thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
Report Describes Flaws in OSHA’s Pandemic Response
OSHA’s enforcement activities did not sufficiently protect workers from COVID-19 health hazards, according to an audit of the agency’s pandemic response conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG). From OSHA’s lack of citations to enforce its standard for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses during COVID-19 inspections, as well as incomplete information on COVID-19 infection rates at work sites, OIG concluded that “there is a heightened risk that workers suffered unnecessary exposure to the virus.” The audit, which was released Oct. 31, also found that 20 percent of a sample of COVID-19 inspections conducted from February 2020 through January 2021 were closed by OSHA without the agency ensuring that employers had demonstrated the mitigation of alleged health hazards. “These issues occurred because OSHA had not established controls to ensure citations were issued or to document the rationale, does not require employers to report all COVID-19 cases among workers, and does not have a tool to ensure it receives and reviews all requested documentation prior to closing inspections,” the OIG report states. The report outlines five recommendations that OIG says would improve OSHA’s enforcement activities and help protect workers from pandemic health hazards. OIG recommends that OSHA provide additional training to compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to enforce its recording and reporting standard for fatalities; update its guidance or policies to include supervisory review of files prior to closing inspections to ensure that the files “contain adequate support for the reasons regarding citation issuance decisions”; and develop a plan regarding work site case data for future pandemics that involves collaboration with other agencies to improve OSHA’s response and enforcement actions. OIG’s report also recommends that OSHA require employers to notify all employees of all known positive cases of infectious diseases at work sites as part of its rulemaking on infectious diseases. The report’s final recommendation is for OSHA to develop and implement a tracking tool intended to ensure that the agency receives and reviews all items requested by CSHOs during inspections. In its response to the report, OSHA disagrees with two of OIG’s recommendations. The agency explains that, because the planned scope of its infectious disease rule is limited to the healthcare and social assistance sectors, a rule covering all employers would essentially “be a whole new rulemaking and significantly slow” the rulemaking process for infectious diseases, potentially leaving healthcare and social assistance workers at risk of pandemic-related hazards, according to OSHA. The agency also disagrees with OIG’s recommendation for a tracking tool, clarifying that an alleged hazard does not mean that a hazard or violation exists. “If OSHA does not issue a citation, then there is no requirement for an employer to provide documentation of hazard abatement to OSHA,” the agency explains. “[G]iven that the audit has not shown the lack of a tracking system has a material impact on inspection effectiveness, OSHA is not persuaded it should prioritize creating and mandating use of a uniform tracking tool for all investigatory documentation requests.” A previous OIG audit issued in February 2021 found that a surge of work site complaints to OSHA combined with reduced and mostly remote inspections resulted in increased risk to U.S. workers’ safety (PDF). The Oct. 31 report is available on OIG’s website (PDF).
NIOSH: Updated Pocket Guide Expected This Year
NIOSH plans to publish an updated version of its Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards in 2023, the agency announced in the November 2022 issue of its e-newsletter. The publication provides general industrial hygiene information for nearly 700 chemicals and is intended to inform workers, employers, and occupational health professionals about workplace chemicals and their hazards. According to NIOSH, the new edition will include expanded signs and symptoms of exposure, updated respirator recommendations, and added airborne concentration measurement methods. The agency also plans to include NIOSH skin notations, descriptions of how chemical protective clothing and decontamination recommendations were developed, and the most recent NIOSH Chemical Carcinogen Policy, which describes how the agency classifies chemicals as carcinogens, identifies control levels, and addresses analytical feasibility. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards was first published in 1978 and is available on the NIOSH website.
After Classroom Fire, CSB Highlights Hazards of Flammable Chemicals
Following a methanol fire in October at a Virginia high school, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) urged schools to review the agency’s guidance on flammable chemicals used in educational demonstrations. Four students and a teacher were injured in the incident at Dinwiddie High School.
According to CSB, one injured student was treated at the scene. The other injured individuals required hospital stays.
