Supervisors move to ban public works contractors
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
"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
Other types of local construction workers support the legislation,
"These workers are also exposed to the same dust that our
workers are when dry cutting occurs on construction sites,"
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."