thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Proposes Nearly $1 Million in Employer Penalties for Fatal Nitrogen Release
In connection to a Jan. 28, 2021, liquid nitrogen release at a Gainesville, Georgia, poultry processing plant that left six workers dead and at least 12 injured, OSHA has cited plant operator Foundation Food Group Inc. and three of its contractors for a combined 59 violations and a proposed $998,637 in penalties. During a press briefing held by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on July 23, Kurt Petermeyer, the OSHA regional administrator based in Atlanta, explained that the liquid nitrogen release occurred after a freezer at the plant malfunctioned. While employees tried to address the malfunction, the freezer began to leak liquid nitrogen, resulting first in the deaths of three maintenance workers. A maintenance lead, a plant superintendent, and a quality control technician then died—two in an attempt to rescue the endangered maintenance workers and one on the way to the hospital. All deaths were the result of asphyxia. A dozen other workers were hospitalized. OSHA Atlanta’s East Area office initiated an investigation on the day of the release, in collaboration with the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). In the course of the investigation, OSHA determined that Foundation Food Group and the contractors working at the plant violated multiple agency standards. A press release published just before the DOL briefing stated that Foundation Food Group had been cited for 26 of the 59 violations, including six willful violations for exposing workers to thermal injuries and suffocation hazards; failing to develop, document, and use lockout procedures; not informing workers that liquid nitrogen—an asphyxiate—was used in the freezer; failing to train workers on the detection of nitrogen; failing to inform workers of the hazards of liquid nitrogen; and not training workers on the emergency procedures they could have taken to protect themselves. Foundation Food Group has also been cited to pay $595,474 in penalties. The investigation also determined that Foundation Food Group “displayed indifference to OSHA regulations when their position of safety manager was left unfilled for more than one and a half years,” Petermeyer said. OSHA’s press release provides more information on Foundation Food Group’s additional violations and those of three contracting companies with employees at the plant: Messer LLC, which delivered nitrogen; Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd., which provided cleaning and sanitation services; and FS Group Inc., which provided equipment and mechanical servicing. Citations for these companies include those for obstructed egress routes, failure to implement a written permit program for confined spaces, failure to coordinate with the host employer and other contractors, and additional failures to train workers on the hazards of liquid nitrogen. Following the briefing, DOL clarified that Packers Sanitation Services and FS Group were not directly involved in the nitrogen release. DOL staff also mentioned the existence of additional ongoing investigations at Foundation Food Group’s poultry processing plants and discussed OSHA’s difficulties with interviewing workers during the investigation, due to fear of coercion and retaliation from their employer, including the threat of deportation for workers who were undocumented immigrants. The Gainesville Times reported on Aug. 25 that Messer LLC had reached a settlement with OSHA and that the other companies were contesting the citations. More information can be found in the DOL press release.
Proposed NIOSH Study Would Examine Use of EHMRs During Pandemic
A project proposed by NIOSH would use surveys and interviews to study how elastomeric half-mask respirators are being perceived and used by healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. EHMRs, tight-fitting respirators made of synthetic or rubber material, can be repeatedly disinfected, cleaned, and reused. Elastomeric respirators are identified by CDC as alternatives to disposable half-mask filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95s, for augmenting the supply of respirators available for use in healthcare settings during the COVID-19 pandemic. NIOSH’s proposed project would focus on assessing the integration of EHMRs in healthcare and first responder settings. The study results would inform updates and improvements to best practices and implementation guidelines for EHMRs, with the goal of reducing shortages of personal protective equipment. The proposed project is further described in a Federal Register notice.
New Draft Toxicological Profile for Acetone Published
A new draft toxicological profile for acetone is now available for review and public comment from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to ATSDR’s information sheet on acetone, workers in certain industries such as commercial painting, plastic manufacturing, household cleaning, and beauty salons may be exposed to higher levels of acetone in the air in the workplace. Signs of moderate exposure include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Breathing high amounts of acetone during a short period of time can result in headaches, confusion, nausea, racing pulse, and unconsciousness. Skin contact with acetone can cause dryness, irritation, and cracking. Studies of long-term acetone exposure in animals have shown effects such as kidney, liver, and nerve damage; birth defects; and male infertility. ATSDR notes that it is not known if long-term exposure to the chemical affects humans similarly.
The draft toxicological profile for acetone is available for download from the ATSDR website. New draft toxicological profiles for aldrin and dieldrin, chlorophenols, 3,3'-dichlorobenzidineare, disulfoton, and pentachlorophenol are also available. Comments are due by Oct. 27.
ATSDR toxicological profiles characterize the toxicologic and health information for hazardous substances and identify and review the literature describing a substance's toxicological properties. Information on the potential for human exposure; chemical and physical properties; regulations and guidelines; and production, import, use, and disposal can also be found in ATSDR’s toxicological profiles. A full list of toxic substances with published profiles is available on the agency’s website.
