Despite the recommendation of its own Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to include a key provision in its proposed rule on hexavalent chromium that would have lessened the dangers of exposure to Portland cement.

Portland cement contains small amounts of hexavalent chromium as a contaminant. Persistent skin exposure among Laborers and other construction workers leads to contact and allergic dermatitis (skin rashes). In severe cases, this dermatitis can end a Laborer’s career. Cement workers can protect themselves by wearing rubber gloves and other personal protective equipment that prevents direct skin contact with wet cement and by washing frequently with clear water and pH-neutral soap.

Years ago, OSHA announced its intention to issue a rule on hexavalent chromium but failed to do so. Public Citizen sued the agency, and the courts forced it to issue a proposed rule this fall. A final rule must be completed by 2006.

Prior to publication, all proposed rules affecting construction must be reviewed by OSHA’s ACCSH which consists of labor, management and public representatives. The committee’s recommendations, however, are not binding on the agency.

When the ACCSH met last May, Scott Schneider, Director of the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division and a labor member of ACCSH, succeeded in uniting labor and management members on the need to include Portland cement in the proposed rule. OSHA claims that other standards and guidance adequately addresses this hazard.

According to Schneider, “Thousands of workers will not be properly protected from these illnesses. We intend to raise our case again in our comments on the proposal and at the public hearings in February.”

A skin problem in cement, exposures to hexavalent chromium pose a different problem in welding and spray painting. In these processes, it becomes airborne and is breathed into the lungs. It is these processes that are addressed in the new proposed rule.

NIOSH identified hexavalent chromium as a cancer causing agent in 1975.

[Steve Clark]