thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
New EPA Rule Would Ban Chrysotile Asbestos
On April 5, EPA proposed a new rule that would ban the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution in commerce, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos, the only known form of asbestos currently imported into the United States. The proposed rule is the first to be issued through a new process that calls for EPA to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. According to the summary of the proposed rule, which has been published in the Federal Register, EPA is required under TSCA to “address the unreasonable risks of injury to health and environment by rule and to apply requirements to the extent necessary so that chrysotile asbestos no longer presents such risks.” EPA’s proposed rule is intended to address these risks to workers and others associated with all ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. 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. Further details of the agency’s risk findings related to chrysotile asbestos can be found in its December 2020 final risk evaluation. EPA is proposing disposal and recordkeeping requirements in addition to prohibiting ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. According to the agency’s press release, these proposed requirements are “in line with industry standards” as well as OSHA requirements and EPA’s air toxics regulation for asbestos. EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule through June 13. The agency’s press release states that proposed prohibitions related to asbestos diaphragms and sheet gaskets for commercial use would take effect two years after the effective date of the final rule. Proposed prohibitions related to oilfield brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, other vehicle friction products, and other gaskets for commercial use—as well as the agency's proposed disposal and recordkeeping requirements—would take effect 180 days following the final rule's effective date. EPA previously issued a final rule banning most products containing asbestos in 1989. The regulation was mostly overturned in a 1991 decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result of the court’s ruling, the regulation banned only new commercial uses of asbestos in products entering the marketplace after 1989. A partial ban on asbestos-containing flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper remained in effect following the court’s decision. A draft scope document published in December 2021 outlines EPA’s plans to evaluate legacy uses of asbestos and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products. The agency plans to publish a final risk evaluation of these uses by December 2024.
NIOSH Rescinds Respirator Approvals Issued to Pacific PPE Corp.
Following a request from Pacific PPE Corp., NIOSH has rescinded all respirator approvals issued to the company. The voluntary rescission affects respirators marked with the approval numbers TC-84A-9278, TC-84A-9299, and TC-84A-9313. Since March 24, respirators bearing these numbers are no longer approved by NIOSH and can no longer be manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed, according to a notice on the NIOSH website. NIOSH is directing inquiries about the rescission to Innova Medical Group, which acquired Pacific PPE Corp. in August 2021. Replacements for the rescinded respirators may be located through the NIOSH Certified Equipment List, a tool to help industrial hygienists, safety managers, respirator users, and others identify, select, and find replacement parts for NIOSH-approved respirators to protect against various agents. NIOSH also encourages the use of the Certified Equipment list to confirm testing and certification approval numbers, which are printed on NIOSH-approved respirators.
EU Revises OEL for Benzene, Adds New OELs for Two Substances
A new amendment to the European Union's 2004 Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive includes a revised occupational exposure limit for benzene and two new OELs for acrylonitrile and nickel and its compounds. This update marks the fourth revision of the directive, which sets maximum concentrations for cancer-causing chemicals in workplace air.
The amendment sets the limit value for the carcinogen acrylonitrile at 1 mg/m3 (0.45 ppm). It also introduces a short-term limit value of 4 mg/m3 (1.8 ppm) for acrylonitrile. The new limit values for occupational exposure to nickel compounds, which, the amendment explains, can result in dermal sensitization and desensitization of the respiratory tract, are 0.01 mg/m3 for the respirable fraction and 0.05 mg/m3 for the inhalable fraction. The revised limit value for benzene is 0.2 ppm (0.66 mg/m3). The amendment calls for transitional periods spanning the next few years to address the difficulties that certain industry sectors may have in complying with these updated limits in the short term.
NIOSH’s website features pages for acrylonitrile, nickel, and benzene that summarize health effects associated with exposure to each substance, list the worker populations most at risk, and provide resources for additional information.
The full text of the amendment to the EU’s Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive can be found on the EUR-Lex website, which provides online access to EU law and legal documents. Information about OEL activities in Europe appears on the website of the European Chemicals Agency.
OSHA Proposes Additional Recordkeeping Requirements for Employers in High-Hazard Industries
A proposed rule from OSHA would amend the agency’s standard for Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness to require employers in certain high-hazard industries to electronically submit additional information from their OSHA 300 log, which companies use to record work-related illnesses and injuries, and their injury and illness incident reports. The proposed rule would apply to employers with 100 or more employees in 98 industries specified in an appendix.
“The proposed requirement would provide systematic access for OSHA to the establishment-specific, case-specific injury and illness information that these establishments are already required to collect,” according to the text of the rule, which was published on March 30 in the Federal Register.
In addition, the new rule would update the classification system used to determine the industries covered by the electronic submission requirement and require organizations to include their company name when making electronic submissions. The rule would also remove the requirement in the current standard for all employers with more than 250 workers, regardless of industry, to electronically submit injury and illness information to OSHA.
A final rule published in 2016 featured a requirement for electronic submission of illness and injury data. However, OSHA did not fully implement this requirement, and the agency revoked it in 2019 due to data privacy concerns. The new proposed rule states that these concerns have been alleviated by technology that can protect sensitive data and automates the process of removing it.