Updated OSHA Guidance for COVID-19 Aims to Protect Unvaccinated, At-Risk Workers
OSHA has published updated guidance that focuses on helping employers protect unvaccinated and other at-risk workers from the coronavirus. According to the agency, the changes to its guidance are intended to reflect updated recommendations for fully vaccinated people related to masks and testing published by CDC on July 27. CDC currently recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission and be tested three to five days after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Similarly, OSHA’s latest guidance recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks to protect unvaccinated workers. The agency also recommends that fully vaccinated workers wear masks for up to 14 days following close contact with someone infected with SARS-CoV-2 unless the workers test negative for the coronavirus at least three to five days after such contact.
The updated OSHA guidance further describes measures for protecting those in higher-risk workplaces where workers have prolonged close contact with others and where workers’ vaccination status varies. Higher-risk industries include manufacturing; meat, seafood, and poultry processing; high-volume retail and grocery; and agricultural processing.
“Vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers,” OSHA states, but adds that employers should also “implement multi-layered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.”
For further details, see OSHA’s press release and updated guidance.
NIOSH, OSHA Revise Small Business Safety and Health Handbook
NIOSH and OSHA have partnered to revise the Small Business Safety and Health Handbook, a guide that offers information on implementing workplace safety and health programs for small business employers. The handbook includes self-inspection checklists that employers can use to identify hazards for various work processes in general industry workplaces, including fire protection, hazard communication, and respiratory protection as well as issues related to permit-required confined spaces and walking-working surfaces. Another section of the handbook covers OSHA and NIOSH resources that can help employers control hazards in their workplaces, such as OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. Other information focuses on whistleblower protection laws, training provided by OSHA’s education centers, and professional occupational safety and health associations with local chapters open to small businesses.
For more information and to download a PDF of the handbook, see OSHA’s news release.
EPA Retires Temporary Guidance for Pesticide Handlers
Effective Aug. 19, EPA has terminated its temporary guidance on respiratory protection for agricultural pesticide handlers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency cites improvements in access to NIOSH-approved respirators, fit-testing supplies, and related services as the basis for its decision. EPA stated it would revert to practices employed prior to the public health emergency.
EPA’s temporary guidance, published in June 2020, provided strategies to address the limited availability of respiratory protection options for pesticide handlers in the agricultural sector earlier in the pandemic. At the time, increased demand for respirators to protect healthcare workers, fit-testing service closures, and supply chain issues affected the availability of personal protective equipment, fit testing, and chemicals required for respirator fit testing. A related amendment published by EPA in May 2021 extended the option to delay annual fit testing for agricultural pesticide handlers. However, EPA is sunsetting both the June 2020 temporary guidance and the May 2021 amendment in their entireties.
EPA’s memorandum addressing the termination of this guidance can be found on the agency’s website (PDF). Additional COVID-19 enforcement and compliance resources are also available.
NIOSH Announces Temp Worker Partnership
A partnership agreement between NIOSH and the American Staffing Association (ASA), in effect through Jan. 2025, seeks to advance the protection of temporary workers. NIOSH explains that the partnership is intended to “encourage staffing companies and host employers to develop and utilize safety and health management programs and effective prevention strategies and technologies.” ASA is an organization focused on the staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry in the United States.
NIOSH and ASA plan to explore areas for joint research related to temporary workers and to increase outreach to staffing companies and host employers with information on the recognition and prevention of workplace hazards. NIOSH, ASA, and others have been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that temporary workers who do essential work are provided the same protections and access to vaccines as non-temporary workers.
The National Occupational Research Agenda Services Sector Council is developing new recommended practices for host employers to better protect temporary workers. NIOSH and ASA will disseminate these recommendations once they are complete.
See NIOSH's news update and OSHA's website for further information.
ECHA to Recommend Monitoring Approaches for PAHs
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been tasked by the European Commission to identify and assess approaches to monitoring exposure to combinations of different polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). CDC describes PAHs as a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. According to the agency, people are typically exposed to mixtures of PAHs, and workers in industries or trades using or producing coal or coal products are at the highest risk for PAH exposure.
ECHA will use information it has collected on monitoring different PAHs to recommend the most appropriate approach, including whether an airborne occupational exposure limit for benzo(a)pyrene, one example of a PAH, is a “suitable marker” of overall exposure to PAHs. The agency will also explore whether an OEL should be complemented by other limits, including biological limit values, biological guidance values, or notations.
Following a scoping study to assess the most appropriate approach for monitoring different PAHs, ECHA will move on to recommending an OEL. The agency intends to request further information from the scientific community at that time.
See ECHA’s website for further details about the agency’s efforts related to PAHs.
NIOSH Extends Comment Period on PPE Use for Underserved User Populations
NIOSH has extended until Oct. 15 the public comment period regarding its request for information (RFI) on needs and challenges related to the use of personal protective equipment among U.S. worker populations who are underserved when it comes to PPE use, availability, accessibility, acceptability, or knowledge. A June 24 Federal Register notice explains that NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory will research the needs of these PPE user populations, which include groups such as workers who are of an atypical size; who are members of a gender, racial, ethnic, or linguistic minority group; who conduct non-traditional activities; or who are members of sub-disciplines that are not the primary focus of the current PPE activities within their field.
