thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA to Require COVID-19 Vaccines or Testing for Large Employers
President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan, released in September, directs OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that would require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are vaccinated against the disease or submit to weekly testing. The administration expects the new rule to affect more than 80 million workers in the private sector. Through the ETS, larger employers will also be required to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or to recover from any side effects post-vaccination. The action plan did not specify a timeline for the ETS. As of early October, when this issue of The Synergist went to press, the ETS had not been published in the Federal Register and few details about the standard had been released, including how it would be enforced, how long employers would have to meet its requirements, and who would be responsible for the costs of COVID-19 testing. Emergency temporary standards temporarily bypass the usual OSHA rulemaking process. An ETS remains in effect until superseded by a permanent standard. To issue an ETS, the agency must determine that workers are in grave danger. According to the OSHA website, once the agency publishes the ETS in the Federal Register, it serves as a proposed permanent standard subject to the usual rulemaking process except that a final ruling should be made within six months. The validity of an emergency temporary standard may be challenged in an appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals. Legal challenges to the forthcoming ETS are expected. Attorneys and others interviewed by Bloomberg Law predicted that while “constitutional challenges to imposing vaccine mandates are likely to fail,” the rule “could be vulnerable to a legal attack based on workplace safety law.” “Courts look at whether an emergency standard is necessary to protect workers from a ‘grave danger,’ though no law or regulation defines what level of hazard reaches that level,” the article explains. President Biden also issued an executive order that requires COVID-19 vaccination for federal employees, with exceptions only as required by law. A second executive order seeks to ensure adequate COVID-19 safety protocols for federal contractors. Other elements of the action plan include requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals and other healthcare settings; calling on states to adopt vaccine requirements for all school employees; providing additional funding to school districts for safe school reopening, including backfilling salaries and other funding withheld by states for implementing COVID-19 safety measures; and getting students and school staff tested regularly. AIHA supports the plan’s workplace health and safety components. Information about AIHA’s recent efforts related to the pandemic is available in a press release. The action plan noted that as of Sept. 9, nearly 80 million Americans eligible to be vaccinated—about one-quarter of the total population—had not yet received their first shot. CDC data in early October indicated that approximately 66 percent of the U.S. population over 12 years of age had been fully vaccinated. For more information about President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan, visit the White House website.
Task Force Aims to Raise Awareness of Stress, Suicide in Construction
A task force formed by OSHA is intended to raise awareness of stressors in the construction industry that can push workers into depression or toward suicide. The group comprises representatives from industry and unions as well as educators. Stressors related to construction work that may increase workers’ risk factors for suicide include the uncertainty of seasonal work, demanding schedules, and work-related injuries that are sometimes treated with opioids, explains Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, in a press release published on Aug. 24. A study described in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 2020 indicates that the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates compared to other industries. OSHA’s website features resources for suicide prevention, and a page on NIOSH’s website focuses on ways to prevent suicide in the workplace.
Two New NIOSH Fact Sheets Focus on Respirators
New fact sheets published by NIOSH help users determine whether an N95 respirator is NIOSH approved and describe filtration efficiency testing and proper fit-testing procedures for a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR). The new documents were released on Sept. 7 during NIOSH’s 2021 Respiratory Protection Week, an annual event held by the agency to highlight the importance of safeguarding workers’ respiratory health on the job.
The fact sheet on N95s includes a diagram illustrating the information required to be printed on NIOSH-approved N95 FFRs and guides users to the NIOSH Certified Equipment List to confirm testing and certification approval numbers, which are printed on NIOSH-approved respirators. The new document also describes signs that an N95 may be counterfeit and discusses misrepresentation of NIOSH approval, when respirator products are falsely marketed and sold as being approved by the agency. Common examples of respirator alterations that void NIOSH approval are also listed on the new fact sheet.
The second fact sheet explains why filtration efficiency testing and proper fit-testing procedures for FFRs are necessary for respirators to perform as expected. The document is intended to help users better understand how FFRs protect respiratory health.
More information on respiratory protection can be found on the website of NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.
