thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
Biden Picks Former Union Leaders for Secretary of Labor, Acting OSHA Director
In January, President Biden chose Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, as his nominee for Secretary of Labor. Walsh was first elected as mayor in 2013 and won reelection in 2017. Before serving as mayor, Walsh was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1997 through 2014. A member of the Laborers’ Union Local 223, Walsh served as the union’s president and as secretary-treasurer, general agent, and ultimately head of the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council, an umbrella group of local construction unions. He resigned from his union leadership positions prior to his first mayoral campaign in 2013. Walsh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was scheduled for Feb. 4, after this issue of The Synergist went to press. If confirmed by the full Senate, Walsh would be the first union member to serve as Secretary of Labor since the 1970s. Assuming Walsh is confirmed, his occupational health and safety priorities as Secretary of Labor are expected to include developing an emergency standard for COVID-19, augmenting OSHA’s enforcement program, and reinstating the OSHA rule requiring some employers to report detailed employee injury and illness information to the agency, according to an article ( on the website of Fisher Phillips, a provider of workplace solutions for employers. More information about Walsh can be found on the City of Boston website. Biden also selected AIHA member Jim Frederick as acting administrator of OSHA. Frederick previously served 24 years as assistant director of Health and Safety for the United Steelworkers before retiring in 2019. According to USW, Frederick’s testimony to congressional panels and federal agencies contributed to progress on hazards such as workplace violence, beryllium, and silica, and led to improvements in hazard communication and ergonomics. Frederick has held several positions within occupational health and safety organizations, agencies, and standards committees. Most recently Frederick was a consultant with ORCHSE Strategies, a health and safety services firm. He served on the NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors and the ANSI Z10 committee for the U.S. national standard for occupational health and safety management systems. He also participated on the U.S. committee for ISO 45001, the first global occupational health and safety standard. Frederick’s other appointments include service on the NIOSH National Occupational Research Agenda Traumatic Injury Prevention Council, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program National Clearinghouse Advisory Committee, and the OSHA Metal Working Fluids Standard Advisory Committee. Frederick has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Health (Industrial Hygiene) from Purdue University and a master’s in Environmental Health and Safety Management from Rochester Institute of Technology. According to Bloomberg Law, Frederick is one of several Biden appointees who will fill roles within the Labor Department on an interim basis to address urgent issues until permanent appointments are made. As of early February, Biden had not yet appointed an OSHA chief. OSHA has been without a permanent administrator since David Michaels resigned in 2017. President Trump nominated Scott Mugno, a FedEx executive, to succeed Michaels, but Mugno’s confirmation hearing in the Senate faced extensive delays. Mugno withdrew from consideration in May 2019.
EPA Updates Tool for Evaluating Carcinogenic Potential
EPA has released an updated version of OncoLogic, a publicly accessible online tool that uses rule sets based on cancer studies in humans and animals as well as information provided by users to estimate the carcinogenic potential of chemicals. According to EPA, the new version 9.0 of OncoLogic provides a streamlined user interface, a standardized reporting format intended to allow users to quickly view and export results, and additional transparency related to the science behind the tool’s predictions. Version 9.0 is equipped to evaluate organic chemicals, the largest group of chemicals in the OncoLogic system. The preceding version 8.0 remains available and for analysis of fibers, metals, and polymers. OncoLogic is peer-reviewed and designed to help researchers and organizations evaluate the cancer potential of chemicals. For more information or to download the tool, refer to EPA’s press release or the OncoLogic website.
NIOSH Fact Sheet Examines Potential Hazard Related to SCBA
A new fact sheet (PDF) released by NIOSH discusses a potential hazard associated with the rapid filling of compressed breathing air cylinders. The fact sheet is part of a series titled “Personal Protective Equipment Conformity Assessment Studies and Evaluations Notes” or “PPE CASE Notes,” which aims to inform respirator users about common themes or trends identified by NIOSH through processes related to agency-approved respirators. The potential hazard described in the new document was identified by NIOSH’s Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP), which tracks issues regarding self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). FFFIPP found that the practice of rapidly filling—also known as “hot filling”—compressed breathing air cylinders can result in lower operating pressures after the compressed air cools. This decreases the amount of breathing air for firefighters using the cylinders if they are not properly topped off.
