thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Eyes Potential Changes to PSM Standard
OSHA is considering changes to its process safety management (PSM) standard, the agency announced in September. Potential changes to the scope of the standard include resuming enforcement for oil and gas production facilities, expanding requirements for reactive chemical hazards, updating the standard’s list of highly hazardous chemicals, and expanding the scope of the standard to include oil- and gas-well drilling and servicing. Changes to provisions of the PSM standard could strengthen employee participation, require safer technology and alternatives analysis, and cover the mechanical integrity of critical equipment. OSHA is also considering revisions that would require root cause analysis and coordination of emergency planning with local emergency response authorities. Other changes under consideration would require the development of written procedures for all elements specified in the PSM standard. In the years before OSHA promulgated the PSM standard in 1992, several incidents of chemical releases around the world drew attention to the need for regulation of processes for highly hazardous chemicals. In December 1984, an accidental release of methyl isocyanate gas at the Union Carbide pesticide plant Bhopal, India, caused thousands of deaths in what is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. Other fatal incidents occurred at chemical plants owned by Phillips 66 in 1989, Arco and BASF in 1990, and IMC Fertilizer in 1991. The PSM standard has not been updated since its adoption. OSHA cites the incident at a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, as motivation for potential changes. In April 2013, a massive explosion of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate, or FGAN, took the lives of 12 first responders and caused hundreds of injuries. A report on the explosion released by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) recommended that OSHA update its PSM standard to add FGAN to the standard’s list of highly hazardous chemicals and establish an appropriate threshold quantity. Following the West, Texas explosion, President Obama issued an executive order, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, that formed a working group of federal agencies charged with modernizing the policies, regulations, and standards governing chemical facilities. As required by the order, OSHA issued a request for information about potential changes to its PSM standard in December 2013. The next step in the regulatory process, convening a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel, was accomplished in June 2016. CSB has made several other recommendations for improving the PSM standard, some of which appear to be under consideration at OSHA. These include recommendations for requiring facilities to coordinate their emergency plans with local authorities and extending the rule’s coverage to the oil and gas sector. Other CSB recommendations include permitting third-party compliance audits and developing requirements for facility siting and human factors. In response to OSHA’s 2013 request for information, CSB identified several incidents at chemical plants where improper siting led to worker injuries and fatalities because of the proximity of administrative areas to hazardous operations. The other major process safety standard in the U.S. is EPA’s risk management program (RMP) rule, which was written to complement OSHA’s PSM standard. In August 2022, EPA proposed revisions to the RMP rule intended to reduce the frequency of chemical releases. More information about the proposed RMP rule is available on EPA's website. To learn more about OSHA’s PSM rulemaking, see the OSHA website, an agency news release, and the Federal Register.
Monkeypox Guidance for Workers and Employers Available from CDC
A CDC toolkit provides information for both workers and employers on preventing monkeypox at work. Information for employers includes basics about monkeypox vaccination, isolation and prevention practices for people with monkeypox, monitoring and risk assessment for workers who have been exposed, and disinfection practices. For workers, the toolkit includes information on the signs and symptoms of monkeypox, how the disease spreads, and how workers can protect themselves and prevent spread to others. Additional resources in the toolkit include site-specific guidance for workers in healthcare facilities, those who perform autopsies and handle human remains, laboratory personnel, veterinarians, and schools. According to CDC, there is currently a low risk of monkeypox spreading in workplaces. Agency data indicate that as of Nov. 29 there were approximately 29,300 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States and 15 deaths. Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases exceeded 81,200 with 56 deaths.
European Commission Proposes Lower Asbestos OEL
The European Commission has proposed to lower the European Union’s occupational exposure limit for asbestos by an order of magnitude, from 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter as an eight-hour time-weighted average to 0.01 f/cm3. The current OEL was adopted in 2003. All forms of asbestos have been banned in the EU since 2005, but the substance is still present in many older buildings that are likely to be renovated in the coming years as part of the European Green Deal.
According to the proposal, the number of workers exposed to asbestos in the EU ranges from 4.1 to 7.3 million. The vast majority—97 percent—work in construction and related professions. These workers are exposed through the handling of asbestos-containing materials during renovation, maintenance, repair, and demolition activities. Other exposed workers include those in waste management, mining, firefighting, and tunnel excavation and maintenance.
Denmark, the Netherlands, and France previously adopted OELs below the current EU OEL of 0.1 f/cm3. In a fourth EU member state, Germany, the OEL is 0.1 f/cm3, but mandatory guidelines are considered to bring exposure concentrations below 0.01 f/cm3 in practice.
