thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
Fatal Work Injuries Increased Nearly 9 Percent in 2021
The number of deaths caused by injuries in U.S. workplaces in 2021 represented an 8.9 percent increase from 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). In total, 5,190 fatalities were recorded in 2021, up from 4,764 fatal work injuries in 2020. The fatal work injury rate for 2021 was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, the highest annual rate since 2016. This translates to one worker death caused by a work-related injury every 101 minutes in 2021, BLS states. In a statement dated Dec. 16, 2022, Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said that this sharp increase in fatal work injuries “serves as a call to action for OSHA, employers and other stakeholders to redouble our collective efforts to make our nation’s workplaces safer.” As in 2020, transportation incidents were the most frequent type of incident in 2021, with 1,982 fatal transportation-related injuries representing 38.2 percent of all work-related fatalities. Transportation-related fatal injuries increased by 11.5 percent compared to 2020, although the rate for this type of injury remained 6.6 percent lower than in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, workers in transportation and material-moving occupations were the occupational group with the highest number of fatalities, with 1,523 deaths recorded. After transportation workers, workers in construction and extraction occupations experienced the second most occupational deaths (951), although this number represents a slight decrease from 2020. Two occupation types that experienced significant increases in deaths from occupational injuries were protective service occupations, including firefighters and law enforcement workers (31.9 percent), and installation, maintenance, and repair workers (20.9 percent). BLS found increases in workplace fatalities due to violence and other injuries caused by people or animals, from 705 deaths in 2020 to 761 in 2021—with the largest subcategory, intentional injuries by people, increasing by 10.8 percent. Women represented 14.5 percent of fatalities caused by intentional injuries by a person, BLS found, although women comprised only 8.6 percent of all workplace fatalities. 2021 also saw 798 worker fatalities caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments, the highest number for the category since BLS began the CFOI series in 2011. Injuries also rose within the category of slips, trips, and falls. However, the number of workplace suicides decreased between 2020 and 2021, from 259 to 236. Parker also drew attention to the finding that Black and Hispanic or Latino workers were disproportionately affected, with the 653 deaths among Black workers in 2021 representing an all-time high. BLS also found that the workplace fatality rates for Black and Hispanic or Latino workers were 4.0 and 4.5 fatalities per 100,000 FTE workers, respectively. Within both groups, transportation incidents were the leading cause of fatalities, with 267 transportation-related work fatalities occurring among Black or African American workers and 383 occurring among Latino or Hispanic workers. For Black workers, injuries due to violence and other injuries by people or animals was the second highest cause of fatalities due to work-related injuries, while for Hispanic or Latino workers, it was slips, trips, and falls. For more detailed information on fatal workplace injuries by injury type and occupational group, see the BLS news release (PDF).
Honeywell Issues Stop-Use Notice for Certain PAPR Cartridges
On Dec. 20, Honeywell Personal Protective Equipment issued a mandatory stop-use notice for powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) cartridges PA7DEHE and PA7OVAGHE produced before November 2022. Honeywell’s product notification explains that a quality issue related to these cartridges “could cause possible exposure to carbon and other substances, creating a potential safety issue for the user.” These cartridges must be placed on quality hold and not used. The company says it is not aware of any safety incidents related to this issue and that production and delivery of new cartridges has resumed following a pause in production, during which Honeywell corrected the quality concern. Honeywell’s product notification explains where the model and lot number can be found on the cartridges and provides contact information for users who require additional information or instruction. A PDF of the product notification was emailed from NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.
EPA Revises Risk Determination for Carbon Tetrachloride
A revised risk determination finalized by EPA on Dec. 27 finds that carbon tetrachloride “presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health.” According to EPA, carbon tetrachloride is used in the production of refrigerants, chlorinated compounds, and agricultural products. Its use in consumer products was banned in 1970 by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Adverse human health effects from using carbon tetrachloride include cancer and chronic liver toxicity from long-term inhalation and dermal exposures as well as liver toxicity from short-term dermal exposures.
The severity of the health effects associated with exposures to carbon tetrachloride prompted EPA to use its “whole chemical risk determination approach” for the chemical rather than making separate risk determinations for individual conditions of use. The revised risk determination for carbon tetrachloride does not assume that all workers exposed to the chemical always or properly wear personal protective equipment. This “reflects EPA’s recognition that certain subpopulations of workers exist that may be highly exposed” for a number of potential reasons, the agency explains in a press release.
OSHA’s construction and maritime industry PEL for carbon tetrachloride is 10 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average, its acceptable ceiling concentration is 25 ppm, and its acceptable maximum peak above the acceptable ceiling concentration for an eight-hour shift is 200 ppm for a maximum duration of five minutes in any four hours.