WRIC ABC 8News reported on a press conference during which Dinwiddie County Fire and EMS Chief Dennis Hale provided details about the incident.
“The demonstration had been conducted once, and the teacher was in the process of adding additional methanol from an open, narrow-neck, one-gallon container,” Hale said. “As the methanol was poured, the methanol vapor at the bottle opening caused a phenomenon known as flame jetting.”
CSB issued a press release that noted similarities to other fires that occurred during demonstrations of flames produced by burning methanol or another flammable liquid. In those cases, the liquid was poured from bulk containers directly onto the flames, creating a flash back to the containers and causing the fires.
After three such fires occurred in 2014, the agency published a safety alert (PDF) that warns against the use of bulk containers of flammable chemicals during educational demonstrations when small quantities are sufficient. According to CSB, schools can help prevent future incidents by implementing strict safety controls for handling hazardous chemicals, conducting thorough hazard reviews prior to demonstrations, and providing safety barriers between demonstrations and the audience. More information and additional resources are available from CSB’s website.
Agencies Announce Winning Designs in Mask Innovation Challenge
The winners of a mask innovation challenge sponsored by NIOSH, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology were announced in November. Two winners, Air99 LLC and Global Safety First LLC, will receive $150,000 each for their submissions.
Air99 developed a mask that “leverages origami principles to improve fit, breathability, and aesthetics,” and Global Safety First designed a strapless mask with a three-layer, composite nano-fiber filter that “utilizes a flexible, hypo-allergenic, medical-grade, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared adhesive to adhere to the wearer’s face.” Runners-up that will receive prizes include Air Flo Labs LLC, which developed a reusable elastomeric mask that is designed to offer two nose-bridge sizes intended to fit more than 90 percent of the world’s adult population, and Levi Strauss & Co., which developed a mask with a simplified design that is intended to be easy to manufacture through alternative supply channels.
“The overall goal of the challenge was to support the development of evidence-based and scientifically validated mask designs that could be used during future pandemics and public health emergencies, as well as everyday use, to help reduce people’s exposure to a variety of respiratory threats, such as allergy season, wildfire smoke, pollution, seasonal flu, and other infectious diseases,” an article on the BARDA website explains.
For more information about the challenge and the winning designs, visit the BARDA website.
OSHA Initiative Aims to Protect Food Processing Workers
In October, OSHA launched a local emphasis program intended to protect food processing workers in Illinois and Ohio, where food manufacturing injury rates “were consistently elevated” during 2019–2020, according to the agency. Compared to manufacturers in the private sector, food production workers in Ohio had a nearly 57 percent higher rate of amputations and a 16 percent higher rate of fractures, while Illinois food production workers experienced a nearly 29 percent higher rate of amputations and a 14 percent higher rate of fractures. “Between 2016 and 2020, OSHA investigated multiple fatalities, along with dozens of workers suffering amputations, fractures and crushed hands or fingers,” an agency press release explains. “Investigators often determined that the employers commonly failed to control hazardous energy or allowed workers to operate machines without adequate guarding.” The local emphasis program (PDF) encourages employers to address risks associated with occupational exposure to machine hazards during production activities, and off-shift sanitation, service, and maintenance tasks.
NIOSH Announces Rescission, Revocations of Respirator Approvals
Following a request from Supplied Air Monitoring Systems Inc., NIOSH rescinded the respirator approval issued to the company. The voluntary rescission affects respirators marked with the approval number TC-13F-0214. As of Oct. 20, respirators bearing this number are no longer NIOSH approved and may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed, according to a notice on the NIOSH website. NIOSH directs individuals to contact Blackbox Technologies International LLC regarding inquiries about the decision to voluntarily rescind the approval issued to Supplied Air Monitoring Systems.
