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Roofers question asbestos training rule

Sean Ryan
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Wisconsin roofing contractors are bristling over the potential costs of retraining their workers to meet state asbestos requirements without proof the requirements will improve safety.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services distributed a memo that interprets the laws requiring training for workers on roofing projects with asbestos shingles. Previously, workers using machines that cut and removed the shingles needed only eight hours of abatement training.

According to the memo released Tuesday, supervisors on those projects must take a 40-hour training course, and workers must take a 32-hour seminar. The state rule change is prompted by national Occupational Safety and Health Administration training requirements for crews working around loose asbestos.

“Are we really, ultimately having a safer work force as a result of this regulation?” asked Jeff Beiriger, executive director of the Wisconsin Roofing Contractors Association Inc. “If the answer is yes, then that’s fine. But I don’t know if that’s demonstrated.”

It will cost $3,200 in wages alone to put a supervisor through the training, and $2,500 in wages for each worker, said Fred Petersen, president of Carlson Racine Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc., Racine. He said the training rehashes topics covered in other courses. Besides, he said, the cutters using spinning blades to take apart shingles do not create floating asbestos fibers.

“When the blade goes through that at speed, (the shingle) basically seals itself,” Petersen said. “The asphalt melts itself because of the friction.”

Noe Sanchez, safety coordinator for Milwaukee-based F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Co. Inc., said he wants the state to prove the cutters release asbestos into the air. He said roofing contractors plan to approach the Department of Health Services to get the rule reversed so the eight-hour training requirements remain in place.

“We’ve been doing this type of abatement for the last seven years that I’ve been here,” Sanchez said, “and we never had a problem.”

He said that, instead of accepting retraining costs, Christiansen will stop using its cutters. The company instead will borrow from a business partner a machine that cuts shingles and leaves no chance that asbestos fibers could be freed, Sanchez said. He said Christiansen does not have money budgeted this year to retrain crews in the four- and five-day courses, so the company will instead accept the cost of adapting to a new machine.

“I’m going to say it will have some deficiency due to the fact that we have to retrain our employees on how to use the equipment,” Sanchez said.

Stephanie Marquis, media relations manager for the Department of Health Services, would only reply to questions through an e-mail, which confirmed the memo is designed to comply with federal rules.

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