Every year, nearly 300,000 asphalt paving workers are routinely exposed to asphalt fumes. In the early 1990s, pavers began reporting acute health effects: difficulty breathing, bronchitis, burning of the eyes and throat, headaches and nausea. The paving process requires that these paving crews work at the point of asphalt application that generates the most fumes. In the late 1990s, the large number of workers at risk, combined with the potential for increased health effects, motivated a proactive shift in engineering control measures to reduce worker exposures.
In January 1997, highway-class paver manufacturers joined with representatives from industry, labor and government to sign a formal voluntary agreement on asphalt paver engineering controls. The National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH), Federal Highways Administration, and the National Asphalt Pavement Association were the principal partners in forming the agreement.
The developed engineering control is a ventilation system attached to the paver that reduces fumes and heat before they can reach the worker. A key element in the success of this system was a partnership between NIOSH frontline engineers and equipment manufacturing engineers. This collaboration resulted in creative improvements to initial control designs. This partnership resulted in a control system effective enough that participation from highway pavers was unanimous.
Upon completion of the control system, NIOSH published the document, "Engineering Control Guidelines for Hot Mix Asphalt Pavers." This document outlined design considerations, testing protocol and performance criteria developed by NIOSH during their testing of paver controls at the manufacturers' facilities. This document drove industry and labor representatives to propose a non-regulatory, voluntary agreement between themselves and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agreement dictated that all highway pavers manufactured in the US would have engineering controls after July 1, 1997. Through a private-public partnership, NIOSH successfully garnered complete support in controlling asphalt fumes.