While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law Nov. 15, provides an authorization of surface transportation programs, lawmakers must approve a full fiscal year 2022 appropriations package before the spending levels are fully available to state and local governments. Here, Dormie & Jess talk about the latest on the appropriations, share news about that OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard regarding the COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate and share tips for winterizing your construction equipment. Thanks for joining us.
J: While there was excitement for the infrastructure bill, it’s important to understand the funds will still need to be appropriated. While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law Nov. 15, provides an authorization of surface transportation programs, lawmakers must approve a full fiscal year 2022 appropriations package before the spending levels are fully available to state and local governments.
D: This week, on Dec. 2, The House and Senate passed a measure to keep federal transportation and other government programs funded at fiscal year 2021 levels until Feb. 18, 2022. While the delay in final fiscal year 2022 funding enactment is not likely to hamper state transportation departments and other agencies from moving forward on projects, the interim measure reinforces that realizing the IIJA's historic investment levels will require annual diligence.
J As we continue to wait on news regarding the infrastructure bill, the Federal Highway Administration has released a new website to help. There hasn’t been a laundry list of projects started immediately out of the gate as a result of Biden signing the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act in to law, that's by design. The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act was crafted to deliver generational transportation investments but nearly 90 percent of the resources for roads and bridges will be distributed by formula directly to the states, putting them in control of the projects to work on.
D: States, perhaps, are busy dusting off those much-needed projects for which they had no funding, and figuring out how to apply for their cut of the $550 billion in total new spending. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) knows that implementing this law will be no easy task and has designed a website to help manage the new bill.
J: The new website, which we will link below, will serve as a one-stop shop online for transportation agencies and others interested in learning more about new and existing FHWA programs as well as how to apply for grants and other discretionary funding opportunities available under the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. We are going to keep you updated on what these new grant programs are and how we can get a share of this new funding. Until then, cheers!
D: In some other news, we want to give you an update on OSHA’s vaccine mandate. On Nov. 4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, announced an emergency temporary standard as a measure to protect workers against the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace. It covers employers with 100 or more employees and requires them to “develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.”
J: November 12th, shortly after the ETS was announced, it was challenged in a lawsuit by several private companies and other groups, resulting in a stay of enforcement pending judicial review. The court ordered that OSHA "take no steps to implement or enforce" the ETS "until further court order." What that means is the emergency temporary standard has been blocked, at least temporarily, and is now being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
D: OSHA says they remain confident in their authority to protect workers in emergencies, but OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation. In the meantime, they have extended the comment period for the COVID-19 vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard. OSHA says the comment period was extended by 45 days to January 19, 2022, to allow stakeholders additional time to review the ETS and collect information and data necessary for comment.
J: Since the start of the pandemic, road construction workers were deemed ‘essential’ and performed superbly under trying and confusing conditions. Since they are already accustomed to working with facial coverings, required at various times during the pandemic in some jurisdictions, it is unlikely that OSHA’s Vax/Test ETS wou;d significantly impact productivity, but, there will be a lot of paperwork and recordkeeping requirements that would bog companies down.
D: There is also concern, in some areas, that companies will lose a portion of their workforce if mandatory vaccines or weekly testing are implemented. Our industry has been successful in advocating that outdoor workers are at low risk for COVID transmission and, as OSHA recognizes their low risk, those workers are exempt from the Vax/Test Rule. We will keep you posted as the vaccination saga unfolds but until then, let’s have a toast to the end of the pandemic and an end to variants of this virus.
J: Thanksgiving marks the “unofficial” end to the season for many construction companies, especially in the north and that means it’s officially rebuild season. All of your equipment should be brought in to the shop and inspected and repaired to make sure it’s ready to go for next year. Once you do that, to prepare for frosty winter conditions, you must take steps to safeguard your outdoor equipment. We’re going to share some steps you can take to help ensure your machines and equipment remain healthy and robust throughout these colder months of the year.
D: First you’re going to want to conduct a thorough visual inspection. Whether you’re planning to work a machine in winter conditions or put it in storage, it’s recommended to perform a thorough visual inspection of the machine and the necessary maintenance or repair tasks in advance. Pay special attention to hydraulic hoses and fittings. They are more susceptible to cracking and failure when strained in cold conditions.
J: You’ll want to repeat that machine walkaround anytime a piece of equipment is returned to the shop. Be sure to clean the machine, remove excess debris, remove all covers and guards to gain access to the fine and hard to reach areas that you can’t get to during your daily cleaning routine, wash it down. etc. Grease those crucial points and be sure to check fluids and other filters or service points.
D: In addition to cleaning your machine, maintenance should be done on the machine. Check all wear parts to see if they are beyond their useful life and need to be repaired. Bearings, fluids, sprockets, augers, chains, drum scrapers, air filters, shock mounts and any other wear parts that might have been looked over during the busy season need to be checked and replaced if necessary. We’re going to take a drink now, but don’t recommend beers while completing equipment maintenance.
J: If you have the space, be sure to keep equipment stored inside enclosed facilities. When freezing winds and snowfall hit, the effects can be damaging to the exterior and internal components of outdoor machines and equipment. Also, the engine fluids within a machine could freeze if left exposed to subzero temperatures. For best results, remove any attachment parts and store them separately. Make sure to keep all fluids specially stored in a room-temperature setting to protect the viscosity.
D: According to the Caterpillar service department, during winter, the battery is actually the most vulnerable of all the engine components to freezing temperatures. An engine battery works best at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature drops below that point, the battery becomes less efficient. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, a battery loses 65 percent of its cranking capacity. No battery lasts forever, but the quality of a battery is defined by its power and life expectancy.
J: If you are using that machine during colder times of the year, refill the fuel tank after each use. This prevents the fuel tank from freezing overnight. With a clean and full fuel system, the machine will be better equipped to handle even the coldest of winter seasons.
D: Along with that, run the engine before operation. Whenever using a piece of equipment in the cold, it’s crucial to run the engine first. The engine must be brought to its full operating temperature before you run the equipment. This helps eliminate exhaust and intake sticking and also gives your engine a chance to “wake up” fully.
J: Finally, you and your employees need to be safe in colder temperatures too. If you do have to work outside for long periods of time in the cold weather, be sure to dress in several light layers of fabric. The outermost layer should be lightweight and wind resistant. Insulated vests or hoodies are ideal upper body garments. Wear insulated coveralls, thermal long underwear or fleece fabrics. Be sure to select the correct glove configuration for the task. Dexterity, insulating properties, grip surface are all factors that you should consider.
D: These steps and more that go along with winterization are some of the most important things you can do for your construction equipment. From the inspection of the battery, hoses and filters to the change-out of oil, fuel and other fluids, winter maintenance for equipment helps ensure operability come springtime.
J: We want to make sure these winter months are as safe and productive as possible so in the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you videos that feature tips and steps you can take to make sure your equipment is ready for the next paving season. Take the time now to prepare your crews and machines so everything is in great shape to get the work done. We’ll see you next week and as always, stay safe out there.