NIOSH’s fact sheet describes best practices for the use of SCBA cylinders, which include filling cylinders to the proper operating pressure and at the proper fill rate according to manufacturers’ guidelines. NIOSH also advises fire departments to ensure that personnel know SCBA and compressor manufacturers’ guidance regarding the hazards of overfilling a cylinder; develop and use standard operating procedures for achieving full breathing air capacity; and ensure that all compressor and cascade system operators are properly trained and qualified per manufacturer guidelines and departmental respiratory protection programs.
More information can be found on NIOSH’s website and in a previous AIHA news article announcing the PPE CASE Notes series.
EPA Finalizes Rules on Exposures to Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals
EPA has released a set of final rules under the Toxic Substances Control Act that will reduce exposures to five chemicals considered to be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT). The final rules limit or prohibit the manufacture, processing, and commercial distribution of decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE); phenol, isoproylated phosphate (PIP 3:1); 2,4,6-tris(tert-butyl) phenol (2,4,6-TTBP); hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD); and pentachlorothiophenol (PCTP). PBT chemicals are of particular concern because of their ability to remain in the environment for long periods of time and to accumulate in the human body, in addition to their toxicity.
DecaBDE is a flame retardant used in televisions, computers, audio and visual equipment, textiles and upholstery, and wire and cable coverings. PIP 3:1 is a plasticizer, flame retardant, and anti-wear and anti-compressibility additive used in various industrial lubricants, fluids, oils, coatings, greases, and sealants. 2,4,6-TTBP is a reactant used in producing fuel-related additives. HCBD is a byproduct made during chlorinated hydrocarbons manufacture. PCTP is used to make rubber more pliable.
These chemicals also have been found to produce harmful effects to the environment, including plant life and wildlife, and on the human body, such as the potential to cause cancer. The EPA website provides a table of the exact health effects associated with each chemical and actions the agency will take to manage risks. Additional information can be found in EPA’s press release.
EPA and OSHA to Collaborate on Review of New Chemicals
EPA and OSHA announced on Jan. 12 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that provides guidelines for communication between the agencies related to Section 5 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which outlines what EPA must do when a new chemical notice is submitted.
Although it is EPA’s responsibility to make risk determinations pertaining to new chemical substances or significant new uses of chemicals, EPA often communicates with OSHA to obtain input on occupational exposures. The new MOU designates points of contact for staff and management from each agency to discuss and resolve workplace exposure issues related to EPA’s review of new chemicals, documents EPA’s role in notifying OSHA of the need for formal consultations, and outlines a process for keeping OSHA up to date with EPA’s new chemical determinations.
More information can be found in the official MOU document (PDF) and EPA’s press release announcing the agreement.
Workshop Highlights Respiratory Hazards for “Nontraditional Workers” and General Public
Hazards such as wildland fires, air pollution, and infectious diseases are “growing threats to the respiratory safety of many nontraditional workers and members of the general public,” according to a new publication released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “Nontraditional workers” include individuals who perform job tasks outside of a formal respiratory protection program (workers in restaurants, retail, correctional facilities, grocery stores, schools, and meatpacking facilities, for example).
The publication describes concerns that current systems and processes for respiratory protection do not immediately address the emerging threats. Discussion of these and other issues related to the assessment of respiratory protective devices (RPDs) for both occupational and nonoccupational uses are summarized in the new publication, which details the proceedings of a virtual workshop convened by the National Academies’ Standing Committee on Personal Protective Equipment for Workplace Safety and Health. The August 2020 workshop was intended to examine the current respirator approval process and consider gaps in respiratory protection for outdoor workers and the public.
Workshop participants discussed topics including current practices of the NIOSH respirator approval program and conformity assessment (CA) processes for respirators; whether the respiratory protection needs of underserved groups are served by current standards and assessment programs; and opportunities to improve the communication of respiratory protection guidance to users and other stakeholders. Discussions also addressed respiratory risks and user requirements for the public.