WHO to Form Global Infectious Hazards Advisory Group
On April 13, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the creation of its Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH). The purpose of the STAG-IH will be to provide independent advice and analysis to WHO regarding infectious hazards that potentially threaten global health security. Additional functions of the group will include providing oversight on WHO's mechanisms for infectious hazard prevention and control and reviewing information about new and emerging infectious diseases and ongoing outbreaks in order to advise WHO on efforts related to investigation, prevention and control, and research. According to WHO, the STAG-IH will comprise members with a range of technical knowledge and skills related to infectious hazards of epidemic and pandemic potential. Qualified experts had until May 16 to submit their interest in being considered for membership. Further information about the new advisory group can be found on WHO's website.
OSHA to Cite Employers for Failing to Submit OHS Data
In April, OSHA initiated a program to identify employers that have failed to submit workplace injury and illness data through the agency’s Industry Tracking Application (ITA). Establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records and establishments with 20–249 employees in specific industries with historically high rates of occupational injury and illness are required to electronically submit OSHA Form 300A, which records injury or illness data, each year. According to an April 5 press release, employers identified through the new OSHA program will receive citations for failure to submit this data.
The new program was developed in response to a February 2021 report issued by the Government Accountability Office, which estimated that over 50 percent of employers meeting OSHA's criteria failed to submit injury and illness data for the years 2016–2018. "Absent more complete information," GAO stated, "OSHA is at risk for not achieving its objective of targeting inspections to establishments with the highest injury and illness rates."
An OSHA memorandum explains that the Office of Statistical Analysis’ Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management will run weekly scans matching employers with open OSHA inspections against a list of establishments that have not submitted Form 300A through the ITA. OSHA will report potential matches to the appropriate OSHA area office for verification. Enforcement actions will be taken against employers identified in this way.
This year, employers were required to submit their Form 300A data for the 2021 calendar year by March 2; citations for noncompliance will be issued by Sept. 2.
NIOSH Seeks to Measure Success of Upcoming Campaign on Mental Health in Healthcare
A new project proposed by NIOSH would involve conducting a survey of healthcare workers and employers to establish a baseline to measure the outcomes of an upcoming campaign related to the mental health of health workers. The planned campaign aims to increase workers’ and employers’ awareness and knowledge of mental health risks among healthcare workers and boost awareness of related evidence-based interventions, policies, practices, services, and other resources. NIOSH also hopes that the campaign will increase employers’ implementation of mental health support in healthcare workplaces and help workers better identify and use such services. The agency proposes to survey both healthcare workers and employers—500 of each—to establish baseline metrics for measuring the effectiveness of its forthcoming campaign prior to launch.
“NIOSH intends to reach both health employers and health workers with information about organizational programs, services, policies, and practices to support worker mental health and the importance of taking action to support one's mental health,” the Federal Register notice about the proposal explains. Comments on the proposed project were collected until May 31.
In September 2021, NIOSH also issued a request for information about interventions to prevent work-related stress and promote mental health and well-being among U.S. health workers. These activities are part of nationwide efforts to raise awareness of mental health concerns and identify best practices to prevent and reduce work stress and related adverse health outcomes among health workers.
Working Toward Federal Heat Standard, OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program
On April 12, OSHA announced the first-ever National Emphasis Program (NEP) intended to protect U.S. workers from heat illnesses and injuries. The NEP went into effect on April 8 and will remain in effect for three years unless canceled or replaced by a superseding directive. Heat illness affects thousands of workers each year, and reducing heat-related illnesses and injuries in the workplace is a top priority for the Department of Labor (DOL), according to OSHA's news release.
Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh described the NEP as “another step towards [DOL’s] goal of a federal heat standard" when he joined Vice President Kamala Harris in Philadelphia to launch the new program. In the meantime, the NEP is intended to immediately improve enforcement and compliance efforts related to heat.
The program involves OSHA proactively initiating inspections in more than 70 high-risk industries when the National Weather Service issues heat warnings or advisories in local areas. On days when the heat index is expected to be 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will also provide outreach and technical assistance to stakeholders in high-risk industries. Agency inspectors will identify and address heat hazards during inspections of workplaces in all industries, including those not targeted in the NEP. According to OSHA’s enforcement directive document (PDF), “[t]his approach is intended to encourage early interventions by employers to prevent illnesses and deaths among workers during high heat conditions.” These early interventions “include, but are not limited to, implementing water, rest, shade, training, and acclimatization procedures for new or returning employees.”
The enforcement directive adds that OSHA state plans are strongly encouraged but not required to adopt the NEP. State plans have until June 7 to submit a notice of intent to federal OSHA indicating whether they have similar policies in place, intend to adopt new policies and procedures, or do not intend to adopt the program at all. OSHA’s enforcement directive also provides details on additional topics relevant to the NEP, including the burden of heat illness and injury among U.S. workers, procedures for the program, and the complete list of targeted industries.
More information is available in OSHA’s one-page fact sheet on the new NEP (PDF).
