Q: What should remodelers do to make sure their workers are protected on the jobsite?

A: When asked this question recently, I looked my fellow remodeler in the eye and asked her, "Do your customers really care how you protect your workers?" When you mention protecting your workers, customers hear one thing: This will mean increased costs. This unfortunate reality means that, as with all the services your company provides, you must connect the value of this proposition to the benefits your customer will receive.

With so much talk these days about green building, think about extending the concept of indoor environmental quality (one of the six categories of United States Green Building Council's LEED for Homes and the National Association of Home Builder's Green Building program) to the construction phase of your remodeling projects. Customers are more then willing to listen to the features of your project that will provide them with clean air to breathe; air that is free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and other potential asthma triggers such as dust and mold. If a clean and healthy indoor environment is good for the homeowner, then certainly it is good for the people who create it.

Here is a list of the top five things your company should do to ensure that air quality is established to protect workers from the potential irritants and particulate hazards found on most remodeling projects:

1. Increase awareness: Establish training sessions on the health effects of exposure to the seven types of dust or particulate hazards found on remodeling projects. These include: household dust (mostly human skin and other common asthma triggers), fugitive dust, construction dust (created by cutting or installing new materials or products including VOCs), mold spores, lead dust, asbestos fibers, and demolition dust (could be any or all of the other six).

2. Use OSHA guidelines: You must know, train, and implement the protective measures contained in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or your state's occupational safety and health regulations. Establish which regulations apply specifically to your operations and be sure to train on those specific to dust or other particulate hazards. Get started by reviewing these five OSHA regulations: Housekeeping 1926.25; Ventilation 1926.57; Gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, and mists 1926.55; Lead 1926.62; Asbestos 1926.1101. To understand the health effects from exposure to construction dust and VOCs from materials or products, refer to the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that you should obtain from the manufacturers and review with your workers.

3. Provide dust masks: Having an ample supply of the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) and Health N100 dust masks on hand will provide personal breathing protection for your workers during the vast majority of remodeling activities that create dust. These disposable masks are HEPA-rated, affordable, and avoid the costly requirements found in OSHA's Respirator Protection 1910.134. Be sure to read the labeling on the N100 masks you provide to ensure they will provide the type of protection required. They provide no protection from chemical vapors. Only respirators with the appropriate cartridges protect against vapors.

4. Use dust-safe work practices: The best way to protect workers from particulate hazards is to train them to work in such a way as to minimize the creation of dust and then to clean the work area.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program Rule ( RRP) which provides a set of safe work practices, which will need to be followed on remodeling projects conducted in buildings built before 1978. These practices can now be used as an industry dust control best-practice on all remodeling projects. The work area containment, clean-up procedures, and cleaning-verification process will transition the idea of remodeling air quality right into the indoor environmental quality aspects of green building.

5. Practice jobsite cleanliness: When I see surveys of remodeling customers, invariably, jobsite cleanliness is at the top of the list for those clients who are very satisfied with their project. This makes sense in remodeling. Keeping a customer's remodeling project neat and tidy is, in fact, keeping their home neat and tidy. One of the highest compliments a customer can pay their remodeler is that their house was cleaner after the project than before. Controlling the creation of dust and maintaining an orderly jobsite not just helps you protect the health of your workers, but will have a direct impact on the level of customer satisfaction.

--Brindley Byrd is a national speaker, author, and advocate who has served the construction industry for more than 12 years.  He established the Responsible Remodeling core operating system for dust-safe work practices to protect the health of workers and customers. He has guided hundreds of professional remodelers through the regulations and work practices of managing remodeling air quality. Contact Brindley at bbyrd@qx2.net or visit www.qx2.net for more information.