Crowds were somewhat subdued at the World of Concrete equipment show, held in Las Vegas on Jan. 17-20. But while many of the more than 50,000 attendees were eager to try out ride-on concrete trowels and carnival-style games at outdoor exhibitor booths, the largest crowds on the show floor lingered at displays explaining compliance with the silica-dust exposure rule, issued last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The rule, which limits workers’ exposure to harmful silica dust, went into effect on June 23, 2016, and construction companies have until June 23, 2017, to fully comply.

Many of the larger construction- equipment manufacturers held off on large displays at the show in anticipation of the triennial CONEXPO-CONAGG trade show, set for March, so concrete tool manufacturers took advantage of the quieter show to roll out more specialty wares.

A big cloud of dust from a concrete saw or drill cutting into a block can grab attention, but many exhibitors instead chose to show their dust-collection and wet-cutting equipment, mindful of attendees looking for the best solutions to the new OSHA rule.

Some European-based power-tool makers see an opportunity to adapt dustless tools they already sell in the European Union. “In Europe, there’s been more stringent requirements for decades,” explains Avi Kahn, president and CEO of Hilti North America. “Being based in Europe, we had an advantage. We happen to comply already and our dustless solutions are built on decades of experience.”

There is still some confusion surrounding the implementation of the silica-dust rule in the construction industry, according to Patti Downs, an industrial hygienist with OSHA who attended World of Concrete. The deadline for construction compliance is June of this year, but not all concrete work is construction. Precast concrete, for example, falls under the general industry classification, which has until June 2018 to reach compliance.

“We’ve been working on this rule for over 20 years,” Downs told a gathering of reporters near the Hilti booth at the show. She says many smaller construction contractors are not aware that, if they meet the requirements spelled out in Table 1 of the new rule, they don’t have to track personal exposure levels. Table 1 lists dust-control and personal safety-gear requirements for specific tasks. “What’s really cool about Table 1 is that, if you follow all of your recommendations on the table, you are considered to be compliant,” says Downs.

Bosch USA had perhaps the most ominous display at the show: a countdown clock ticking down how much time remains until the silica-dust rule takes effect for construction. But, at their booth, even Bosch employees were surprised by the strong reaction of show attendees. “When the gates opened on the first day, I was backed up against the wall with so many questions,” says Tom Grego, Bosch product manager for drilling and demolition accessories. He says most attendees were looking for a simple checklist of dust-control gear to meet the rule.

German-based Bosch first adapted its EU-compliant dust-control tools for the U.S., but that’s changing, says Grego. “It used to be that our portfolio was driven by Europe, but now, with this new OSHA ruling, we’re aiming to be even more strict here, and they’re learning from us now.”

Best Bricklayer Crowned

There may have been nervous energy driving attendees toward silica-dust-control displays, but cheering crowds filled the stands at the annual Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 World Championship. Marking its 15th year, the trade-skills showcase saw two dozen mason-and-tender teams race to build the tallest 26-ft, 8-in.-long double-wythe brick wall they can in an hour. With a 2017 Ford F250 XLT truck and $15,000 in cash and prizes on the line, crews raced to build tall while still maintaining quality.

It was a tight race, but bricklayer Matt Cash and tender Chet Huntley of Huntley Bros. Co., Mint Hill, N.C., took the prize with a 716-brick wall. His second time at the finals, Cash told the crowd that his first win was a huge relief. “Finally got that monkey off my back,” he said.