Maintaining the current regulation for occupational exposure to asbestos, which is known as the Asbestos at Work Directive (AWD), would result in an estimated 884 cases of cancer and 707 deaths over the next 40 years, according to the European Commission, while adopting the proposed amendment would prevent an estimated 663 cases of cancer.
The proposal would retain phase contrast microscopy (PCM) as the laboratory measurement method for asbestos but would encourage the use of electron microscopy where possible.
More information is available from the European Commission website.
Study: Psychosocial Risk Factors at Work Can Cause Musculoskeletal Disorders
Psychosocial risk factors play a causal role in the development of workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to a new study conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Agency researchers reached this conclusion following a literature review that identified relevant papers in peer-reviewed science publications and from government sources and international bodies. Examples of psychosocial risk factors discussed in the study include excessive workloads, lack of support from management, conflicting job demands, limited control over the way a job is performed, and psychological and sexual harassment.
The study was unable to identify a mechanism through which psychosocial risks affect MSDs. Researchers posited that psychosocial demands may increase muscle tension, exacerbating biomechanical strain. Workers who are experiencing psychosocial demands may also be less likely to report symptoms of musculoskeletal distress.
Psychosocial risk factors do not always result in a negative impact related to MSDs, according to the study. Having control over a job, for example, might mitigate the effects of high work demands.
The study did not suggest associations between specific psychosocial risk factors and particular MSDs, and researchers found no evidence that some groups of workers were more susceptible to MSDs than others. They cautioned that addressing the psychosocial risk factors for MSDs often requires changes throughout an organization and is therefore more complex than addressing physical factors.
The study “Musculoskeletal Disorders: Association with Psychosocial Risk Factors at Work” is available from the EU-OSHA website.
OSHA Alerts Midwest Employers About Rollovers Involving Riding Mowers
Following the deaths of two workers in September who were killed when the riding mowers they were operating rolled over, OSHA’s Region 7 issued an alert calling for employers to conduct worker training on the hazards they face on the job. According to OSHA, 35 workers in the United States have died in lawnmower rollover incidents since the autumn of 2019. The recent fatalities occurred four days apart in Missouri and Nebraska. Region 7 includes those states as well as Iowa and Kansas. In a statement, OSHA Regional Administrator Billie Kizer noted that OSHA’s investigations of the tragedies are ongoing. “Employers are responsible for training workers to recognize and avoid hazards, especially when it comes to mowing grass on slopes and in poor terrain,” Kizer said. OSHA guidance on riding mowers is available on the agency’s website.
EPA to Develop Guidance for Improving IAQ in Schools
In a Federal Register notice published Oct. 5, EPA requested information from industrial hygienists and other professionals that would help the federal government promote adoption of practices to improve indoor air quality in existing buildings, especially schools and commercial buildings. The agency says it will use information submitted to support development of guidance, training, incentives, and other efforts related to IAQ and reduction of disease transmission.
The Federal Register pointed to results from a CDC survey that asked schools to describe their efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Just 39 percent of schools that responded to the survey said they had attempted to replace or upgrade their heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Even smaller percentages reported using HEPA filtration in classrooms (28 percent) or eating areas (30 percent). Far more prevalent among survey respondents were lower-cost strategies such as relocating classes outdoors, opening doors or windows, and inspecting and validating existing HVAC systems.
Given these results and anecdotal evidence indicating that some schools have had difficulty finding qualified workers to implement HVAC improvements, EPA indicated there is a need to spur research and innovation related to IAQ and generate broad support for IAQ improvements throughout the public and the federal government.
For more information, view the notice in the Federal Register. Results from the CDC survey appear in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
CSB: Deficient Hot Work Policies Led to 2016 Explosion at Texas Oil Terminal
Flawed hot work policies and procedures were to blame for a flash fire at a Texas crude oil terminal that injured seven workers, according to a final report issued recently by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The incident occurred on Aug. 12, 2016, when a welding operation on a capped pipe that contained residual crude oil ignited vapor inside the pipe, leading to an explosion. CSB found that Sunoco, which owned the terminal, and L-Con, the contractor that performed the welding work, did not provide adequate guidance to employees for preventing the fire and explosion. According to the CSB report, the hot work procedure should have stated that neither OSHA nor NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work, permit hot work on equipment that contains flammable material.
“The CSB wants industry to look at existing regulations and guidance when implementing and developing their hot work practices and procedures,” said Lauren Johnson, CSB’s supervisory investigator.