EPA intends to begin a risk management rulemaking for carbon tetrachloride.
For more information, see EPA’s press release and its risk evaluation webpage for carbon tetrachloride.
NIOSH Announces Competition for Improved Respirator Fit-Testing Solutions
On Jan. 10, NIOSH launched the Respirator Fit Evaluation Challenge, a crowdsourcing competition offering a total of $350,000 in prize money for solutions that improve respirator fit testing. According to NIOSH’s announcement, small or disadvantaged workplaces often lack the resources to conduct initial and annual fit testing to ensure workers are wearing correctly fitting respirator models and sizes, as required by OSHA for all workplaces where employees must wear respirators. The announcement also states that members of the public are increasingly wearing respirators for protection against infectious diseases, wildfire smoke, and pollution, without knowing whether the equipment provides adequate protection.
To compete in Phase 1 of the challenge, individuals or teams must submit a concept paper no longer than 10 pages that outlines their ideas for improving respirator fit testing and feedback by May 1, 2023. Up to 20 participants will be eligible to win $5,000 in Phase 1 and advance to Phase 2.
NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) is sponsoring the challenge. “We hope this challenge helps us identify a practical solution that delivers users [. . .] immediate information on a respirator’s fit,” said NPPTL Director Maryann D’Alessandro, PhD.
Participants must register on the challenge website. An orientation webinar was held Feb. 2 to provide participants an opportunity to ask questions.
2023 Safety Stand-Down to Be Held in May
The 2023 National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction is scheduled for May 1–5, OSHA announced via its
e-newsletter. The annual safety stand-down is intended to raise awareness of fall hazards and encourage conversations about fall prevention. According to OSHA, fatalities caused by falls continue to be a leading cause of death among construction workers: in 2020, 351 of the 1,008 fatalities recorded in construction were attributed to falls. OSHA encourages any employer who wants to prevent hazards in the workplace to participate. Employers whose workers are not exposed to fall hazards can use the safety stand-down as an opportunity to focus on other job hazards, protective methods, and safety policies and goals. The website for the safety stand-down provides resources for employers and employees, including free training materials and videos. Highlights from previous years are also available.
Revised Risk Determination for the Solvent TCE Finalized by EPA
EPA has found the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) to present unreasonable risk to human health, according to a revised risk determination finalized in January. The agency describes TCE as a volatile organic compound used mainly in industrial and commercial processes. One major use of TCE is to remove grease from metal parts. It is also used to make other chemicals such as HFC-134a, a refrigerant, and is found in some consumer products used for cleaning, furniture care, arts and crafts, and spray coatings.
Adverse health effects associated with exposure to TCE include developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer, EPA says. Due to the severity and potential irreversibility of the health effects associated with TCE, EPA used its “whole chemical risk determination approach” rather than making separate risk determinations for individual conditions of use. The agency determined that only two of the 54 conditions of use it evaluated—distribution in commerce and consumer use of TCE in pepper spray—did not drive its determination regarding unreasonable risk.
OSHA’s PEL for TCE is 100 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average, its acceptable ceiling concentration is 200 ppm, and its acceptable maximum peak above the acceptable ceiling concentration for an eight-hour shift is 300 ppm for a maximum duration of five minutes in any two hours.
EPA intends to begin a risk management rulemaking for TCE.
“EPA has received public comments from industry respondents about occupational safety practices currently in use at their facilities and will consider these comments, as well as other information on use of PPE, engineering controls and other ways industry protects its workers as potential ways to address unreasonable risk during the risk management process,” the agency says.
For more information, see EPA’s press release and its risk evaluation webpage for TCE.
Uterine Cancers Now Covered by World Trade Center Health Program
A final rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services adds all types of uterine cancer to the list of World Trade Center-related health conditions, effective Jan. 18. The WTC Health Program is administered by NIOSH and provides medical monitoring and treatment of health conditions related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The program serves responders at the WTC and related sites in New York City, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and survivors who were in the New York City disaster area. To date, more than 74,000 people have been diagnosed with physical and mental health conditions resulting from 9/11 exposures to dust, debris, and traumatic events, according to NIOSH.
Under the new rule, members of the WTC Health Program with uterine cancers that meet the program’s eligibility and certification requirements may get their cancers certified as WTC-related health conditions. Members whose uterine cancers are certified will have their treatment covered by the program with no out-of-pocket costs as well as access to program benefits like monitoring, certain cancer screenings, and benefits counseling.
The addition of uterine cancer to the list of WTC-related health conditions is based on an “exhaustive review and evaluation of the available body of scientific evidence describing the causal relationship between 9/11 exposures and uterine cancer,” a NIOSH news update explains.
