thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
Changes in OSHA Enforcement Guidance Seek to “Achieve a Deterrent Effect”
Enforcement guidance issued by OSHA in late January is intended to help the agency “achieve a deterrent effect” among employers who repeatedly expose workers to serious hazards or fail to comply with OSHA standards and regulations. The new guidance authorizes OSHA regional administrators and area office directors to cite certain types of violations as “instance-by-instance citations.” This policy is intended to encourage employers meeting certain criteria to be more proactive in preventing workplace fatalities and injuries, according to an OSHA memorandum. OSHA also reiterates regional administrators’ and area directors’ existing ability to exercise discretion to not group violations in cases “where there is evidence that work site conditions giving rise to the violations are separate and distinct.” A second OSHA memorandum explains that an “enforcement activity may lose its deterrent effect when citations are grouped.” The agency also says that citing violations separately can provide a more accurate picture of an employer's overall lack of compliance. The scope of the guidance for instance-by-instance citations is limited to high-gravity serious violations, or those involving danger of death or extremely serious injury or illness, related to falls, trenching, machine guarding, respiratory protection, permit-required confined spaces, and lockout/tagout as well as violations specific to recordkeeping. The new guidance covers enforcement activity in general industry as well as the agriculture, maritime, and construction industries. Factors that agency personnel will consider when deciding whether to issue instance-by-instance citations include whether an employer has received a willful, repeat, or failure to abate violation within the past five years; whether an employer has failed to report a fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye; if OSHA’s proposed citations are related to a fatality or catastrophe; and if proposed citations for recordkeeping have to do with injury or illness that occurred as a result of a serious hazard. Enforcement guidance for when not to group violations provides examples for cases in which agency personnel may use discretion to cite violations separately. The examples include situations in which “violations have differing abatement methods, each violative condition may result in death or serious physical harm, and each violative condition exposes workers to a related but different hazard,” OSHA explains. The agency notes that grouping violations is appropriate when the same abatement measures will correct multiple violations and when “substantially similar violative conduct or conditions” bring about the violations in question. OSHA sees citing violations separately as a way to encourage compliance among employers. “Smart, impactful enforcement means using all the tools available to us when an employer ‘doesn’t get it’ and will respond to only additional deterrence in the form of increased citations and penalties,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “This is intended to be a targeted strategy for those employers who repeatedly choose to put profits before their employees’ safety, health, and well-being.” OSHA’s new guidance regarding instance-by-instance citations went into effect in late March, 60 days from the agency’s announcement on Jan. 26. Regional administrators’ and area directors’ authority to exercise discretion to not group violations is part of existing OSHA policy.
For more information, read OSHA’s news release.
Training on Occupational Exposure to Fentanyl, Other Opioids Updated
A training program for emergency responders and other workers who may encounter fentanyl and other opioids on the job was recently updated by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Worker Training Program (WTP). The tool is intended to provide awareness-level training on the prevention of occupational exposure to fentanyl and other opioids. Course objectives include training participants to recognize occupations with potential exposure to these hazards, describe major signs and symptoms of opioid exposure, explain basic work practices and control measures to protect workers from fentanyl and other opioids, and discuss methods for decontamination and cleanup. Updates to the training tool include five new participatory activities and improvements to the program’s structure and flow, according to WTP’s e-newsletter. The updated training program is available to download for free in PowerPoint and PDF format from the NIEHS website.
OSHA Publication Revisits Fatal Hydrogen Sulfide Release
An OSHA publication (PDF) examines an accidental hydrogen sulfide release that killed a worker and his wife at an oil and gas facility operated by Aghorn Operating Inc. near Odessa, Texas, in 2019. The publication is part of the agency’s “fatal facts” series, which offers ideas on correcting hazards that caused workplace fatalities and educates workers about safe work practices.
In response to an alarm, a lone worker entered the pump house to close valves and isolate the pump. The pump reactivated, releasing water containing hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide monitors around the facility were not functioning, and the worker was not wearing a personal hydrogen sulfide gas detector. He died from exposure to the gas, as did his wife, when she accessed the facility to look for him.
According to the OSHA publication, some of the facility’s hydrogen sulfide detectors were in testing mode, and others had been set up incorrectly. The employer had provided personal hydrogen sulfide detectors to workers but did not have a formal written policy requiring their use. Workers had not been trained on lockout/tagout procedures, which would have prevented the pump from reenergizing. The facility also lacked procedures to prevent unauthorized visitors from accessing the pump house and other buildings at the site.
The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued a report (PDF) and safety video on the incident in 2021. OSHA cited Aghorn for five serious violations and assessed penalties totaling $75,000.
NIOSH Evaluates Whole-Body Vibration Exposures Among Golf Course Employees
A NIOSH health hazard evaluation report found that maintenance workers employed at a golf course were exposed to heightened levels of whole-body vibration, resulting from frequent operation of groundskeeping equipment, tractors, and golf carts. The agency’s evaluation included confidential interviews with employees and measurement of their vibration exposures. Most of the interviewed employees reported experiencing pain and discomfort in their lower backs, with some also reporting shoulder, neck, and knee pain. The report notes that whole-body vibration may cause chronic effects to the spine and back.
