thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Working on COVID-19 Standard for Healthcare, Increasing Inspections
OSHA is developing a permanent COVID-19 standard for healthcare, replacing its emergency temporary standard (ETS) for the industry, the agency announced in March. Implemented in June 2021, the ETS was intended to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission in settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. All non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS were withdrawn in December 2021, when OSHA stated its intention to “continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards.” Progress toward the final standard’s completion became evident on March 22, when OSHA announced that it had reopened the rulemaking record and scheduled an informal public hearing to collect comments on certain topics related to the issue. Topics of interest to the agency included alignment with CDC’s recommendations for healthcare infection control procedures, flexibility for employers, tailored controls to address interactions with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and requirements based on community transmission levels. OSHA also sought new data and comments related to the potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2 into a second novel strain and the health effects and risk of COVID-19 since the ETS was issued. The hearing was held virtually on April 27. Further details about the COVID-19 healthcare rulemaking can be found in the Federal Register, in OSHA’s press release, and on OSHA’s website. OSHA is also “using available tools” to protect healthcare workers “while we finalize a healthcare standard,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. These tools include OSHA’s short-term inspection initiative, announced March 7, which focuses on high-hazard healthcare facilities such as hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities that treat or handle COVID-19 patients. During a three-month period, from March 9 to June 9, 2022, such facilities can expect an increase in “highly focused inspections,” according to OSHA’s press release for the new initiative. The agency says these inspections are intended to “emphasize monitoring for current and future readiness to protect workers from COVID-19.” Another goal is to prepare for any new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A memorandum for OSHA regional administrators and state plan designees outlines instructions and guidance to federal OSHA area offices regarding the initiative. OSHA based its decision to retire the non-recordkeeping portions of the COVID-19 healthcare ETS on the agency’s belief that the permanent standard would not be completed in time to replace the ETS within six months of its issuance, as intended under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Recordkeeping requirements remain in effect because they were adopted under a separate provision of the OSH Act. Nonetheless, OSHA encourages employers to continue to implement the requirements of the ETS, due to the agency’s anticipated finalization of the rule. “Continued adherence to the terms of the healthcare ETS is the simplest way for employers in healthcare settings to protect their employees’ health and ensure compliance with their OSH Act obligations,” the agency states. For more information, visit OSHA’s webpage on the status of the COVID-19 healthcare ETS.
White House Announces the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge
The Biden administration is calling for building owners and operators, schools, colleges, and universities to assess indoor air quality and improve ventilation and air filtration in their buildings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge is part of the administration’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which was released on March 3. In a press release, the White House noted that the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides funds for ventilation and air filtration improvements in schools and state and local governments. As part of the challenge, EPA issued guidance, developed in collaboration with CDC, the Department of Energy, and other federal agencies, that identifies actions to better protect the health of building occupants. These include creating a clean indoor air action plan, optimizing fresh air ventilation, enhancing air filtration and cleaning, and conducting community engagement and education.
EPA Proposes Revised Risk Determination for Pigment Violet 29
A new draft document published by EPA on March 7 proposes to revise the “no unreasonable risk” determinations specific to certain conditions of use for pigment violet 29 (PV29) as previously outlined in the agency’s 2021 risk evaluation of the chemical substance. EPA’s draft document suggests a revised determination of “unreasonable risk” for PV29 as a whole chemical substance. The proposed changes are consistent with policy changes announced by EPA last year related to the first 10 chemicals to undergo risk evaluation under amended Toxic Substances Control Act legislation.
Through its draft revised risk determination, EPA proposes to find that PV29 “presents unreasonable risk to human health.” Unlike previous risk evaluations of PV29, the new draft document does not assume that all workers exposed to the chemical substance are protected by personal protective equipment. According to EPA, earlier final risk evaluations “generally assumed that workers were always provided, and used, personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriately,” an assumption that the agency explains “could result in risk evaluations that underestimate the risk.”
EPA accepted public comment on its draft revised risk determination for PV29 until April 21, as publicized in the Federal Register.
According to EPA, PV29 is used as an intermediate in other perylene pigments, in automobile paints and coatings, in plastic and rubber products for automobiles and industrial carpeting, in merchant ink for commercial printing, and in consumer watercolors and artistic color. More information on PV29 is available from EPA’s website.