In a news release, CSB states that the explosion highlights the importance of properly isolating equipment according to OSHA requirements and guidance from the National Fire Protection Association; thoroughly identifying and assessing all flammables and combustibles in hot work; and methods for preventing hot work incidents.
CSB’s report on the 2016 incident can be downloaded as a PDF from the agency's website. For more information, see the agency news release. Guidance from CSB about safe hot work practices is available from the agency website.
EPA Proposes Cancellation of Pesticide PCNB
EPA is proposing to cancel all registrations of the pesticide pentachloronitrobenzene (PCNB), a fungicide used to control plant diseases around certain field crops and at non-agricultural sites like golf courses and athletic fields. The agency’s proposal is based on “significant ecological and human health risks posed by PCNB and limited benefits from [its] current uses” as identified in draft risk assessments published by EPA last year.
The human health risk assessment identified potential risks from occupational exposure to the pesticide when it is used on crops like woody ornamentals and flowering bulbs. The document describes additional concerns related to exposure to bystanders from spray drift and to users of athletic fields when PCNB is directly applied to those areas. According to EPA, cancelling registrations of PCNB would align the United States with pesticide regulatory authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the European Union. More information about EPA’s PCNB decision can be found in an agency press release.
CSB Report Highlights Corrosion Concerns in Refineries’ HF Alkylation Units
The corrosion and rupture of a piping component caused a massive fire and explosions at a refinery in June 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to a final report published in October by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. CSB’s investigation found that when the corroded pipe elbow ruptured, process fluid was released into the refinery’s alkylation unit. The release included propane and more than 5,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, or HF. The leak formed a large vapor cloud comprising propane, HF, and other hydrocarbons that ignited minutes later to cause the fire, which in turn caused three explosions. The largest explosion occurred when a vessel containing butylene, isobutane, and butane ruptured, launching a 38,000-pound fragment off-site and across a nearby river. Two other fragments weighing approximately 23,000 pounds and 15,500 pounds landed within the refinery.
CSB’s report notes that the steel pipe elbow that ruptured was susceptible to corrosion from HF in the process fluid due to its high concentrations of nickel and copper. “Carbon steel with high nickel and copper content is known within the industry to corrode faster from contact with HF than carbon steel with lower nickel and copper content,” the report states. However, “[at] the time of the incident, published industry standards and recommended practices did not require refineries to conduct 100% component inspection of carbon steel piping in HF service to identify any piping components corroding and thinning faster than others.”
Following the incident, the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practice for the safe operation of HF alkylation units was revised to include a new requirement for refiners to inspect all carbon steel piping components and welds in HF alkylation corrosion zones. CSB anticipates that this revision “should help prevent future failures of steel piping with high nickel and copper content in HF alkylation units.”
Other issues that contributed to the incident included a lack of remotely operated emergency isolation valves to isolate large hydrocarbon sources and the failure of safeguards in the HF alkylation unit. According to CSB, elements of the refinery’s water spray HF mitigation system were damaged during the incident, which meant the water pumps could not be remotely activated to suppress released HF. The agency found that it took 40 minutes for a worker to manually turn on a water pump from the time the release began.
Following its investigation, CSB is recommending that EPA develop a program to prioritize and emphasize inspections of refineries’ HF alkylation units. CSB also recommends that EPA initiate prioritization under the Toxic Substances Control Act to evaluate whether HF is a high priority substance for risk evaluation, and that ASTM International incorporate supplementary requirements for piping used in HF service into its standard for carbon and alloy steel pipe fittings.
CSB’s report on the 2019 incident can be downloaded as a PDF from the agency's website. To watch an animated video of the incident, visit YouTube. Further details are available in an agency press release.
Report Recommends Refocusing Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
A report published recently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends a new direction for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which was established to “ascertain and monitor” the health effects of service members’ exposures to airborne hazards from open-air burn pits while deployed in Southwest Asia. The National Academies committee charged with the latest assessment of the registry finds that the registry is unable to fulfill its intended purposes of supporting research on health effects associated with deployment exposures to airborne hazards and conducting population health surveillance of deployed veterans. The committee suggests redirecting registry resources to focus instead on providing communication between participants and the VA as well as improving healthcare access and quality for service members.
Data from the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry are “not appropriate for etiologic research of airborne hazards exposures and health outcomes,” the committee says. According to the report, any exposure registry to be used for etiologic research should have key characteristics, including a sufficient sample size, an exposure assessment and a health outcome assessment of adequate quality, and the identification of contributing factors that might affect the association. The committee explains that the VA’s registry lacks many characteristics that an exposure registry intended for this use should have and thus “is not capable of supporting etiologic research.” Even so, registry data could be used to identify veterans’ health concerns and inform a research agenda, says the committee.