NIOSH encourages comments from workers who have experienced issues related to PPE use and individuals and organizations with direct knowledge about research, service, or policy gaps affecting these worker populations. AIHA submitted comments on July 16 (PDF), followed by additional feedback submitted on Aug. 16 (PDF) by AIHA’s Women in IH Committee.
For more information, see the original notice and the extension in the Federal Register.
OSHA Updates Tree Care Enforcement Guidance, Considers Potential Rulemaking
A memorandum issued on June 24 by OSHA updates its enforcement guidance for compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) when inspecting tree care and removal operations. The updated guidance highlights some of the hazards faced by workers engaged in tree care and removal and informs CSHOs about OSHA standards that address those hazards.
The memo cancels OSHA’s previous tree care directive, which was issued in August 2008. The new guidance contains subparts that cover protection from falls and falling objects; climbing trees and performing work while elevated; using personal protective equipment; electrical safety; storing, handling, transporting, and using flammable liquids; occupational noise exposures; materials handling and storage; hand-held power tools; machinery; first aid provision; fire extinguishers; and traffic safety.
A July press release states that OSHA is considering a proposed tree care standard, which would protect workers who prune, repair, maintain, or remove trees, and address the safe use of tools and equipment in the tree care industry. In spring 2020, OSHA convened a Small Business Advocacy Review panel to listen to the concerns expressed by representatives of small businesses and government entities that would potentially be affected. According to a timetable published in the Department of Labor’s spring 2021 regulatory agenda, OSHA intends to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2022. More information on the potential tree care operation standard can be found in the fact sheet (PDF) provided for the 2020 panel.
Health Canada Finds No “Health Risks of Concern” in Masks Containing Graphene
Health Canada, the Canadian federal department responsible for national public health, has allowed the sale of four mask models containing graphene to resume, following a risk assessment and review of scientific literature prompted by earlier concerns that inhalable graphene particles may pose health risks to mask wearers. An update published on July 13 states that the department “found no health risks of concern with these products” and that “biomass graphene particles are not shed from these masks in quantities that are likely to cause adverse lung effects.” Health Canada’s previous advisory, issued on April 2, urged individuals not to use face masks that contain graphene, a novel nanomaterial. The department removed the graphene-containing masks from the market as a “precautionary approach” while it conducted its assessment.
Health Canada’s update states that the filtration performance of the four graphene-containing mask models meets the standard listed on their labels. While graphene is reported to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, the department did not find evidence that these masks provide additional antimicrobial or antiviral protection.
At this time, no additional graphene masks are permitted for sale in Canada. Health Canada stresses that risks associated with using graphene masks may vary depending on mask design. The department requires companies that wish to sell graphene masks in Canada to provide evidence demonstrating their models’ safety and effectiveness.
CSB Releases Safety Video on 2019 Toxic Gas Release
A safety video published by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) focuses on a release of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas that occurred on Oct. 26, 2019, at an Aghorn Operating waterflood station near Odessa, Texas. The release fatally injured an Aghorn pump worker responding to an alarm at the station and his spouse, who entered the station through unlocked gates to search for the worker later that evening. CSB’s video explains the facility’s operation and the events leading to the gas release and includes segments from interviews with Katherine Lemos, CSB chairperson, and Lauren Grim, the agency’s lead investigator.
The video, titled “Silent Killer: Hydrogen Sulfide Release in Odessa, Texas,” highlights six safety issues identified by CSB’s investigation as causing or contributing to the two people’s deaths. First, although the pump worker possessed a personal hydrogen sulfide detection device, he did not wear it on the night of the incident and Aghorn did not require its use. Second, at the time of the incident, Aghorn did not have a written lockout/tagout policy, so the worker did not disconnect the pump from its power source before performing work on it to address the cause of the alarm. The pump then automatically activated and released water containing hydrogen sulfide gas while the worker was in the pump house.
The third safety issue was the lack of ventilation in the pump house, which prevented the toxic gas from being exhausted. Fourth, CSB found that Aghorn lacked an effective safety management program. Fifth, the waterflood station’s hydrogen sulfide detection and alarm system was nonfunctional on the night of the incident. Finally, CSB determined that Aghorn’s informal policy was for pump workers to leave access gates unlocked while working at waterflood stations, a deficiency in site security that allowed the pump worker’s spouse to enter the facility.
In an executive summary accompanying the video, CSB recommends seven actions for Aghorn to take to address the listed safety issues. Additionally, CSB recommends for federal OSHA to issue a document addressing requirements for protecting workers from hazardous air contaminants and for the Railroad Commission of Texas to notify all oil and gas operators under its jurisdiction of the safety issues outlined in CSB’s report.
To watch the safety video, download a PDF of the executive summary, and learn more about the incident and investigation, visit CSB’s website.
The article "Managing Reproductive and Developmental Health Hazards: Elements of a Successful Workplace Program" in the August 2021 issue incorrectly stated that radiation is the only reproductive hazard governed by an OSHA standard. The digital version of the article has been updated to clarify that radiation is one of only a few reproductive hazards addressed by OSHA.
The credentials for Penney Stanch, the author of "Incorporating Equity into Workplace Health and Safety," were misstated on pages 4 and 25 of the September 2021 issue. Stanch is a CIH, CSP, and CPE. The digital version of the article has been updated.