Business Tip – April 2014

SponsoredbyMAPEIPerfection desired, not required

How you handle mistakes affects your customer’s perception of your service quality

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchick, Firestarter, president, FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

The other day, I facilitated a panel discussion on customer service. The audience was a group of operations managers and field supervisors, and the panel included three of their actual customers. So, these audience members served these customers.

Over the years I have been involved in a number of sessions like this, and the results are always very positive. Not necessarily positive in that the customer says everything is great, but positive in that both sides come out of it with a higher level of mutual understanding and an increased respect for each other. There is something about these panels that creates candor. And that’s important, because at no other time do we ever really ask customers what they think, and if we do, they never fully tell us what is on their mind.

When a customer makes a purchase of just about anything, they are entitled to a reasonable expectation that the product or service will be delivered correctly and in accordance with a given set of specifications. In fact, that is why they have selected you. The buyer believes you will complete the job – as purchased, on time and on budget. If you fail to deliver, you lose their business. But over time, you probably do a consistently good job, so you now have a repeat client. This is something any business should strive for. If the customer is not in a position to buy again, then certainly they are in a position to refer you to someone who is in the market for your service.

At some point, something is going to go wrong. An order could be late, an installation might be of poor quality, or one of your employees might be rude to the customer. There are plenty of ways we can disappoint clients, especially if we have done the right thing for an extended period of time. But here it is – that moment of truth when you have to fix the mistake. This was one of the key conversations in the above-mentioned panel discussion: your customers expect nothing to go wrong. They really are looking for perfection; they want it right the first time. However, they also know that mistakes happen, and so it is how you recover from a mistake that defines their perception of you.

In the restaurant business, this is called service recovery; in the airlines, it is called irregular ops. In both cases, we are talking about a situation where something has gone wrong. In restaurants, the customer’s perception of the quality of service is actually higher in a situation where something went wrong and was then fixed quickly and correctly, rather than the situation where everything went flawlessly!

At the airport, when my flight gets cancelled, it is very reassuring to get a call from my airline telling me I have already been rebooked. They have just saved me the trouble of having to wait in line to negotiate for another flight, and the stress that goes with that.

Your people are trained to deliver the specified level of perfection. If they weren’t, they would not be working for you. Ideally, they would be trained in how to handle a situation where the customer is not happy. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Usually, a manager needs to get involved to resolve a sticky situation made worse by an employee who handled it poorly. Now you have a doubly ticked-off customer. It all comes back to training:

Are your employees taught how to do the job correctly in a variety of settings – not just in the isolated environment of a training room?

Do your employees understand your philosophy as it relates to quality and service?

Do you regularly communicate this philosophy?

If you answered “No” to any of those questions, you are placing your company at risk of a bad client experience that was then resolved poorly. Remember that old statistic about how an unhappy customer would tell nine other people about the poor service they received? Well, with the internet being ever-present today, “nine” can easily become 9,000 – or more. In fact, if the message goes viral on social media, millions of people will read it within days. And that’s not the kind of publicity you want for your business.

Whenever a business faces risk, it usually refers to the potential for lost profit. The customer-employee interaction is a point of risk. Rather than saving money by cutting corners on training and education, you might be better served by investing money to create the skills and mindsets in employees to prevent and correct negative customer situations in the first place. Technical skills are a start, but they are not enough. What you do is important. How well you do it – and fix any mistakes – is equally as important.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at to NTCA members. Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about how the NTCA/FirestarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Ask the Experts – April 2014


I am emailing to find out when back buttering the back of larger porcelain tiles started as a standard, and in what edition it was first published.


I would have to physically look in each book but it goes back 15-20 years. ANSI A108 says:

2.3.4 Average contact area shall be not less than 80% except on exterior or shower installations, where contact area shall be 95% when not less than three tiles or tile assemblies are removed for inspection. The 80% or 95% coverage shall be sufficiently distributed to give full support of the tile.

backbuttering2.3.5 If 95% coverage is specified in the project specifications, back butter each tile with bondcoat; or select a notched trowel sized to facilitate the proper coverage. Key the mortar into the substrate with the flat side of the trowel, and comb with the notched side of the trowel in one direction. Embed the tile in the mortar by beating-in, pushing in a direction perpendicular to the combed ridges, or other means to achieve specified coverage. The method used should produce maximum coverage with the corners and edges fully supported. Periodically remove and check a tile to assure that proper coverage is being attained.”

The TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation suggests directional troweling may help avoid the need to back butter. The requirement is coverage, not how you get it.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant,
answering on behalf of TCNA


Is it against industry standards to install 16”x24” tile by using thinset on only the tile – without that same application to the concrete floor (post-tension slab)? I just had an installation done that way – all over the house. Now, I have a few hollow areas and grout that “droops.” I assume the “drooping” grout is due to settling into the spaces under the edges of the tile where no thinset was applied to the floor first. I am assuming it is because of the installer trying to take advantage of me via bad shortcut practices. Please advise – I am going to turn him into the Registrar of Contractors for a bad job – and I need to know if this type of tile installation violates industry standards.


Keying the mortar into the substrate is an important part of the bonding process. On post-tension construction, the selection of the appropriate thin-set mortar, movement accommodation joints in the tile work, and/or use of a membrane system are equally important for longevity of the installation.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant,
answering on behalf of TCNA

It is amazing to me how many times I have seen this practice. Quite a few “journeyman installers” I hired over the years would install in this fashion, until I caught them at it and instructed them in the correct and only allowable method. I have also seen this in many installers taking the CTI test. Notch troweling the back of the tile and applying to bare concrete (or any substrate) is not approved. Standard practice is to key mortar onto substrate with flat side of trowel, add more mortar, comb notches, then apply tile. With natural stone you are also required to key mortar onto back of tile (back buttering). It would be okay to key in and comb the back of the tile as long as you also keyed into substrate, kind of a reverse process (installers sometimes do this when installing cuts at a perimeter of a project), but applying to a bare substrate is asking for a failure

Michael Whistler,
NTCA presenter and technical consultant

Tech Talk – Tile industry-recognized certification can make the difference in your business

TEC-sponsorAccept no substitutes – CTI and ACT are the only officially recognized certifications in the tile industry

I just returned from the International Surface West event in Las Vegas. It was clearly evident that all the organizations that represent the floor-covering industry are emphasizing the importance of quality installation as an essential component to the growth of their respective industries. Throughout the show floor, you could find training seminars, live demonstrations, and certification testing taking place. This is a really good thing to see.


By Bart Bettiga, executive director, NTCA and CTEF and member of ACT Taskforce

As a leader in the tile industry, I want to point out something that I think is very important about the word CERTIFICATION. It can be used in a variety of ways, and the tile industry needs to address this word immediately, so that we understand the difference as it relates to who is qualified to do what type of work in commercial and residential installations.

There are training programs currently being offered by some organizations that are entry-level relating to installing tile. At the end of the training session, “certifications” are given that the installer has successfully completed this program. There are also proprietary manufacturer training programs and online, knowledge-based seminars that offer “certification” for completing the course.

I want to be very clear in my point here. These are great things to see happen. Anyone who is offering training and increasing knowledge for the sale or installation of tile and stone is contributing to our industry growth.

All “certifications” are not created equally

But – and this is a big but – if these programs are marketed in the incorrect way, then all the good they have done is quickly swept away. This is, in fact, dangerous for our industry.

This is why the tile industry has taken a strong stance on the word CERTIFICATION. This is why we have written clear language related to qualified labor in the TCNA Handbook and in Master Specifications. We have to differentiate the installers that are truly qualified from those who are not.

TT-1The ONLY OFFICIAL certification currently being recognized by the tile industry – in accordance with standards set out by the tile industry – are the CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) certification and the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) Program. The language is clear. In addition to these two certifications, we recognize Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs as a way to qualify installers as well.

Why is tile so different and why are we so serious about this? For one thing, tile installations are often designed to be permanent, often installed in wet areas, and at times with other living space underneath the installation. It is very expensive to replace, and other products have to be moved and can be damaged when replacement has to take place.

Tile and stone comes in different sizes, shapes, and formats, is extremely challenging, and not forgiving in regard to installation. It needs to be looked at differently than other floor coverings when considering who is qualified to perform the work.