Canadian Research Center Report Focuses on Biomarkers of Exposure to Mold
A study by the Canadian occupational health and safety research center IRSST examines the feasibility of using microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) as biomarkers of occupational exposure to mold. The study’s abstract explains that traditional approaches for monitoring for fungi using direct evaluation methods or quantitative polymerase chain reaction are complex and costly both in resources and time. These approaches require experienced personnel to perform sampling and have access to contaminated areas for lengthy time periods; results also take a long time to be ready. According to the abstract, a new approach measures MVOCs emitted by microfungi in the workplace; however, direct measurement of MVOCs raises issues similar to those of traditional approaches.
IRSST’s paper suggests a biomonitoring approach that involves measuring MVOCs with good potential to be biomarkers in the biological matrices of exposed workers before and after their work shifts. “After a study of their parameters, 21 [MVOCs] measurable in air and blood were selected as potential candidates for the biomonitoring of molds,” IRSST’s website states. “Complementary to existing environmental assessment methods, the suggested approach will enable a more accurate estimation of workers’ exposure to molds by taking samples (blood, urine, exhaled air) from them.”
The study is available for download in English and French.
More information about research conducted by IRSST, also known as the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail, can be found on the center’s website.
Nominations for the 2023 Safe-in-Sound Awards Are Due June 8
The deadline to nominate organizations or individuals to receive a Safe-in-Sound Award in 2023 is June 8, 2022. The Safe-in-Sound Awards are presented annually by NIOSH in partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) and the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC). Two awards are given: the Excellence Award, which honors employers who implement exemplary hearing loss prevention programs, and the Innovation Award, which recognizes those who create innovative solutions to workplace hearing loss prevention challenges. NIOSH, NHCA, and CAOHC are accepting nominations for the next round of awards. To start the nomination process, interested individuals should submit a letter via email to Safe-in-Sound Review Committee Coordinator Scott Schneider by June 8, 2022, that describes noise controls or other hearing loss prevention interventions that suggest excellence or innovation. Self-nominations are encouraged. Completed applications are due by July 15, 2022.
Guide for Healthcare OHS Programs Issued by WHO, ILO
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have jointly published a new guide for improved occupational health and safety programs in the healthcare industry titled Caring for Those Who Care: Guide for the Development and Implementation of Occupational Health and Safety Programmes for Healthcare Workers.
The guide’s executive summary outlines hazards faced by healthcare workers and stresses that the document’s recommendations apply to everyone engaged in work to improve health from the national to the community levels, as well as management and support workers. Major sections of the guide focus on defining aims and principles and listing key features of OHS programs and outlining steps for preparing, developing, and implementing OHS programs in healthcare.
WHO and ILO leaders expressed hope that the guide will help address longstanding OHS concerns. “COVID-19 has exposed the cost of this systemic lack of safeguards for the health, safety, and well-being of health workers,” said James Campbell, the director of WHO’s Health Workforce Department.
More information can be found in a joint WHO/ILO news release. Free PDFs of the Caring for Those Who Care guide and executive summary can be downloaded from the WHO website.
New OSHA Page Collects Resources for Oil Spill Emergencies
A new safety and health topic page published by OSHA collects information on occupational health and safety issues related to emergency preparedness and response for oil spills. Workers and employers can visit the page to learn about the National Contingency Plan, which contains regulations for managing and responding to oil spills and other hazardous substance releases; how OSHA’s standard on hazardous waste operations and emergency response applies during oil spill emergencies; and the agency’s role in oil spill response, including enforcement, compliance assistance, and technical assistance activities. The new page also addresses equipping and training emergency response workers as well as workers in other industries that could be affected by oil spills. A separate section covers topics such as exposure assessment and monitoring, personal protective equipment, decontamination, and medical surveillance and management.
According to OSHA, the Incident Command System (ICS) is used for managing oil spill responses. Occupational and environmental health and safety professionals can read more about their role in preparing for and responding to emergency incidents within the ICS in the April 2021 Synergist article “Taking Command of Emergency Response.”
ECHA Proposes Ban on PFAS in Firefighting Foams
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has proposed to ban the use of all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foams. As used in firefighting foams, PFAS form a film over burning liquids to prevent the release of flammable gases. PFAS are noted for their persistence in the environment, and exposure in humans is associated with cancer and immune system effects.