In November, NIOSH announced that it revoked seven respirator approval numbers issued to Honeywell International Inc. that were labeled as Sperian SAF-T-FIT filtering facepiece respirators. Any Honeywell respirator marked with a NIOSH approval label that includes the numbers TC-84A-3745, TC-84A-3769, TC-84A-3789, TC-84A-3845, TC-84A-3877, TC-84A-3879, or TC-84A-4270 is no longer approved by NIOSH, the agency explains in a notice published on its website. According to NIOSH, Honeywell “failed to control the design, labeling, and quality management for [these] approvals” as required by the regulatory standards outlined in 42 CFR Part 84, which addresses certification requirements for respiratory protective devices. Respirators bearing any of the revoked NIOSH approval numbers may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed, and may not be used to fulfill standards or statutes that require the use of a NIOSH-approved respirator. The full notice can be found on NIOSH’s website.
NIOSH encourages users of its certified equipment list to confirm testing and certification approval numbers, which are printed on NIOSH-approved respirators.
Surgeon General Releases Framework for Mental Health at Work
Citing changes in the nature of work related to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new report in October that describes the role played by workplaces in promoting the mental health and well-being of workers and communities. The 30-page document outlines five “essentials” for workplace mental health and well-being: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunities for growth.
A press release issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cites survey findings that 76 percent of U.S. workers report at least one symptom of a mental health condition, 84 percent say their workplace has contributed to at least one mental health challenge, and 81 percent will look for workplaces that support mental health in the future. Employers are uniquely positioned to invest in the mental health of their workforces and thereby strengthen their organizations’ success, according to HHS.
The framework represents “a starting point for organizations in updating and institutionalizing policies, processes, and practices to best support the mental health and well-being of workers,” according to the document. It also states that “[t]he Five Essentials can guide leaders, managers, and supervisors, as well as empower workers, to identify and communicate about priority organizational changes needed.” Lists of resources to help individuals and organizations actualize each essential are also provided.
The report is available as a PDF. For more information, read the HHS press release.
OSHA Publishes Monkeypox Fact Sheet
An OSHA fact sheet published in November provides information on protecting workers from exposure to monkeypox. The agency urges employers and workers whose job duties might include close, frequent skin-to-skin contact with people who have a monkeypox infection to take precautions to prevent work-related transmission of the virus. Those who may come in contact with contaminated materials should also take precautions.
According to OSHA, workers whose duties may involve the types of contact that could spread monkeypox may include healthcare workers and first responders; workers in congregate settings such as hotels, correctional facilities, and recreational facilities or social venues; massage, spa, fitness, and salon workers; housekeepers, janitors, cleaning service workers, dry cleaning, and laundry workers; and animal care workers, including veterinary staff.
According to OSHA, the risk for worker exposure to monkeypox in most settings is “extremely low.” OSHA’s new fact sheet is available as a PDF.
Report Characterizes Electrical Injuries, Citations in Construction
A publication released in November by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training describes electrical injuries in construction and related OSHA citations for the period 2011 through 2020. CPWR found that the rate of fatal electrical injuries in construction dropped from 0.7 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2019 to 0.5 per 100,000 FTEs in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 54 fatal electrical injuries in 2020 was the lowest number recorded in the ten-year period beginning in 2011 and a significant drop from the high of 87 fatalities recorded in 2018. But even though electrical fatalities in construction dropped in 2020, the overall number of fatalities in the industry was 4.2 percent higher than in 2019.
The number of nonfatal electrical injuries in construction rose slightly from 440 in 2019 to 450 in 2020. The highest number of nonfatal electrical injuries during 2011–2020 was 790 in 2015.
In contrast to the number of electrical injuries, which fluctuated from year to year, the number of OSHA citations fell steadily from 2011 through 2020. In 2011, OSHA issued approximately 4,900 electrical citations comprising 6.5 percent of all construction industry citations. Only 1,300 electrical citations—about 2.7 percent of all citations in construction—were issued in 2020.
The CPWR report is available as a PDF.
New California Law Addresses Workplace Hazards at Public Events
A bill signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 29 is intended to help ensure the safety of workers involved in the setup, operation, and tear down of live events held at public events venues in the state. The new law outlines requirements for safety training and certifications for entertainment events vendors—including contractor and subcontractor employers—involved in the setting up, operation, or tearing down of live events.