The report is available from the National Academies website.
WHO, ILO Push for Policies to Address Mental Health Issues at Work
The World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization are jointly calling on employers and governments to address mental health concerns in the working population. Noting that depression and anxiety account for an estimated 12 billion workdays lost each year, the two organizations recommend that employers incorporate the mitigation of psychosocial risks as an essential element of their occupational health and safety management system.
This recommendation appears in a “policy brief” that offers examples of interventions that organizations can use to address several potential psychosocial risks. For example, in organizations where jobs lack variety or where workers feel their skills are underused, employers can rotate tasks among workers or adopt participatory approaches to job design. For jobs that involve long, inflexible hours or shift work, employers can implement flexible working arrangements, planned breaks, and participatory approaches to scheduling. Other psychosocial risks addressed in the document include unsafe equipment, a discriminatory or abusive culture, social or physical isolation, harassment, job insecurity, and a punitive approach to sickness or absences.
The document also recommends mental health training for both managers and workers, noting that building awareness of mental health is necessary to reduce stigma against people with mental health conditions. To support workers with mental health conditions, organizations can give them flexible hours or extra time to complete tasks, or develop return-to-work programs and vocational support initiatives.
“Mental Health at Work: Policy Brief” can be downloaded as a PDF. More information is available from the ILO website.
EPA Registers First Air Sanitizer for Influenza and Coronavirus
The first antimicrobial product for use in air that can kill both bacteria and viruses has been registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The product, Lysol Air Sanitizer, was tested against a surrogate virus “and is expected to be effective against similar airborne viruses such as SARS-CoV-2,” according to EPA. The agency stated in a press release that the product poses no unreasonable risk to health or the environment when used as directed.
The active ingredient in Lysol Air Sanitizer is dipropylene glycol, which is used in many consumer products, including antifreeze, air fresheners, cosmetics, solvents, and plastic, according to a report on the substance published by the National Toxicology Program in 2004. NTP’s report evaluated toxicological and carcinogenesis studies of dipropylene glycol that focused primarily on ingestion since the chemical is unlikely to be absorbed through the skin. NTP found no evidence of carcinogenic activity.
In 2020, EPA designated dipropylene glycol as a low-priority substance under the Toxic Substances Control Act as amended by the Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. A low-priority designation indicates that the risks associated with use of the chemical are low and that an agency risk evaluation is not warranted.
FIFRA requires all pesticides distributed or sold in the United States to be registered by EPA. The EPA press release states that “the use of antimicrobial products supplements but does not replace standard infection control practices” and counsels individuals to follow CDC and public health guidelines for mask wearing, distancing, and ventilation. For more information, read the EPA press release.
Report Describes First U.S. Case of Occupationally Acquired Monkeypox
The first reported case of occupationally acquired Monkeypox virus (MPXV) in the U.S resulted from a needlestick, according to a CDC report published in October. An emergency department nurse in Florida who was attending to a patient with suspected monkeypox used a needle to create an opening in a vesicular lesion to facilitate direct contact of the swab with the fluid in the lesion. The needlestick occurred when the nurse was recapping the used needle, causing a break in the skin of the nurse’s index finger. The wound was washed with soap and water and drenched with Betadine antiseptic solution. Swabs from the patient’s lesion later tested positive for nonvariola Orthopoxvirus and the Clade II variant of MPXV. The nurse then received the first dose of a two-dose JYNNEOS vaccination series as postexposure prophylaxis.
A single lesion formed at the puncture site 10 days after the nurse was exposed. Swabs from the nurse’s lesion tested positive for Orthopoxvirus and MPXV. The nurse isolated until after the lesion had crusted over, the scab had fallen off, and a new layer of skin formed beneath it, which took 19 days. According to the report, the nurse did not develop additional lesions or any other symptoms.
CDC’s report urges healthcare workers against using sharp instruments for monkeypox testing and stresses that unroofing, opening, or aspirating monkeypox lesions is not necessary.
“Because of the reliability and sensitivity of real-time [polymerase chain reaction] assays used [during the current monkeypox outbreak], vigorous swabbing of the outer surface of a lesion is adequate to collect enough viral material for testing and will minimize the potential for needlesticks,” the report states.
More information is available in CDC’s report. Guidance for collecting and handling specimens for monkeypox testing can be found elsewhere on the agency’s website.