Our own industry recognized that even a rigorous certification test like the CTI exam the CTEF offers was not enough. That is why we partnered with all the leading tile industry trade associations to develop the ACT program – so that we go further into specific skills such as shower pans, mudwork, waterproofing and crack isolation, and large-format tile. We will be adding grouting applications and thin-tile installation very soon.

Invest in industry-recognized certifications: CTI and ACT

To every tile installation contractor who reads TileLetter regularly I am telling you today: contact the CTEF or your local union representatives to discuss the official, tile-industry-recognized CTI or ACT programs. If you are already a CTI, you need to make plans to become ACT-certified. You need to differentiate yourself from the competition. And you definitely need to understand the difference between these certifications and others that are being offered and rewarded out there.

I can’t think of anything more damaging in our industry than a beginning tile installer getting hired instead of a more qualified tile contractor because they have a piece of paper that says they are “certified” in a program that the tile industry doesn’t recognize. How would a consumer or builder know the difference? They wouldn’t! You need to get officially certified in a program our industry supports and recognizes, and you need to understand how to explain that to your customer.

Certification is here to stay. The specifications are starting to call for it. Our industry needs it; the quality tile contractors need it as well. Contact us immediately to discuss how we can help you set yourself apart from the competition.

[email protected]

Thin Tile


Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a state-of-the-art medical campus serving families in South Florida. Regarded as “one of the best places in Broward County to give birth” for over 55 years, Holy Cross is renowned as the first hospital in the county to not separate newborns from their mothers – an approach that raises the bar for early mother-child bonding.


The bath facilities were outfitted in 4 1/4” x 4 1/4” glossy glaze, talc-body wall tile, original from the 1960 construction.

In 2013, Holy Cross initiated the Blessed Beginnings remodeling project to raise the bar once more for quality care and comfort in the Holy Cross Maternity Unit, originally built in 1960. Facility renovations were divided into three separate phases for ease of project management and execution, with the first phase scheduled to complete at the end of January 2014. The end result of the entire endeavor is a fully-remodeled, beautiful, and sophisticated environment that offers both aesthetic improvements and the latest technology in obstetrics.

The Hollywood, Fla., office of architectural firm Gresham Smith and Partners led the project, and tile contractor PFC was awarded the contract for renovation of 18 facility bathrooms and showers in the individual maternity ward units. The bath facilities were outfitted in 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” glossy glaze, talc-body wall tile, original from the 1960 construction. In order to bring the facilities to modern standards and style, all bath/shower walls required approximately 190 square feet of surface area be updated.


In order to bring the facilities to modern standards and style, all bath/shower walls required approximately 190 square feet of surface area be updated.

Rather than demolish the existing tile surfaces of the bathroom and shower walls, the project team opted to find a surfacing solution that would install over previous materials. Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance. PFC’s installers prioritized the selection of a material that would be easy to handle, maneuver, and apply to a preexisting work space.

Enter Laminam® by Crossville®

The PFC team was familiar with Laminam by Crossville’s large-format, lean profile porcelain tile panels. These innovative panels are durable, versatile, and ideal for installing over existing tile. With overall dimensions of 1M x 3M yet just 3mm in thickness, these panels can be easily trimmed and installed over a range of substrates – just what was in order for this renovation project.


Rather than demolish the existing tile surfaces of the bathroom and shower walls, the project team opted to find a surfacing solution that would install over previous materials.

The design team selected the Laminam 3+ I Naturali in Ossidiana Vena Chiara to create a clean, fresh palette for the renovated showers.

A week prior to the installation at Holy Cross, PFC installers attended a Laminam by Crossville workshop that proved extraordinarily useful in understanding how to handle, cut, and install the panels. As a result of this training, the installation crews experienced no breakage and substantially less scrap than anticipated. These efficiencies helped to keep the Blessed Beginnings project on time and in budget.