Under the new law, employees of entertainment events vendors involved in these activities must complete the Cal/OSHA-10, the OSHA-10/General Entertainment Safety, or the OSHA-10 training that applies to their occupation. Workers who are heads of departments or leads must complete the Cal/OSHA-30, the OSHA-30/General Entertainment Safety, or the OSHA-30 training. Department heads or leads must additionally be certified through the industry-wide Entertainment Technician Certification Program for the tasks they supervise or perform. The law also requires vendors to certify in writing that they have verified that all employees, including any subcontractors’ employees, meet these training and certification requirements.
The full text of Assembly Bill 1775 is available on the California Legislative Information website.
Study Examines Exposure to Bioaerosols During Embalming
A new study published by IRSST, a nonprofit scientific research organization in Québec, Canada, examined embalmers’ exposure to bioaerosols to evaluate potential health risks. Embalmers are responsible for tasks such as chemically treating bodies as well as providing aesthetic care ahead of a viewing, for example. The study also sought to analyze the effects of certain factors on the behavior of biological particles in air. According to the authors, few studies have addressed exposure to bioaerosols in embalming, and the death care industry lacks specific recommendations for applying general ventilation to control bioaerosols during the process.
Researchers assessed three embalming laboratories, performing bioaerosol sampling in the air and on surfaces in the facilities. They also applied computational fluid dynamics to assess how factors such as the number of air changes per hour, the laboratories’ dimensions, and ventilation strategies affected the behavior, concentration, and dispersion of bioaerosols. The research team found that certain tasks—such as those resulting in splashing or an ejection of air by means of compression—were likely to generate increased concentrations of bioaerosols near embalmers but that on average, the workers were exposed to low levels of bioaerosols.
The team identified strains of bacteria belonging to the non-tuberculous Mycobacterium family in two of the laboratories. These bacteria belong to Risk Group 2, which Canadian regulations describe as representing moderate risk to the health of individuals and low risk to public health. Researchers were also able to culture another human pathogen from Risk Group 2, Streptococcus pneumoniae, in several samples from two of the laboratories they studied.
“The culturing of Streptococcus pneumoniae proves that bacteria from the human respiratory tract can be found in culturable state in the air of embalming labs,” the authors explain. “Most bioaerosols have diameters of less than 4 µm (so-called respirable fraction), which means that they have a strong possibility of being deposited in the respiratory tract and a strong potential to circulate in the air of embalming rooms.”
It is difficult to know whether pathogens exist in dead bodies and near embalmers, according to the researchers. For example, the authors note that embalmers may be exposed to respiratory tract viruses from deceased persons who were not tested or diagnosed prior to their passing. Additional concerns identified during the IRSST study include embalmers’ proximity to the bodies, the variety of work tasks for which embalmers are responsible, and the uncertainty regarding the dilution of contaminants using general ventilation, which the researchers say is often the only method used to control bioaerosols in embalming laboratories. Based on these findings, the research team recommends that workers involved with embalming wear, at minimum, air-purifying respiratory protective equipment such as an N95-rated filtering facepiece respirator.
A summary of the study, “Assessing Embalmer Exposure to Bioaerosols and the Associated Health Risk,” can be found on IRSST’s website. The study is available for download in English and French.
The embalming process is described in detail in the Synergist article “Mortal Exposures,” which discusses industrial hygiene in the death care industry.
Visit the Vendor Directory
The 2023 Vendor Directory for OEHS Professionals, a comprehensive resource for industrial hygiene, safety, and environmental products and services, was mailed with the November issue of The Synergist. The Vendor Directory provides easy access to information you need to make purchasing decisions. In addition to the print version, the Vendor Directory has an upgraded digital home with a powerful search function and a user-friendly interface that facilitates browsing on both mobile and desktop devices. Visit the Vendor Directory.