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Roofers fed up with asbestos training

By Sean Ryan

The only difference between a 40-hour asbestos course and an eight-hour class is the size of the bill, according to roofers who want the state to back off a new training requirement.

“There really isn’t a payback to all of the additional costs that go into asbestos service and training,” said Greg Johnson, vice president of field operations for F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Co. Inc., Milwaukee.

Wisconsin in June began requiring roofing company supervisors take a 40-hour safety training course and crew members take a 32-hour class. Roofers complained about the rule in June and now are asking the state to go back to the old rules, which required an eight-hour class before using machines that cut and remove shingles from rooftops.

Johnson said length of time in a classroom — and the five-day training cost of $2,750 per worker — does not change the methods for removing shingles from roofs. It’s for that reason, he said, that the state should scale back.

The state is willing to listen to roofers’ concerns, but there is no guarantee the Department of Health Services, which created the rule, will reconsider, said Shelley Bruce, DHS asbestos and lead certification supervisor.

The increased training requirement was put into place, she said, after DHS consulted with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We can’t just allow one-day trained people to work on nonintact material,” Bruce said, “because OSHA doesn’t allow it either.”

Still, the roofing industry wants an explanation of how four more days of training is a benefit.

“What’s the least costly and yet most effective thing that we can be doing?” asked Jeff Beiriger, executive director of the Wisconsin Roofing Contractors Association Inc.

The debate centers on four to five training days for the slicer, a tool with motorized wheels and a nonmoving blade that strips shingles from roofs. Workers using hand tools are required to take only the one-day safety course.

The longer safety training courses focus on asbestos rules, such as handling the substance indoors and sealing off areas that contain asbestos, that do not apply to rooftop work, said Shawn Christon, president and owner of safety training company Consulting Training Services LLC, Mequon.

The shorter courses offer more training for roofing equipment, said Christon, who acknowledged the requirement for more training means more work for his company.

“As an instructor, I understand that I have to teach this to my clients, which I do,” he said. “But, as a safety consultant, I have to look at this in a way where it’s kind of going overboard. It’s overkill.”

The state requires the training because roofers are at risk of asbestos exposure when working around the machines, Bruce said.

“Those machines have motors, engines” she said. “They’re vibrating as they’re cutting. Those blades, if they’re dull, are tearing and slicing as much as they’re cutting.”

Johnson said most roofs built before the asbestos ban have been replaced, giving contractors little incentive to accept the cost of training that workers don’t need.

“This isn’t rocket science, removing asbestos-containing materials,” he said. “It’s all done according to procedure.”

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