thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Is Working on an Infectious Diseases Rule
OSHA plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on infectious diseases by April 2022, according to the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda for fall 2021, which was updated on Dec. 10. The agenda states that OSHA is “examining regulatory alternatives for control measures to protect employees from infectious disease exposures to pathogens that can cause significant disease.” The agency is considering long-standing infectious disease hazards like tuberculosis and measles as well as new and emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and pandemic influenza. Among the workplaces that may be subject to the rule are those in healthcare, emergency response, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, laboratories, coroners’ offices, and mortuaries. Work on an infectious diseases rule began in 2010 with a request for information (RFI) published in the Federal Register (PDF). The RFI discusses studies that document healthcare workers’ lack of adherence to infection control guidelines, such as improper usage of personal protective equipment. Stakeholder meetings occurred in 2011, and the SBREFA process—named after the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, which requires agencies to consult with small entities about regulations that may affect them—was conducted in 2014, according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Documents related to the rulemaking are available from Other rulemaking activities in the proposed rule stage include rules on communication tower safety, welding in construction confined spaces, personal protective equipment in construction, and updates to OSHA’s hazard communication standard. Issues that are earlier in the rulemaking process include workplace violence and heat illness prevention. OSHA is preparing to convene a SBREFA panel on the topic of workplace violence in healthcare and social assistance. The agency first published a request for information in 2016 to gather information on workplace violence and prevention strategies from healthcare employers, workers, and other subject matter experts. The topic of heat illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings appeared for the first time on the regulatory agenda in spring 2021, and the agency’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking was published in late October. A forthcoming NPRM issued by MSHA will address the existing permissible exposure limit of respirable crystalline silica for miners and update certain existing respiratory protection standards. According to the regulatory agenda, the agency intends to issue the NPRM in May 2022. This announcement follows the publication of a report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that concluded that MSHA needs to improve its efforts to protect coal miners from exposures to respirable crystalline silica. According to OIG’s report (PDF), MSHA’s current silica exposure limit is out of date, and “a significant body of evidence shows that lowering the silica limit would be a major factor in preventing coal workers’ deaths and illnesses caused by silica exposure.” The regulatory agenda item for MSHA’s rulemaking on respirable crystalline silica states that the agency will develop a rule applicable to metal, nonmetal, and coal operations. For more information, view the fall 2021 agency rule list for the Department of Labor. Additional resources on the infectious disease rulemaking are available from the OSHA website.
OSHA Launches Online Application Portal for Voluntary Protection Programs
OSHA has launched a new online application portal for its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), which recognize employers and workers who have implemented effective safety and health management systems. According to the agency, the portal is intended to modernize the application process for companies that qualify for VPP. Candidates use the new portal to complete and get assistance with submitting VPP applications, while OSHA can review applications in real time. “OSHA developed the VPP Portal as part of the agency’s efforts to continue representing safety and health excellence, leverage resources, accommodate effective administration of VPP, and support smart program growth,” OSHA states in a press release. “Qualified companies with mature safety and health management systems can apply to VPP using the new system.” More information about VPP, including a link to the portal, can be found on OSHA’s website.
EPA Extends Activation of Emerging Viral Pathogens Guidance
EPA has indefinitely extended the COVID-19 activation of its emerging viral pathogens (EVP) guidance for antimicrobial pesticides, according to a Nov. 19 press release. EPA’s EVP guidance for antimicrobial pesticides is a part of the U.S. government’s pandemic preparedness that allows manufacturers to provide EPA with data to demonstrate products’ effectiveness against specific hard-to-kill viruses and enable their use against EVPs, even before an outbreak. The guidance has permitted accelerated review and approval of hundreds of surface disinfectant products for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Few EPA-registered disinfectant products were approved and labeled for use against EVPs before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. In 2016, EPA outlined a process that could enable manufacturers to make off-label statements informing the public that their EPA-registered disinfectants may be used against EVPs not identified on their product labels, albeit only in the event of an outbreak. The process requires manufacturers to submit evidence of their products’ effectiveness against certain viruses classified by CDC as highly resistant to disinfectants.
When EPA’s EVP guidance was activated in January 2020, manufacturers were required to remove EVP claims from off-label messaging within 24 months after the beginning of the outbreak. Under the indefinite extension, EPA will now notify manufacturers at least six months before inactivation of the guidance to allow registrants time to adjust off-label materials.
For more information about EPA’s EVP guidance for antimicrobial pesticides, including the claim submissions process, visit the agency’s website.
Agencies Issue Advisory on Improper Storage of Hazardous Chemicals
EPA, OSHA, and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have issued a safety advisory informing chemical warehouses and distribution facilities that they must ensure safe management of hazardous chemicals stored on their premises and comply with applicable regulations. The advisory lists several common concerns with chemical storage, including the failure to account for chemicals in all containers (such as aerosol cans, cylinders, and storage tanks) that could be affected by a fire or other emergency, failure to periodically inspect tank systems, failure to sufficiently coordinate with emergency responders, storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity to each other, inadequate space for emergency responders to access chemicals in the event of an accidental release, and inadequate secondary containment to contain spills or leaks.
The advisory identifies ammonium nitrate, which is used as fertilizer, as a chemical of concern. Recent fatal incidents involving improper storage of ammonium nitrate include a 2013 explosion in West, Texas, that resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of twelve firefighters and three members of the public. In August 2020, an explosion at a facility in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, that stored approximately 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate caused an estimated 200 deaths and 6,000 injuries, displaced more than 300,000 people, and was heard over 120 miles away in Cyprus.
The advisory summarizes applicable requirements from various laws, rules, and regulations covering chemical storage. For more information, review the advisory document (PDF).
