. Transparency is important—and our partners should receive updates throughout the project.

Because research can take many years to complete, we have taken a proactive position to reduce exposures when there is a concern, rather than rely on regulation. 

For example, we knew for years that crystalline silica would be heavily regulated. By taking a proactive position, NAPA and our producer members worked with the equipment manufacturers to develop, evaluate, and implement engineering controls on milling machines. By the time the Silica Rule regulation was enacted, milling machine engineering controls were an approved OSHA technology for reducing crystalline silica exposure. Many years earlier, we took a similar approach to reduce asphalt fume exposure by deploying paver engineering controls and warm-mix asphalt technologies.

When at the crossroads of regulation, science, and worker health and safety, we must remember that people are the cornerstone of our industry. The three-pronged strategy of agency and industry collaboration, solid science, and employers’ immediate response to reducing exposure not only ensures employee protection as top priority but also ensures the overall success of the asphalt pavement industry.


About the Author

Acott is former president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, Lanham, Maryland.

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