OSHA to Launch Rulemaking for Workplace Standard on Heat
In September, OSHA announced plans to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on heat injury and illness prevention that covers both outdoor and indoor work settings. OSHA intends to use the ANPR to gather stakeholder feedback and technical expertise on relevant topics such as heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, exposure monitoring, and strategies to protect workers from heat hazards. The ANPR was expected to appear in the Federal Register in October, after this issue of The Synergist went to press.
OSHA also plans to form a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group and launch a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases. The goal of the new work group will be to improve understanding of challenges related to heat hazards and identify best practices for protecting workers. Earlier, OSHA established a new enforcement initiative to prioritize heat-related interventions and agency inspections of work activities on days when the heat index exceeds 80 F.
OSHA intends to complete the data review for its new NEP in time for it to take effect before summer 2022. The agency plans for the new NEP to build on an existing Regional Emphasis Program for heat illnesses, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. NEPs are temporary OSHA programs that focus the agency’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries identified using inspection, injury, and illness data; NIOSH reports; and peer-reviewed literature.
OSHA’s new enforcement initiative, which was established Sept. 1, instructs OSHA area directors to prioritize on-site inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals, and employer-reported illnesses over phone or fax investigations where possible. The inspection guidance for heat-related hazards also directs compliance safety and health officers to conduct an intervention or open an inspection when they observe employees performing strenuous work in hot conditions. More information on OSHA’s heat-related activities can be found in the agency’s press release.
NIOSH Adds New Centers of Excellence for Total Worker Health
Four new NIOSH Centers of Excellence for Total Worker Health (TWH) have opened in California, Maryland, North Carolina, and Utah, joining six existing centers.
Research at the California Labor Laboratory (CALL) focuses on challenges related to alternative work arrangements, contingent forms of employment, and the link between emergent work conditions and health outcomes. In North Carolina, research at the Carolina Center for Total Worker Health and Well-Being focuses on essential workers and other groups at high risk of negative workplace health and well-being outcomes. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Psychosocial, Organizational, and Environmental Total Worker Health Center in Mental Health—located in Maryland—focus on improving the mental health of workers. And the Utah Center for Promotion of Work Equity will study the role of power in defining work conditions.
Further details on NIOSH’s new Centers of Excellence can be found in a NIOSH news release.
EPA Plans New Rules on Five PBT Chemicals
Following a review of current rules for managing the risks of five persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals that went into effect earlier this year, EPA announced on Sept. 3 that it anticipates proposing new rules for these chemicals. The five chemicals are decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE); phenol, isopropylated phosphate (3:1) (PIP (3:1)); 2,4,6-tris(tert-butyl)phenol (2,4,6-TTBP); hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD); and pentachlorothiophenol (PCTP).
These chemicals have the potential to cause cancer and damage the neurological and reproductive systems. Like other PBT chemicals, they can remain in the environment for long periods of time and accumulate in the human body. EPA expects to propose new rules for these chemicals in 2023. Except for certain compliance provisions related to PIP (3:1), the current rules will remain in effect until new rules are finalized.
EPA is extending compliance dates related to the current rule for PIP (3:1) one year to March 8, 2022, due to unforeseen complications the rule is causing for stakeholder supply chains, the agency stated in a press release. The rule prohibits the processing and distribution of PIP (3:1) for use in articles. According to EPA, after the rule went into effect, stakeholders reported that finding alternatives to PIP (3:1) is challenging due to the complexity of international supply chains. The stakeholders did not raise these concerns during the comment period for the rule, EPA says. The agency press release explains that the extension is intended to ensure that supply chains continue uninterrupted.
In addition, EPA will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks comment on a possible further extension of the compliance dates beyond March 8, 2022.
More information is available on the EPA website.
EU Database Publishes Information on Hazardous Chemicals in Products
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) announced in September that the Substances of Concern in Products database, or SCIP, was available for public use. SCIP is the European Union’s first public database of substances of very high concern in products. The database is intended to help consumers make more informed purchasing choices by allowing them to check whether products contain hazardous chemicals and read instructions for the safe use of products. ECHA notes that waste operators can also use the data to inform the improvement and development of reuse and recycling processes.