A free PDF of the full publication is available from the National Academies Press.
CDC Releases Employer Toolkit for COVID-19 Vaccine Communication
As states begin to vaccinate essential workers against COVID-19, a new toolkit from CDC is intended to help employers communicate relevant information to their employees. The toolkit consists of a variety of free, publicly available, downloadable resources—including slides, FAQ sheets, posters, graphics, sample social media posts, and more—that employers can use to construct a communication plan for informing essential workers of the benefits of receiving the vaccine and for addressing questions and concerns.
CDC recommends that employers adapt the resources in the toolkit using language, tones, and formats that will fit and resonate with their organizations. For example, templates can be customized and emailed to employees to introduce vaccine programs, posters and FAQs can be posted in visible locations or used as handouts, and the sample slides can provide the basis for virtual or in-person presentations.
The toolkit includes key messages (PDF) that summarize important vaccine-related information that essential workers must learn and employers must be able to convey. CDC’s key messages discuss how vaccines are an effective tool for stopping the pandemic; how the federal government is working to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines; the availability of a health checker smartphone app for people who receive the vaccines; the possibility of mild side effects from COVID-19 vaccination; and the need for vaccinated individuals to continue to wear masks and socially distance for now.
Visit CDC’s website to access the toolkit. The agency intends to update the toolkit and add materials.
NIOSH Compiles Resources on Respiratory Protection
NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) has published two new webpages dealing with elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMRs), a type of reusable air-purifying respirator that uses replaceable cartridges or filters. One of NPPTL’s new webpages compiles information about these respirators, describes challenges and benefits related to the devices’ use, and links to studies relating to EHMRs as well as other resources.
The other webpage summarizes research on respirator exhalation valves, which are found on some types of respirators, including EHMRs. According to NPPTL, respirators with exhalation valves are believed to be more comfortable for wearers and better suited for longer periods of use, but CDC does not recommend their use in some medical settings because the valve can introduce unfiltered exhaled air into the surrounding area. NIOSH is conducting research into these respirators’ ability to prevent disease transmission.
More information about respiratory protection is available from NPPTL’s website.
Executive Orders Address COVID-19 Control Measures in the Workplace
Several executive orders signed by President Joe Biden during his first week in office address the health, safety, and well-being of American workers. Two executive orders in particular focus on protecting the general and federal workforces from COVID-19.
The Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety describes the administration’s policy to protect workers from COVID-19 and states that the federal government “must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.” The executive order calls on the Secretary of Labor to issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the pandemic; determine the necessity of emergency temporary standards on COVID-19; review OSHA’s enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 and identify any changes that could better protect workers; and focus OSHA enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at risk for COVID-19. If emergency temporary standards are found to be necessary, the order directs the standards to be issued by March 15. The executive order also requests that the Department of Labor conduct a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers of their rights and directs the Labor Secretary to coordinate and consult with state governments to protect categories of workers not covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act during the pandemic.
The Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing states the Biden Administration’s intent to require mask-wearing, physical distancing, and other COVID-19 precautions recommended by CDC among all federal employees, federal contractors, and other individuals in federal buildings and on federal land. The order directs all federal departments and agencies to comply with all CDC guidelines related to COVID-19 and states that they must consult with all other parties that interact with the federal government to implement this action. Exceptions to the enforcement of certain CDC-recommended COVID-19 safety precautions are permitted, but agencies must implement appropriate alternatives. Federal agencies are directed to provide masks for all individuals in federal buildings, and the Health Secretary must work with the COVID-19 Response Coordinator and other agency heads to promote mask-wearing and other public health measures nationwide.
Other new executive orders are also relevant to occupational health. The Executive Order on Establishing the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board and Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats calls for the creation of a national COVID-19 testing program to carry out national contact tracing and vaccination efforts, prioritizing healthcare workers and other essential workers. And the Executive Order on a Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain directs federal departments and agencies to increase the supply and distribution of pandemic response supplies, including personal protective equipment.
