Kirk Landers, Editor Emeritus

Better Roads Staff | June 10, 2012

Lest We Forget. Teamwork Works

Election-year vitriol is already working its quadrennial magic, filling the air waves with a barrage of assurances that half of the Unites States electorate – the other half — is dangerous, evil, stupid and a far more fearsome to our democracy than any foreign enemy.

kirk.landers@att.net

So, just to be contrary, I thought I’d take a minute to remind Better Roads readers what we all know but sometimes forget: Life within our fractious union can be cohesive; people with different life goals and agendas do have shared interests; and when we come together to pursue shared interests, good things happen for all of us.

Consider this contemporary example where people representing industry, labor and government worked together for more than six years to achieve an important milestone in worker and job site safety. Their goal was to find cost-effective technology to protect asphalt milling crews from harmful levels of silica, a trace element in milling fines and a known carcinogen.

This was a case of people from traditionally warring factions coming together to do the right thing.

The Silica/Milling Machine Partnership started with preliminary research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that suggested that a new, tougher standard for silica exposure in milling operations was needed and could be achieved with existing technology. To truly test for silica exposure and to evaluate practical methods for reducing it, NIOSH needed to conduct extensive, very expensive field tests … tests that were beyond the financial and technical limits of the agency.

So NIOSH asked the National Asphalt Paving Association (NAPA) to organize and coordinate a partnership that brought together engineers, scientists and construction professionals from institutions representing labor, manufacturing and contractors to make the study happen. A team of experts was formed representing such unlikely groups as the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, as well as NIOSH and NAPA. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration(OSHA) also participated in the study.

These people and their institutions labored on the Silica Project for more than six years – in addition to performing their regular work. It was expensive for the institutions, and time consuming for the individuals. They labored in anonymity and solved great engineering and science challenges with collaborative efficiency. Nothing they did drew applause from an appreciative crowd or boosted sales or got anyone a big raise.

But if you talk to the people who were deeply involved in the project, each of them would tell you it was one of the great highlights of their careers. And each would tell you that working with the other members of the team was enriching and even exhilarating.

Sometime this year, OSHA will issue a new silica standard for milling machines. It will improve worker safety. It will be achievable for milling machine manufacturers. And it will have very little impact on milling machine prices.

The only losers in the project will be the legions of attorneys who would have billed thousands of hours in the legal proceedings that result when labor, industry and government do not work together to accomplish something that benefits everyone.

There is a lesson here for all of us in this election year.

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