According to ECHA, substances of very high concern, or SVHCs, may have serious effects on human health and the environment. All companies that place products containing SVHCs on the market in the EU are required to notify the agency so the products can be noted in the database. Technical data from companies on an article or product includes information to identify the item and instructions for its safe use as well as the SVHC, its location, and the type of material in which it is contained. Users can search the data by name or brand, product category, type of material, and chemical name.
Currently, lead and lead monoxide are among the most common SVHCs found in SCIP. The most common product categories in the database include machinery, measuring instruments, electronic equipment, vehicles, and parts of these products.
For more information on SCIP, see ECHA’s news release.
European Chemicals Agency to Assess Potential Exposure Limits for Cobalt
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) seeks evidence related to the scientific evaluation of occupational exposure limits for cobalt, a metal used in many industries, and inorganic cobalt compounds. Workers at risk of exposure to cobalt include those who work in metal mining, workers involved in the production or use of cutting or grinding tools, and workers at nuclear or irradiation facilities, according to NIOSH. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry warns that exposure to high levels of cobalt can result in lung and heart effects as well as dermatitis.
ECHA’s call for evidence provides stakeholders an opportunity to express their views and concerns while the agency is in the early phases of developing a scientific report on OELs for cobalt. The deadline for comments is Nov. 19.
More information and resources related to cobalt can be found on NIOSH’s website.
NIOSH Releases New Edition of Mining Dust Control Handbook
NIOSH has published the second edition of Best Practices for Dust Control in Coal Mining, which provides general information on engineering controls to limit worker exposure to respirable coal dust. Overexposure to respirable coal dust can cause coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), the disease commonly known as black lung, which can be disabling or fatal. Coal mine workers can also be exposed to respirable silica dust, which can cause silicosis, another disabling or fatal lung disease.
The prevalence of CWP greatly decreased in the 30 years following the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which set the first respirable dust exposure limits in the U.S. coal mining industry. However, since 2000, the prevalence of CWP has increased and greater numbers of miners have been diagnosed with the disease’s most severe form, progressive massive fibrosis. Originally published in 2010, NIOSH’s handbook has been updated in consideration of the increasing prevalence and severity of lung diseases associated with coal mining.
Since the nature of mining work typically does not permit the elimination or substitution of processes that generate mine dust, NIOSH’s handbook primarily focuses on engineering controls. The publication discusses controls ranging from those that have been long implemented in the coal mining industry to newer controls still being optimized.
For more information and to download a PDF of the handbook, visit NIOSH’s website.
Proposed NIOSH Project Would Inform Development of “Safety Skills” Curriculum
A new project proposed by NIOSH would seek to inform the development of a draft occupational health and safety training intervention called the “Safety Skills at Work Curriculum.” NIOSH describes the proposed project as “a first step in addressing the need for evidence-based, foundational training programs for the workforce development sector.” According to the agency, the project is aligned with the goals of the National Occupational Research Agendas for healthy work design and well-being, services, and manufacturing, which seek to promote occupational health and safety among contingent workers. The proposed project, which would be conducted through a partnership with the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council in Washington state, would also aim to inform the development of methods and data collection instruments to evaluate this training.
NIOSH plans to administer its draft curriculum to recruited participants and use a series of surveys to assess areas such as foundational knowledge of OHS, behavioral intention to use newly learned OHS skills, and job safety perceptions. For further details, see the Federal Register notice.
NIEHS Recommends Policies for Fully Vaccinated People
A new document published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Worker Training Program outlines workplace guidance regarding policies for people who are fully vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2. The document lists guiding principles for employers and describes considerations for infection control plans and policies. NIEHS’ suggestions are based on federal guidance as of August 2021, and the institute stresses that information and recommendations will change over time based on what is known or anticipated about the coronavirus.