For the installation, four crews, each with one installer and one helper, were assigned to renovate the baths and shower stalls. The crews cleaned the existing substrate (the previously-installed wall tile) and applied MAPEI® ECO-Prim Grip™ bond-promoting primer. Next, they applied MAPEI Ultraflex™ LFT™ thin-set mortar to both the prepared substrate and the Laminam panels with the appropriate trowels to achieve 100% coverage. Edge levels were used for spacing and flatness, and an orbital sander flattened trowel ridges and drove out any remaining air. The team used Schluter® aluminum profiles for edge protection and aesthetics, as well as LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK® grout for a quality, finished installation.

Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance: Laminam by Crossville to the rescue.

Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance: Laminam by Crossville to the rescue.

The installed Laminam 3+ panels provide an attractive, smooth surface that is easier to clean due to minimal grout joints. This creates not only a sophisticated design with seamless lines and contemporary appeal, but it also enhances the cleanliness and ease of maintenance of the maternity unit – an all-important factor when creating a safe environment for newborns and postpartum mothers.

The speed of installation, lack of demolition, and reduced construction residue made Laminam by Crossville an excellent choice for this project. From start to completion, the renovation of all bathrooms took only 14 days. For a remodeling project 50 years in the making, that speed, quality, and efficiency are unparalleled.


Owner: Holy Cross Hospital

Architectural Firm: Gresham Smith and Partners – Hollywood, Fla., office

Tile Contractor: PFC

Distributor: D&B Tile Distributors

Tile Product: Laminam by Crossville

Material: Laminam 3+ I Naturali Ossidiana Vena Chiara | 3,400 square feet

Trim: Schluter® – Rondec for edge bullnose finish

Setting materials: MAPEI® ECO-Prim Grip™ Primer, MAPEI Ultraflex™ LFT ™Thin-set Mortar, LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK® Grout

Qualified Labor – Education and certification helps the tile industry flourish

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

When LT Chong of T and C Tile walks into a client meeting, he carries the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation in his briefcase. Having been around the tile industry his entire life, Chong knows the value of certified industry standards. “Homeowners are impressed with having a detailed book, instead of me drawing something on the wall,” he said. After going through the salient details of the Handbook that pertain to the client’s project, he points out where his name is listed as a Certified Tile Installer. “I have a great market in East Texas due to all the people who aren’t very knowledgeable here,” Chong said.


Being certified is “a great way to separate me from the competition and show customers that I am up to par with today’s standards,” said LT Chong.

Chong grew up in Hawaii around tile, since his father was a union foreman and subcontractor. He learned top standards through the union apprenticeship program. When he came to Texas in the mid-’90s, he noted that though his training in Hawaii helped him have a strong foundation to do excellent work, there was no license required to install tile.

So, Chong chose to set himself apart from the competition with Certified Tile Installer credentials in 2009. At the time, he was the only person in his Point, Texas area code to have done so. It gives him a distinct advantage in his business.

“I work for one of the largest luxury home builders in East Texas,“ he said. “Builders want to say they have qualified professionals in every profession,” Chong pointed out. The official, industry-recognized and sanctioned CTI credentials allow builders to “show in black and white they have a qualified tile professional.”

Chong remains skeptical of others who claim they are “certified.” “A lot of flooring stores say they have qualified, certified installers, but they don’t want to take the CTI test. So, I’m not sure about their qualifications.”

Road to failure paved with inadequate training

Chong said that one of the biggest reasons the tile business isn’t flourishing “the way it should be” is because people aren’t educated about tile and they aren’t installing products the way manufacturers and industry standards recommend.

“I’ve seen people take backer board and install it without mortar beneath it – believing that if you put a billion nails in it, it will be fine,” Chong said. He doesn’t believe it’s malicious, but rather these are bad habits that some installers learned and believe are correct. “The more people who are educated about tile helps our industry as a whole,” Chong said. “Even if they are my competitors – the better job they do, the more it helps my business.”

The process of preparing for the written test onsite was a confirmation of what Chong learned from his foundational training. “It was good to see what I’ve been doing in black and white,” in the study guide, he said. “The process of taking the test was a refresher about knowledge and techniques that aren’t used every day. It brought past knowledge to the forefront,” Chong said.

The hands-on test was a different story. “I remember thinking that the hands-on test was the hardest I’d ever worked for free,” Chong said. Chong is a part of the John Bridge Ceramic Tile Forum and took pictures throughout the test to post online.

