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Supervisors move to ban public works contractors from masonary
dry-cutting practice

By Aldrich M. Tan

May 23, 2006

Journeyman bricklayer Richard Evans wants to see retirement someday.

But he might not be able to. Two years ago, Evans was diagnosed with silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by significant inhalation of silica over long periods of time. The silica poisons cells and damages the lungs.

"I know a lot of coal miners who have died from silicosis by their 50s," Evans, 45, said.

Evans said he got the silicosis from many years of dry-cutting, a masonry practice that creates a fair amount of dust and can lead to respiratory issues, such as silicosis.

The Government Audit and Oversight committee moved to pass, without objection, legislation that would prohibit public contractors from using the practice on Monday.

Sponsored by Supervisor Fiona Ma, the legislation will prohibit public works contractors from engaging in dry-cutting and dry-grinding construction practices.

"This is a life and safety issue for many of these workers who are suffering badly because of the unsafe practices," Ma said. "We need to ensure better safety and health conditions for our public safety workers."

Supervisor Fiona Ma

Dry cutting is a type of masonry which involves cutting construction material without wetting the material or the cutting instrument, said Bill Barnes, Ma's legislative aide. However, the method generates large amounts of dust which is harmful to the workers.

"Without water and air quality control, dry-cutting and dry-grinding can cause many respiratory issues," Barnes said.

Dry cutting is a big issue for Bay Area construction workers, said James Bresnahan, president of the Bricklayers, Tilelayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in California. 125 members of the union, including Evans, have been diagnosed with silicosis. 72 members, mostly retired, have been diagnosed with asbestosis.

The legislation requests public contractors to use alternatives to dry cutting. Gary Peifer, vice chairman for Bricklayers, Tilelayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3, public contractors can utilize cutting equipment with attachments for running water.

90 to 95 percent of commercially manufactured cutting equipment has water support, Piefer said. Other types of saws have air filter and dust control systems that eliminate the dust.

Ma's legislation will also require contractors to provide workers with full-faced respirators, if possible, Bresnahan said.

"This legislation is the right thing to do," Bresnahan said.

Other types of local construction workers support the legislation, including electricians.

"These workers are also exposed to the same dust that our workers are when dry cutting occurs on construction sites," Bresnahan said.

Bresnahan said he is thrilled to see the committee recommend the legislation to the Board of Supervisors, but more needs to be done on the state level.

Under California law, a prohibition against masonry dry-cutting or dry-cutting could be approved by the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, Barnes said. New Jersey passed a statewide law banning dry-cutting of masonry in 2004.

"We want to see the state adopt similar provisions to protect craftworkers in California," Bresnahan said.

Seeing the committee pass the recommendation meant a lot to Val Evans, wife of bricklayer Richard Evans. She and Richard have two children, Nell, 3, and Frances, 5.

"I hope that my husband's current condition doesn't develop into something worse," Val Evans said, "but it will be something that our family has to accept. I hope that other families will not have to go through this situation."




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