Current evidence indicates that fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of getting COVID-19 and of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 if they are exposed, the NIEHS guidance says. The document urges employers to use multiple interventions concurrently to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In addition to vaccination, NIEHS recommends interventions such as using face coverings consistently and correctly, maximizing ventilation through dilution and filtration of air, maintaining physical distance, and avoiding crowds. While most work activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people, NIEHS stresses the importance of wearing face coverings indoors—regardless of vaccination status—in crowded settings such as meatpacking and processing plants and schools.
View all of NIEHS’ recommendations in the new document (PDF).
Two Toxicological Profiles Published for Industrial, Manufactured Chemicals
New final toxicological profiles for the industrial chemical 1,2,3-trichloropropane and dinitrophenols, a class of manufactured chemicals, are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ATSDR describes 1,2,3-trichloropropane as a colorless liquid that has a sweet, strong smell and is used to make other chemicals. The agency’s toxicological profile for dinitrophenols explains that the class of chemicals includes six different substances. 2,4-dinitrophenol, which is used in making dyes, wood preservatives, and explosives, is the most commercially important one, according to ATSDR. 2,4-dinitrophenol is also used as a photographic developer.
ATSDR urges workers involved in the production or use of 1,2,3-trichloropropane to take measures to protect themselves from inhalation and dermal exposure. According to the agency, most people are not likely to be exposed to dinitrophenols unless they live near a hazardous waste site. A brief information sheet accompanying the new toxicological profile for dinitrophenols describes historical exposures among factory workers in the 1940s and earlier.
A full list of toxic substances with published profiles is available on the ATSDR website.
NIOSH Evaluates Health Hazards at Train Maintenance Facility
A new report (PDF) published by NIOSH describes a health hazard evaluation that the agency conducted at a train maintenance facility in June and July 2019 at the request of a union that operated at the site. Employees at this facility had expressed concerns about overexposure to heavy metals and the possibility of contracting cancers from work-related exposures.
While NIOSH’s evaluation did not find evidence for either heavy metal overexposures or cancers caused by work-related exposures, agency staff did identify additional hazards present in the workplace and recommended actions to improve the overall health, safety, quality of life, and morale of employees at the facility.
As the employees worked in a variety of workshops within the facility, each of which focused on different maintenance and repair tasks, NIOSH tested blood lead levels among employees in the electronics shop only. These levels were in the normal range, and air sampling conducted throughout the facility found no metal exposures above relevant occupational exposure limits. While four employees reported having cancer, each had been diagnosed with a different type, and NIOSH did not find that these results were consistent with cancers potentially caused by a work-related exposure. The report states that a large-scale epidemiological study would be required to determine whether the incidence of cancer among workers was excessively high at this facility. NIOSH referred management and union representatives to state health departments.
According to NIOSH, the employees’ health concerns indicated a need for improvement in hazard communication and training at this facility. Employees were concerned with potential exposures to cadmium and chemicals contained in the varnish applied to electronic motor coils, but workers no longer had direct contact with cadmium and the process for applying varnish had been outsourced. The report recommends that the employer provide periodic training and communicate clearly to employees about potential work hazards, ways to protect themselves, and the correct use of PPE.
MSHA Seeks to Reduce Injuries Involving Surface Mobile Equipment
A new rule proposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration would require certain mine operators to develop a written safety program for mobile and powered haulage equipment at surface mines and in surface areas of underground mines. MSHA’s proposal, which would apply to operators employing six or more miners, would provide “the flexibility to tailor the written safety program to meet the specific needs of [mine] operations and unique mining conditions,” according to the Federal Register.
This year, nine miners had been killed by mid-July 2021 in accidents involving powered haulage equipment such as shuttle cars, scoops, locomotives, and front-end loaders—the highest number of annual powered-haulage fatalities since 2006, according to MSHA. As of July 12, an additional 185 miners had been injured in similar accidents in 2021.
MSHA estimates that 88 percent of all miners in the United States work at mines that employ six or more miners. The agency requests comments on whether it should require all mine operators, regardless of size, to develop a written safety program, and encourages feedback on the economic feasibility of requiring operators with five or fewer miners to develop a written safety program. The public comment period for MSHA’s proposed rule will be open through Nov. 8.