“It wasn’t easy,” Chong said. “If it was easy, more people would be doing it.” But in a state where no tile setter’s license is required, being certified is “a great way to separate me from the competition and show customers that I am up to par with today’s standards,” Chong said. “Not everyone passes,” he said, but, “even if you are doing it wrong, then you know you are doing it wrong.”

The next step for Chong this year? “I want to take the ACT certification,” he said.

Business Tip – March 2014

SponsoredbyMAPEIGetting your employees to commit to customer service

By Bill Sims, Jr., president
The Bill Sims Company, Inc.

SimsIt’s a business no-brainer that happy employees make happy customers. But how do you get happy employees that deliver the best possible customer service?

It requires employees to move beyond simple compliance of workplace rules and becoming truly committed to the jobs they do. And moving people to commitment requires positive reinforcement in the leadership system.

Employee engagement has been identified by as a key driver of your company’s profitability and human performance. Sadly, only 15 percent of employees say they are “actively engaged” at work.

So, how precisely do you shift your workplace culture from “I have to do it or I’ll be in trouble” to “I want to do it because I believe in it”? And how do you get more positive reinforcement in your management system?

If you are a leader, your success in business will depend on your ability to deliver positive reinforcement, something that is rarely used by today’s managers and leaders. And, let’s be clear: we’re not talking about steak dinners and handing out gift cards and t-shirts for lagging indicators.

That’s not an example of positive reinforcement. In fact, those types of “one size fits all” reinforcement actually erode commitment and encourage non-compliance. In short, they breed mediocrity.

When we reward everyone the same, regardless of their level of effort, we are introducing a system that says it doesn’t matter how hard we all work, we’re all going to get the same thing.

Positive reinforcement: individualized and timely

True positive reinforcement needs to be individualized and delivered immediately after an employee does something right. That way, the employee will be more likely to repeat those behaviors in the future. If an employee demonstrates stellar customer service work, or goes above and beyond to make a guest or client happy, they should be recognized for that. Yes, they are doing their job and that’s what they’re paid to do, but studies show that a paycheck is not as big a motivator as feeling like you are making a difference at work.

Bosses who think they don’t need to tell their employees they are doing a good job are not fully engaging them.

When it comes to engagement, every company has just three kinds of workers: Non-Compliant, Compliant, and Committed. Here’s what each looks like:

Non-Compliant: “I will not follow your rules because I am convinced the only way to get high production is to take risks and shortcuts.”

Compliant: “I will follow your rules as long as someone (a manager, a supervisor, or a peer observer) is standing there watching me. But when that person leaves, I’ll take more risks and shortcuts.”

Committed: “I will follow the rules, when nobody is watching. This is who I am…”

That ultimate level of employee engagement is commitment. And yet, not many employees are truly committed to the job. Why? Because the management method most bosses use is the classic “Leave Alone/Zap.”

“Leave Alone/Zap” technique of management

Simply put, it means that we leave employees alone and say nothing when they do something right (giving no positive feedback), but we are quick to “zap” (punish and negatively reinforce them) when they make a mistake. The problem with “Leave Alone/Zap” management is that it doesn’t get you to the highest level of performance, engagement and commitment. It only gets you a temporary change in behavior which lasts as long as it takes you and your big stick to leave the room.

Without positive reinforcement, you are getting less performance from your team than you could be and your workplace culture will suffer. But if you use positive reinforcement to cultivate engaged, committed employees, all aspects of their work, including customer service, will improve.


Bill Sims, Jr. is president of The Bill Sims Company, Inc. For nearly 30 years, Sims has created behavior-based recognition programs that have helped large and small firms to deliver positive reinforcement to inspire better performance from employees and increase bottom line profits. A sought-after speaker, he has delivered leadership workshops and keynote speeches around the globe, and has built more than 1,000 positive reinforcement systems at firms including DuPont, Siemens VDO, Coca-Cola, and Disney.


green_bean_bookGreen Beans & Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement can be purchased from, and through all major booksellers.

