NIOSH Funded to Study Sealcoat Applicators

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has received approval to study the levels of occupational chemical exposure among sealant applicators. The study is currently in the planning stage, and is likely to be similar to a study NIOSH conducted several years ago of asphalt pavement workers. On hearing about the study, PCTC contacted NIOSH to learn more. NIOSH shared its draft study plan with PCTC and asked for comments. PCTC provided comments to NIOSH in late July. PCTC wants to make sure that the study follows the many protections the federal government has put in place to protect workers who are asked to be part of these kind of studies, and also wants to ensure that the study produces scientifically valid and supportable data and conclusions. To this end, PCTC has asked NIOSH to set up an advisory committee, with representatives from NIOSH, technical experts and industry (PCTC) to work through issues that may come up before and during the study.

NIOSH is a part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is often in the news whenever there is an outbreak of diseases such as Salmonella (food poisoning) or measles. NIOSH is not involved in making workplace rules. Instead, it collects data about how work gets done to evaluate ways to improve health and safety in the workplace. For the study of asphalt pavers that started about ten years ago, NIOSH partnered with the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) as well as with representatives of pavement workers to look at the working environment of paving crews. PCTC has asked NIOSH for a similar partnering arrangement.

At this point, the draft study plan is more of an outline than a fleshed out plan or protocol. As envisioned, the study will be conducted over the course of several years, and involve about 14 field surveys. Each field survey will consist of at least 12 worker-days (for example, 3 workers sampled over 4 consecutive days). Initially, NIOSH wants to conduct a pilot study to make sure it has the right equipment and procedures that can be used to make the process relatively painless on companies and pavers as well as to ensure the data collected are reliable and can be repeated. Participation in the study by companies and workers is completely voluntary. There are many government rules in place about studies involving collection of data on workers, including protection of privacy and obtaining informed consent. Any time any organization proposes to conduct research involving collection of data from individuals, the study must go through review and oversight by a board with the sole purpose of protecting the individual. If your company volunteers to participate, a NIOSH representative will come to your facility to explain the process and ask for volunteers from your company’s work force.

The multigenerational experience of many in the sealcoat business leads PCTC to believe that, if properly conducted, the study proposed by NIOSH could be an important step in documenting that sealcoating is a responsible and safety-conscious industry. While the study is in the planning stage, NIOSH is hopeful that the pilot study can be conducted before the end of the 2015 sealcoating season. Once the study plan has been approved, NIOSH plans to issue a fact sheet for distribution to sealcoat companies. NIOSH hopes that 14 to 20 companies will volunteer to participate. PCTC will keep you informed as NIOSH’s plan for the study progresses.

PCTC will sponsor a free sealcoating seminar, "Talking to Property Managers about Sealcoat," at National Pavement Expo, Jan. 27-30 in Charlotte, NC. The free session (C-24) will run from 8:00-9:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 29. For details visit For more information on the Pavement Coatings Technology Council visit