The proposal would prohibit the sale, use, and export of all PFAS in firefighting foams following sector-specific transition periods intended to allow the substitution of other products for the PFAS-containing foams. These alternative products could include fluorine-free foams, some of which are currently in use. A June 2020 report (PDF) commissioned by ECHA analyzed fluorine-free foams as alternatives to PFAS-containing foams and identified possible regulatory options.
According to an ECHA news release, the proposed ban would reduce emissions of PFAS by more than 13,000 metric tons while imposing costs of approximately €7 billion over a 30-year period. The estimated costs would cover equipment modifications for the use of PFAS-free foams, equipment cleaning to remove PFAS residues, and the price difference between PFAS-containing and PFAS-free options.
For more information, read ECHA’s proposal (PDF).
New OSHA Resources Span Topics from Asbestos in Schools to Ventilation
New resources published recently by OSHA include an alert focused on improving workplace ventilation during cold weather (PDF) and a fact sheet that outlines whistleblower protections for workers who are concerned about asbestos in schools (PDF). The alert on ventilation describes steps that building managers can take to improve indoor air quality versus maintenance that should be conducted by a qualified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional. The fact sheet on whistleblower protections discusses covered entities and protected activities under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which is intended to protect employees from retaliation for reporting potential asbestos violations in schools.
Other new publications include a Spanish version of OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs (PDF), which is intended to help employers establish a methodical approach to implementing safety and health programs in their workplaces. OSHA also released a fact sheet focused on hazards associated with preservative coatings during hot work on maritime vessels (PDF) and a one-page checklist for workplace safety in marine terminal mechanic shops (PDF). These and other resources can be found on OSHA's website.
OSHA Proposes Updates to Powered Industrial Trucks Standards
A proposed rule published in February by OSHA would update design and construction requirements for the agency’s powered industrial trucks standards for general industry and construction. OSHA proposes that the standards incorporate applicable provisions of national consensus standards from the American National Standards Institute and the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation. The agency’s first standard for powered industrial trucks went into effect in 1971 and was based on industry consensus standards from 1969. National consensus standards have been updated several times since then, according to the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda.
OSHA’s proposed rule would also address powered industrial trucks manufactured before the effective date of the final rule. The agency proposes allowing the use of equipment not constructed in accordance with consensus standards “if the employer can demonstrate that the truck they use was designed and constructed in a manner that provides employee protection that is at least as effective as the national consensus standards incorporated by reference in OSHA's standards.”
According to OSHA, powered industrial trucks include forklifts, fork trucks, tractors, platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and other specialized industrial trucks powered by an electric motor or internal combustion engine. The agency’s press release explains that its new proposed rule is part of a series of regulatory projects to update standards to reflect the current versions of both consensus and national industry standards.
OSHA is accepting comments on its notice of proposed rulemaking until May 17. More information is available in the Federal Register.
WHO Standard Aims to Prevent Hearing Loss in Recreational Settings
On March 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an international standard, WHO Global Standard for Safe Listening at Venues and Events, that is intended to prevent hearing loss to people in places where amplified music is played, especially entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and arenas. The new standard lists six recommendations that can be implemented by government public health initiatives, venue owners and managers, acousticians, engineers, musicians, and event organizers to allow audience members and people working in these settings to enjoy music safely while preserving the artistic experience.
WHO recommends 100 dB as an average upper limit for sound levels at venues and events. According to the standard, the choice of this sound level “seeks to balance the need to protect hearing, on one hand, against audience expectations and freedom of artistic expression on the other.” The standard also prescribes live monitoring of sound levels at events by designated staff members; optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems to ensure safe listening; providing hearing protection, such as earplugs, along with instructions for use; designating quiet spaces for people in the venue to rest their ears; and informing staff and audience members of practical steps they can take to listen safely.
“Governments, civil society, and private sector entities such as manufacturers of personal audio devices, sound systems, and video gaming equipment as well as owners and managers of entertainment venues and events have an important role to play in advocating for the new global standard,” said Dr. Ren Minghui, the assistant director-general of WHO.
More information can be found in WHO’s news release announcing the standard. A free PDF of the standard can be downloaded from the organization’s website.