Ask the Experts – March 2014


Can you point me to any publications or standards regarding potential issues related to the installation of ceramic floor tile over post-tensioned slabs on-grade?  This would be for residential tile projects on such slabs. Also, is there a specific mortar (thinset) that should be specified in such a situation?


Even though your slabs are on-grade, because they are post-tensioned slabs they are treated as above-ground slabs for tile-industry purposes. Look to the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation for all the various methods for tiling above-ground slabs. Start with method F113A-13 for thin-set method with tile. Most floor methods for concrete substrates show both on-ground and above-ground options. Be particularly careful if using natural stone tile, as a maximum area of 100 sq. ft. is allowed unless the wire-reinforced unbonded mortar bed method is used.

Like all tile systems, expansion joints are required, and are even more important here due to deflection and slab creep that are generally associated with post-tensioned slabs and the site conditions that require them.

Michael Whistler,
NTCA presenter and technical consultant

Try the Ceramic Tile Institute of America. They have produced a paper on that subject. Here is a link to the excellent article:

Bart Bettiga,
NTCA/CTEF executive director


Where do I find the language requiring a post-tensioned slab to be treated as an above-ground slab? Is this a requirement/standard?


I believe the language is in the method listed in the TCNA Handbook. If you look at Recommended Uses in F113A-13, for example, it states “For above-ground structural slabs and other floors subject to movement and/or deflection where thin-bed installation of tile is desired.” I understand your slab is on-grade, but there is generally a reason to use post-tensioned slabs on-grade, like expansive clay soil, or other sub-slab site conditions. Unfortunately, using a post-tensioned system rarely cures all of the site condition problems. Plus, it adds a few new problems into the equation from the post-tensioning and its effect on a tile installation; therefore the need for separate and stricter installation methods.

Michael Whistler,
NTCA presenter and technical consultant

Natural Stone Council issues position statement on OSHA’s Silica PEL Proposal


Last November, the Natural Stone Council MSHA/OSHA Committee issued a position statement about OSHA’S recently released proposed silica rule. What follows is the Natural Stone Council’s (NSC) position statement in its entirety, with the caveat that the position paper is a working document and will be updated and revised as needed.

stonecouncilPosition statement on OSHA’S Silica PEL Proposal

The following position paper is written on the behalf of The Natural Stone Council (NSC), which is comprised of 12 organizations representing all types of dimensional stone businesses that quarry and fabricate in the United States. The members include Allied Stone Industries, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, Indiana Limestone Institute, Marble Institute of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, National Building Granite Quarries Association, National Slate Association, Natural Stone Alliance, New York State Bluestone Association, Northwest Granite Manufacturers Association, and Pennsylvania Bluestone Association. Collectively, all agree that employee safety is the first priority of the dimension stone industry.


On August 23, 2013, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposal (Docket ID# OSHA-2010-0034) to reduce the permissible exposure level (PEL) for silica by 50%. The new level would be 50 micrograms of respirable silica per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. The U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) has stated its intent to issue a similar proposal for the mining industry. OSHA’s proposal has been published in the Federal Register and the public has until January 25, 2014 to submit written comments.

NSC position:

All NSC member organizations agree that airborne crystalline silica is dangerous and proven measures are necessary to protect exposed employees, but also believe that OSHA’s current silica PEL standard provides protection when best practices are applied in the workplace. If adopted into the Code of Federal Regulations, this new proposal will impact all dimension stone industry businesses that mine and process natural stone containing silica by increasing compliance costs and likely jeopardizing jobs.

In an effort to join with other industries affected by this proposal and to respond to OSHA with one voice, the NSC joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). The CISC is comprised of several industry trade associations whose members represent thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of working men and women.

one2Arguments against the proposal:

1. Data on silicosis cases does not show a need to modify the present PEL. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that the incidence of silica-related deaths declined by 93% from 1968 to 2007 under the current silica PEL. OSHA says a reduced PEL is needed and estimates that the change will save 700 lives per year and reduce the number of silicosis cases by 1600 per year. It is estimated that over 50% of businesses with airborne silica exposure have never been tested. How can the current PEL be deemed inadequate if it is not known whether or not the majority of the regulated businesses are in compliance?