For further information, see NIOSH’s press release or the WTC Health Program website.
Frigid Temperatures in December Led to Increase in Chemical Incidents
The December plunge in temperatures across much of the United States contributed to an increase in the number of chemical incidents reported to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Data (Excel file) made available by CSB list all reported chemical incidents that occurred in 2022. The total of 36 chemical incidents reported between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2022, is more than twice the number that occurred during the same period in 2021 and 2020, CSB said.
Reportable incidents to CSB include those that result in fatalities, serious injuries, or substantial property damage. From Dec. 6 through Dec. 26, 18 separate chemical incidents were reported to the agency, including two that resulted in fatalities and five in injuries. CSB called on chemical facilities to better prepare for the challenges of cold weather, which can cause pipes to break and instruments to fail. Cold can also result in chemicals combining with water to form hydrates, which can expand and block pipes, according to CSB.
The agency did not release descriptions of the recent incidents or indicate whether any are under investigation at the agency. For more information, visit the CSB website.
OSHA Highlights Physical Hazards in Shipyard Confined Spaces
An OSHA fact sheet focuses on protecting workers in the maritime sector from physical hazards in confined spaces. The agency explains that hazards such as slippery and sloping working surfaces, corroded ladder rungs, moving or rotating equipment, obstructions, and elevated walking-working surfaces are common in confined spaces in this industry, and factors such as hot or cold conditions, poor lighting, and physically restrictive work areas can increase health and safety concerns. The fact sheet outlines measures employers can take to protect workers from falls, provide safe access to spaces, maintain adequate lighting, verify safe working conditions, and protect employees who are working alone.
OSHA stresses that employers must conduct a hazard assessment or job hazard analysis prior to any work activity in confined spaces. The agency encourages employers to consult shipyard competent persons, whose role is to ensure safe working conditions by determining whether a space is safe for workers to enter or perform hot work, when evaluating potential worker exposures. OSHA’s requirements for competent persons can be found on its website.
The new fact sheet is available from OSHA as a PDF. Vist OSHA’s publications webpage for additional OSHA resources.
NPPTL Evaluates SCBA Involved in a Firefighter Fatality
A report published in November by NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) describes the laboratory’s evaluation of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that was worn by a firefighter who died at a structure fire. The evaluation was requested by the Lower Merion Fire Department in Pennsylvania.
NPPTL’s inspection and evaluation of the SCBA unit included a component-by-component visual examination as well as six NIOSH standard testing procedures and one NFPA test method. The unit passed NIOSH tests for positive pressure, rated service time, exhalation resistance, static pressure, and gas flow as well as an NFPA airflow performance test. NPPTL’s team was unable to test the unit’s electrical system, as its personal alert safety system “would not respond to ‘shaking the unit’ to deactivate the alarm,” the report explains. NPPTL posits that this could have been caused by the electrical wire being disconnected from the SCBA’s mask-mounted regulator. However, the unit’s mechanical alarm system “functioned as designed” during NPPTL’s inspection, the report states.
The SCBA, which was an MSA Model G1, 30-minute, 4500 psi unit with NIOSH Approval Number TC-13F-0786CBR, was not found to have contributed to the fatality. NIOSH determined there was no need for corrective action regarding the approval holder or end users of this product.
NPPTL’s report stresses that any SCBA unit involved in an incident may not be placed back in service until it has been “repaired, tested, cleaned, and any damaged components replaced and inspected by a qualified service technician.” All SCBA units must undergo a flow test at least annually.
The full report is available on the NPPTL website.
EPA Announces Changes to Safer Chemical Ingredients List
EPA has added nine chemicals to its list of safer chemical ingredients and removed one that is classified as a per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), the agency announced via email from its Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The PFAS designated for removal is 1-Octanesulfonic acid, 3,3,4,4,5,5,6,6,7,7,8,8,8-tridecafluoro-, commonly known as halogenated aliphatic acid. The email does not identify the nine substances that were added but notes the changes bring the number of chemicals on the list to 1,064.
The Safer Chemical Ingredients List identifies substances that the agency has determined to be safer than traditional chemical ingredients. The list is an element of EPA’s Safer Choice initiative. The EPA website explains that the criteria for inclusion on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List are intended to protect against a range of toxicological effects from ingredients.
According to the PubChem database, halogenated aliphatic acid is used as a fire extinguishing agent. Its updated entry indicates that it is not used in Safer Choice-certified products and will no longer be listed starting in January 2024. The email from EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention explains that the designation for the substance was changed based on “a growing understanding of the toxicological profiles for certain PFAS and incomplete information on the potential health and environmental effects of these substances.”
For more information about PFAS, visit the EPA website.