Federal Transit Administration Gathers Information on Transit Worker Safety
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has sought information on issues affecting rail transit worker safety, including Road Worker Protection programs. RWP programs are intended to protect rail transit workers from being struck by trains and from hazards on or near the tracks, such as the electrified third rail, during track inspections and other tasks. The National Transportation Safety Board and Transit Advisory Committee for Safety (TRACS) have expressed concerns with FTA’s lack of RWP regulations and recommended that the agency improve its RWP programs. TRACS has also urged FTA to address transit worker assault. From 2010 to 2020, FTA noted an increase in the rate of assaults on transit operators, who work aboard vehicles, and that other public-facing transit workers are also at risk for assault. For more information, view FTA’s request for information in the Federal Register, which accepted public comment through November 2021.
NIOSH Tests Effects of Stockpiling Respirators on Fit, Strap Elasticity
A study conducted by NIOSH found differences between certain respirator products in the Strategic National Stockpile and models purchased on the open market, according to a report (PDF) released in November. The SNS is the United States’ reserve of medical supplies, including protective equipment, vaccines, and antibiotics. The study was requested by SNS personnel to evaluate the effects of stockpiling on the viability of respirators. The report describes the fit-testing performance of respirators from a facility located in Region 9, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.
At the time the tests were conducted, the respirators had been stored for nine to 13 years, well past the manufacturers’ recommended five-year shelf life. Some models purchased on the open market, which the study identifies as the control respirators, had a higher fit factor—a measure of how well the devices seal to the faces of users—than stockpiled models. In other cases, users were able to achieve better fit with the stockpiled models. Fit factors were measured using the quantitative method explained in Appendix A of OSHA’s respiratory protection standard.
The study also identified variances in strap elasticity between the control respirators and stockpiled models. Researchers were unable to conclude whether the differences in elasticity were enough to affect the fit of the respirators.
More information is available in NIOSH’s press release. Additional reports characterizing the performance of respirators in other SNS facilities are collected on the NIOSH website.
EPA Requires Contract Sterilization Facilities to Report Ethylene Oxide and Ethylene Glycol Releases
EPA has notified 29 contract sterilization facilities that they will be required to report releases of ethylene oxide (EtO), a colorless, flammable gas determined to be a human carcinogen and to cause respiratory irritation and other acute health effects. Sixteen of those facilities will also be required to report releases of ethylene glycol, a compound found in antifreeze, solvents, paints, plastics, and many other consumer products. EtO is a component in the production of ethylene glycol.
The agency’s action expands the scope of EPA’s Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) program, which tracks the management of chemicals used in U.S. facilities that are known to cause cancer, significant acute human health effects, or environmental effects. While EtO and ethylene glycol have been characterized as toxic chemicals by TRI since 1987, not all facilities that use these chemicals have been subject to TRI reporting requirements, EPA explained in an Oct. 13 press release.
EPA believes the 29 facilities newly required to report EtO releases use the highest amounts of EtO in the contract sterilization sector. Other considerations that influenced the agency’s decision to require TRI reporting include the number of people living near the facilities, their history of releases of EtO and ethylene glycol, and their proximity to schools.
For more information, see EPA’s Dec. 27 press release. An explanation of the agency’s action and a list of the 29 facilities appears on EPA's website.
EPA’s TRI Program incentivizes companies to improve environmental performance by making information about industrial toxic chemical management publicly available. To learn more about TRI, visit the program’s webpage.
National Academies Report Discusses Non-Vaccine Flu Interventions
Drawing on the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analyzes the effectiveness of non-vaccine interventions to counter the spread of influenza. A section on controls in indoor environments covers the efficacy of barriers, ventilation and filtration, ultraviolet inactivation, ionization, and surface cleaning.
According to the report, published research indicates that ventilation and air filtration are moderately effective at reducing transmission of respiratory viruses. The report calls for the development of technical recommendations on ventilation in various settings to reduce transmission and the incorporation of these recommendations into building standards.
The installation of barriers is among the least effective interventions for reducing transmission, useful only in the context of short, face-to-face interactions between two people, the report states. In other scenarios, barriers may actually increase risk of transmission due to their effects on airflow patterns in indoor environments.
Surface cleaning, which was an area of emphasis in public health messaging in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, was found to have low efficacy for limiting transmission for SARS-CoV-2 because the virus spreads primarily by direct contact, droplets, or airborne transmission. However, surface cleaning may be more effective for other pathogens such as influenza virus.
Similarly, the report characterizes ionization as an intervention with low efficacy and notes that devices using this technology may introduce harmful byproducts.
While the strength of evidence supporting the use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is low, according to the report, research has demonstrated that this technology is moderately effective at inactivating SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. Design considerations such as the size of the room and the height at which UVGI fixtures are installed are vital to the success and safety of this intervention. Conditions within rooms may lead to inadvertent “hot spots” that could place room occupants at risk of overexposure to UV.
Other sections of the report address the effectiveness of actions that individuals and governments can take to limit transmission of respiratory viruses. Citing laboratory studies, the report states that “properly designed, well-fitting face masks with multiple layers of material and strong filtration capacity” are highly effective at limiting transmission.
“Public Health Lessons for Non-Vaccine Influenza Interventions” is available for free download from the National Academies website. The report is one of four released in November by the National Academies that apply lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to preparations for a possible influenza pandemic. In a press release announcing the reports, the National Academies states, “Influenza remains the circulating pathogen most likely to cause a pandemic, and the risk for pandemic influenza may be higher during the COVID-19 era due to changes in global and regional conditions affecting humans, animals, and their contact patterns. Each year, there are 3 million to 5 million cases of influenza globally, and up to 650,000 deaths.”