2. OSHA has underestimated the compliance costs for affected businesses. Figures presented by OSHA estimate the rule will cost industry approximately $640 million to implement (an estimated cost of $550.00 per year for a business with fewer than 20 employees), and provide $3-5 billion in benefits. The American Chemistry Council estimates an implementation cost of $5.5 billion with $1.1 billion in lost revenue, and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition estimates the cost to implement at $1-2 billion with $700 million in benefits. Given the requirements of the new PEL, it appears that the Department of Labor has underestimated the cost to implement the change. If these figures are incorrect, the credibility of the entire OSHA report and proposal comes into question. The need for any federal rule change needs to be based on accurate data.

In addition to the cost of compliance, new regulations take away capital essential for expansion and/or improvement. While safety is vital, regulations that are not correlated to specifically-quantified diseases and/or injuries make U.S. companies less competitive in the global market.

3. There are serious questions about whether or not available sampling equipment and analytical methods can produce accurate results for the proposed limits. Evironomics, Inc. and the URS Corporation advised the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that measuring exposure to a 50 microgram PEL would be “impossible.” The testing methods for measuring silica concentrations below 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air are not accurate, and the margin of error is almost equal to the proposed PEL. How can compliance be determined if the technology does not exist to accurately determine the exposure level?

Proposed solutions:

1. OSHA should indefinitely extend the comment period until their extensive report can be fully studied to determine the accuracy of the data. 135 days is not enough time to do this and address all questions.

2. To determine the true cost of the proposed PEL, and whether or not it is actually needed, we recommend these steps.

  • First – perform an industry-wide analysis and investigation as to the actual number of businesses that present a silica exposure to their employees. Ascertain how many of these businesses have been inspected, and how many have silica-dust containment and controls in place for their workers. Quantify the number of businesses that potentially do not have controls in place or have never been inspected to establish the real effectiveness of the current PEL.
  • Second – the Department of Labor should publish detailed information on actual diagnosed silicosis cases in OSHA-regulated businesses that were using proven engineering controls and NIOSH-recommended respirators.
  • Third – OSHA should work with the stone industry to determine accurate costs of implementing the proposal.

3. Conduct independently-verified, risk-assessment studies to determine the true risks of silicosis in a compliant workplace. OSHA is obligated to provide the “best available evidence” on any new proposal, and this guideline must be followed. Sound decisions must be based on accurate information.

4. The NSC offers to work with OSHA (and MSHA) for practical and cost-effective crystalline silica regulation based on sound and proven data that will improve the safety and health protection of workers.

The dimension stone industry is a major part of the nation’s economy. According to recent Department of Labor figures, 4,380 stone quarries directly employed 35,248 workers, and 2,125 fabrication facilities directly employed 23,666 workers. Additional indirect employment is estimated to be greater than 100,000 people with a total estimated payroll for the industry approaching $4 billion annually. It is the Natural Stone Council’s belief that our government should be responsive to the needs and concerns of this industry.

Formed in 2003, the NSC unites a diverse industry of natural stone producers by bringing together the various natural stone associations to actively promote the attributes of natural stone. The NSC is funded entirely through donations. To learn about the NSC, its initiatives, and to pledge support, visit Duke Pointer, executive director, can be contacted at [email protected].

Business Tip – February 2014


mapei_sponsorLeadership and Management:
working together for your good

By Wally Adamchik, president, FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

wally_adamchikYou remember the commercial, “Tastes great, less filling?” The one about the beer that tasted great and didn’t fill you up – combining two fine qualities into one beer.

In your business, you also need to demonstrate multiple abilities. Whether you are just getting started or have been in business for decades, to be successful in business today, a combination of both leadership and management skills is required.

That sounds easy, but there is one problem: leadership and management are two separate skills. I once had a speaker before me at a convention assert that they are arch enemies. I took the stage after him and totally disagreed. I contend that they are intimate allies.

To understand the difference, we first need to change them. Leadership is about change for better results; it challenges the status quo and looks at the long term. It is about people. Management is about consistency for better results; it maintains the status quo, focusing on short-term results; it maintains the status quo, focusing on short-term results. It is about structures and procedures. Leadership and management seem to contradict each other but they don’t.