The full text of all executive orders and other presidential actions is available from the White House briefing room webpage.
EPA Finalizes Risk Evaluation of Chrysotile Asbestos
EPA’s final risk evaluation for chrysotile asbestos identifies several “unreasonable risks” to workers and others associated with exposure to asbestos. According to the agency, health risks include mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancers from chronic inhalation of chrysotile asbestos.
The document describes how workers, consumers, and bystanders could be adversely affected by asbestos under certain conditions of use. Uses that pose unreasonable risks to workers include processing and industrial or commercial use of diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry, use and disposal of aftermarket automotive brakes and linings in commercial settings, sheet gaskets used in chemical production, industrial or commercial use and disposal of brake blocks in the oil industry, and commercial use and disposal of other vehicle friction products. Most consumer products containing chrysotile asbestos have been discontinued, but products such as aftermarket automotive brakes and linings and certain gaskets remain available and pose unreasonable risks to consumers, EPA says.
EPA urges workers and others who use asbestos products to follow label and safety data sheet instructions, adhere to applicable workplace regulations, and use appropriate personal protective equipment.
The final risk evaluation lists 16 conditions of use of chrysotile asbestos that EPA says do not present unreasonable risks. These uses include the import of chrysotile asbestos and chrysotile asbestos-containing products, the distribution of products containing chrysotile asbestos, and the disposal of chrysotile asbestos-containing sheet gaskets processed or used in an industrial setting.
Under Toxic Substances Control Act legislation, EPA has two years to finalize actions to address the unreasonable risks identified in its final risk evaluation of chrysotile asbestos. The agency’s press release states that “EPA is moving immediately to risk management for chrysotile asbestos and will work as quickly as possible to propose and finalize actions to protect against unreasonable risk.” EPA’s proposed actions could include regulation of how chrysotile asbestos is used. The agency may also limit or prohibit the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of chrysotile asbestos.
EPA plans to publish a second part of the risk evaluation for asbestos for public comment in mid-2021. It will consider chrysotile and five other fiber types of asbestos: crocidolite (riebeckite), amosite (cummingtonite-grunerite), anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.
Part 2 of the asbestos risk evaluation is required by a November 2019 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In Safer Chemicals Healthy Families v. EPA, the court determined that EPA must evaluate legacy uses of asbestos and associated disposals. According to EPA, the agency will begin Part 2 with a draft scope document that will be available to the public in mid-2021.
OSHA’s New Employer Penalty Plan Now in Effect
OSHA has implemented a new initiative intended to improve the collection of citation penalties. Effective since Dec. 23, 2020, the agency will now send a series of three letters to establishments delinquent on paying the financial penalty charged to employers who receive a citation during an OSHA workplace inspection. The three letters will be sent seven, 30, and 60 days after the payment comes due. OSHA will also contact establishments by phone 14 days after the due date. Establishments that fail to pay the penalty and are not on an affordable payment plan will be placed on a priority list for further inspection. In addition, OSHA will now collect employer identification numbers prior to inspecting an establishment.
According to OSHA, this new procedure increases the likelihood that employers who receive citations pay their penalties promptly. It is part of a broader effort to improve debt collection across the U.S. Department of Labor and allows for outstanding debts to be more quickly referred to the Department of Justice, if necessary.
For more information, refer to OSHA’s press release regarding the rule. The full text of the final rule is available from the Federal Register.
Researcher and Physician Rochelle Walensky Named CDC Director
Dr. Rochelle Walensky was sworn in as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 20. A practicing physician, Dr. Walensky was previously chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Walensky is best known for her HIV/AIDS research and advocacy—particularly for using model-based analyses to find cost-effective HIV testing, care, and prevention strategies applicable to both domestic and international HIV/AIDS policy. She has chaired the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes for Health and served as an advisor to the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Dr. Walensky is a member of the U.S. Health Department’s Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents.
More information about Dr. Walensky can be found in a profile published in The Lancet. Other top health-related personnel in President Biden’s administration include California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, who held the same position under Barack Obama.