The process of creating a federal heat standard started in October 2021, when OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. On May 3, the agency hosted a virtual stakeholder meeting to discuss OSHA’s initiatives to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including topics such as compliance assistance activities and enforcement efforts. Stakeholders who did not attend the May 5 meeting or make verbal comments may still electronically submit written comments and additional materials via Regulations.gov, the federal e-rulemaking portal, until Aug. 1. Instructions for electronically submitting feedback can be found in the Federal Register.
CSB: Heat Gun Sparked Fatal Fire at Paper Mill
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has released an 11-minute safety video titled “Simultaneous Tragedy: Fire at Evergreen Packaging.” This video outlines the safety issues that led to two contracted workers’ deaths in a fire that occurred on Sept. 21, 2020, at a paper mill near Canton, North Carolina.
Employees of contracting companies Blastco and Rimcor were performing maintenance inside two "upflow" and "downflow" towers connected by a pipe. In the upflow tower, the Blastco employees used an electric heat gun to warm a bucket of resin, not communicating this decision to Evergreen Packaging—the facility’s owner—or two Rimcor employees working in the connected tower. The resin ignited when the heat gun was accidentally dropped into the bucket. As fire and smoke spread through the pipe into the downflow tower, the Blastco employees evacuated, but both Rimcor employees were fatally injured.
CSB found that the heat gun could produce temperatures greater than the resin's flashpoint, but the Blastco employees did not recognize the danger. Blastco had provided drum heating bands that could have safely heated the resin, but Blastco employees were unable to locate them before the accident. Evergreen did not have a simultaneous operations program in place to facilitate coordination between contractors, so the Blastco and Rimcor employees had limited awareness of each other’s work. CSB also learned that the upflow tower and connecting pipe were constructed from combustible materials, increasing the severity of the fire.
As a result of the investigation, CSB recommends for OSHA to release safety information addressing hazards resulting from work inside confined spaces, to require facility owners and operators to ensure coordination between multiple work groups, and to publish a bulletin on flammable materials in confined spaces.
More information can be found in CSB’s news release.
NIOSH Launches Competition to Improve Fit of Protective Clothing
A crowdsourcing competition launched by NIOSH in April seeks to find new ways to increase the percentage of U.S. workers with access to better-fitting personal protective clothing. The challenge seeks solutions to improve the fit of medical gowns, firefighter turnout gear, and coveralls used in a variety of sectors. NIOSH encourages competitors to address issues such as use or acceptability challenges due to shape and size considerations like pregnancy, health status, or ethnicity, and challenges arising from specific work, cultural, or religious activities or gender norming assumptions. Availability issues caused by supply chain market practices and a lack of materials related to sizing practices or standards are among additional challenges identified by the agency.
Competitors should consider multiple factors that influence protective clothing fit, including body size and shape, gender, race, ethnicity, religious or cultural practices, and work tasks. Proposed solutions could address technology and design issues to make protective clothing more usable or acceptable to workers; assist in the development, evaluation, distribution, and assessment of training and communications related to the selection and use of properly fitting protective clothing; or improve access to protective clothing.
NIOSH will award up to five prizes totaling $55,000 to individuals or teams who submit the best solutions. The deadline for submitting proposed solutions is June 30.
EPA Requires Companies to Submit Data on Consumer Exposure for Eight Chemicals
A new round of "test orders" issued in March by EPA requires companies to submit data on consumer exposure for six chlorinated solvents and two flame retardants. As described under section 4 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, test orders grant EPA the authority to require chemical manufacturers, importers, and processors to develop and submit data to the agency. EPA may issue the orders if it determines that additional information is necessary to determine whether a chemical presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.
The chemicals subject to the agency’s action are the chlorinated solvents 1,1,2-trichloroethane; 1,2-dichloroethane; 1,2-dichloropropane; trans-1,2-dichloroethylene; o-dichlorobenzene; and p-dichlorobenzene; and the flame retardants 4,4’-(1-methylethylidene)bis[2,6-dibromophenol] (also known as TBBPA) and phosphoric acid, triphenyl ester (TPP). These chemicals are designated as having high priority for risk evaluation. In January 2021, the agency issued previous test orders requiring the submission of data on aquatic environmental hazards and workers’ inhalation and dermal exposures for the same eight chemicals.
For more information about the new requirement, read EPA’s press release. An explanation of test orders is available on the EPA website.
NIOSH Revises Toolkit for Hospital Respiratory Protection Programs
NIOSH has published a revised version of an agency resource intended to help hospitals implement effective respiratory protection programs. Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit: Resources for Respiratory Program Administrators was originally published in 2015 and emphasizes the prevention of aerosol disease transmission to healthcare workers. According to NIOSH’s website, the new edition includes contextual changes to the document’s wording that “reflect newer health and safety guidance since the publication of the original toolkit,” as well as routine editing and updated hyperlinks and references to other resources.
The toolkit's introduction states that healthcare workers often need to assume health and safety responsibilities in facilities that have limited resources. The toolkit explains why healthcare facilities must implement respiratory protection programs and controls, lists different kinds of respiratory protection, outlines the development of a respiratory protection program, and provides a respiratory protection program template. A free PDF of the toolkit can be downloaded from NIOSH's website.