Skills can be learned

Usually, when we think of leaders, we consider larger-than-life historical figures and we don’t include ourselves. Give yourself some credit. You can lead too. Take a look at the things leaders do. Ultimately, these things revolve around “soft skills.” These intangibles do not come naturally to many people in construction. It is not how you are wired. The critical few things that leaders do are set direction, align resources, and motivate and inspire people. These are skills that can be learned.

Management, on the other hand, is about “hard skills.” Management focuses on the business of the business, the black and white, not the gray. It involves planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and measuring. There are far more managers than leaders. Even though these skills are essential to the success of any business, they are not instinctive either.

One of the best tools at your disposal for leading and managing in the field is the daily huddle. Done well, this short but important investment of time insures high production for the day. Done poorly, it is a waste of time that simply puts the crew farther behind. Ideally, the huddle is a conversation about production targets and techniques, safety issues and overall opportunities for improvement from the day before. The huddle sets the direction for the day, gets the crew working together and gives a goal to shoot for.

Research shows, and experience confirms, that the higher you go in the organization the more you must lead. In fact, depending on the size of the firm you might be leading 50% of the time if you are the president. Very large firms will see that number move to 80%. Conversely, at the crew level we expect to see 80% management and 20% leadership. The sad fact is that we don’t see much leading at the crew level. We see orders being given and plenty of controlling and problem-solving but precious little motivating and aligning.

Rather than being mutually exclusive, these two skills are, in fact, interdependent. The successful tile business person of the future must respond to the new reality. The labor situation is not getting any better. Just because you were good once doesn’t mean you will continue to be successful today. Customers are more demanding, there is no labor waiting on the bench, and margins are thin. However, the person who can blend the seemingly contradictory skills of management and leadership is poised to bring their company into a more competitive and profitable position.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at to NTCA members. Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about how the NTCA/FirestarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Ask the Experts – February 2014

SponsoredbyLaticreteIf you are seeking technical help on a project, expert members and staff at NTCA are at the ready to provide you with the information you need to create a successful, enduring and beautiful install for your clients. Residential or commercial, interior or exterior, feel free to email
[email protected] to get your questions answered and gain valuable professional support for your project.

Here’s an example of a NTCA member reaching out to the network at NTCA for clarification on installing tile over stucco.


0214_AtE_stuccohouseI would like some feedback on a project for one of my designers.

We have an exterior stucco home on which the designers want to install a chiseled-edge, travertine stone accent in three front areas where the windows are. We plan on doing a modular pattern with 8”x8,” 8”x16,” 16”x16” and 16”x24” pieces, 3/8” thick.

The stucco is in great shape – it’s just been pressure washed. My only reservation is that I am not sure if the stucco is painted or if the color is in the finish. There’s no way to find out from builder, as they are no longer in business!

Any ideas would be welcome.


Many manufacturers allow installation over sound stucco, and yes, the caveat is that it must NOT be painted. Since you will be tiling over areas, choose one (or all) that will receive tile and do a small demo of the existing stucco. You don’t need a very large piece (maybe 1”x1”x1/4” thick) that will allow you to determine if the stucco is solid color throughout. Pulverize a portion of your piece to see. Generally, a solid color throughout indicates unpainted stucco, but check for a skin of paint on your sample piece.

Michael WhistlerNTCA technical consultant and presenter

My advice is to reach out to your local installation material manufacturer rep and have him specify the means of setting the stone. I often use my manufacturer reps in the same capacity and have them write the specification. This should protect you in the event of a failure. The tricky part with this is determining whether the color is mixed into the stucco or is it painted. I’m sure there are ways to determine such. Good luck and hope all is well!

Buck Collins, Collins Tile & Stone, Aldie, Va., NTCA Five Star Contractor

Can you use a grinder with a diamond blade and scarify the face? If you can, this is a good bet no matter what the coating is. There are also wire wheels that can be attached to a grinder that are not as invasive as a diamond blade. Buck is right: get a system from a manufacturer that will stand behind their product. Hope this helps.

John Cox, Cox Tile, San Antonio, Texas, NTCA Five Star Contractor

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