Whole-body vibration measurement results showed crest factor ratios ranging from 12 to 34 for all job tasks evaluated by NIOSH. The crest factor identifies the extremity of the peaks in any phenomena that can be measured as a wave, including vibration. Vibration with a crest factor greater than 9 is potentially more harmful, the NIOSH report states.
NIOSH’s recommendations to reduce employees’ whole-body vibration exposures include for workers to avoid driving equipment on rough or uneven areas of the golf course, to take the shortest routes possible, and to drive at reduced speeds. The agency also recommended replacing equipment seats with seats designed to dampen vibration, reducing rough areas of golf cart paths, and rotating employees between job tasks. Finally, NIOSH urged the employer to establish a health symptom reporting procedure and encouraged employees to seek evaluations from healthcare providers.
More information can be found in NIOSH’s full health hazard evaluation report (PDF).
CSB Grows to Three Members
The term of the newest member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has begun, according to a news update issued in February by CSB. Catherine Sandoval, previously a law professor at Santa Clara University in California, was nominated to join the board by President Joe Biden in June 2022 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December. A release published by the White House regarding her nomination describes Sandoval’s experience at Santa Clara University as focused on energy, communications, antitrust, and contract law. CSB’s recent update highlights her “extensive experience” in both government and the private sector. Sandoval joins Chairperson Stephen Owens and Sylvia Johnson. CSB is supposed to comprise five members who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Board members serve fixed terms of five years. For more information, see CSB’s news update.
Vinyl Chloride Among Four Tox Profiles Released for Public Comment
Draft toxicological profiles for cobalt, hexachlorocyclohexane, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and vinyl chloride are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Tox profiles are peer-reviewed evaluations of toxicological information on hazardous substances, including their health effects, relevance to public health, potential for human exposure, and regulations and guidelines.
In the United States, the use of vinyl chloride in consumer products was banned in 1974, but the plastics industry still uses the substance to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Workers and residents near plastic manufacturing facilities or hazardous waste sites may be exposed to vinyl chloride through inhalation. Workers may also be exposed through skin absorption. The many potential health effects of vinyl chloride exposure include liver damage and cancer. Access the tox profile for vinyl chloride from the ATSDR website.
On Feb. 3, 2023, a train carrying vinyl chloride derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. Three days later, authorities conducted a controlled release and burn in an effort to prevent an explosion. The governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania ordered residents of an area straddling the border between the states to evacuate until Feb. 8.
Compounds of cobalt are used in rechargeable batteries and gas turbine aircraft engines. The general population is exposed to cobalt mostly through inhalation and ingestion. Occupational exposures can occur to workers in tool production, grinding, and industries such as coal mining, metal mining, smelting, and refining. Studies of occupational exposure to cobalt have found health effects including decreased pulmonary function, asthma, and interstitial lung disease. Workers at nuclear facilities, irradiation facilities, or nuclear waste storage sites may also be exposed to radioactive cobalt. Access the tox profile for cobalt from the ATSDR website.
Hexachlorocyclohexane, or HCH, is a mixture of eight isomers. EPA began limiting the use of one HCH isomer, the insecticide lindane, for agricultural purposes in the 1970s and canceled its registrations for products containing lindane in 2006. Food and Drug Administration-regulated prescription products containing 1 percent lindane are available, use of which typically causes the highest lindane exposures. Workers in facilities that use or process lindane and people who live near sites contaminated with HCH may also have increased exposure. Access the tox profile for HCH from the ATSDR website.
1,1,1-Trichloroethane previously had many uses, including as a solvent and as a component of spot cleaners, glues, and aerosol sprays. In 2002, EPA banned its production for domestic use due to its effects on the ozone layer. The current risk of exposure to 1,1,1-trichloroethane from consumer products and workplaces in the U.S. is understood to be minimal. Access the tox profile for 1,1,1-trichloroethane from the ATSDR website.
Comments on the draft profiles may be submitted through May 10 via Regulations.gov. Other tox profiles are available from the ATSDR website.
European Commission Proposes Lower Exposure Limits for Lead, Diisocyanates
The European Commission has proposed to lower the European Union’s occupational exposure limit for lead from 0.15 mg/m3 to 0.03 mg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average. The commission also proposes to lower the biological limit value (BLV) for lead from 70 micrograms per 100 milliliters of blood (70 µg/100 ml) to 15 µg/100 ml. The commission says that “a significantly reduced exposure limit” for lead will help prevent health issues among workers, including those affecting reproduction and fetal development. According to the impact assessment (PDF) accompanying the proposal, approximately 50,000 to 150,000 workers are exposed to lead in the EU.
The European Commission is also proposing its first exposure limits for diisocyanates. These chemicals, grouped by their common properties, can cause respiratory diseases like asthma. An estimated 4.2 million workers in the EU are exposed to diisocyanates. For the nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen group of diisocyanates, the commission proposes an OEL of 6 µg/m³ as an 8-hour TWA and a 15-minute short-term exposure limit of 12 µg/m³.
The proposed changes are “key to protect workers in the context of advancing the transition to climate neutrality,” the commission states, citing lead and diisocyanates as likely to be used to produce electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and building insulation. For further details and to download the documents, see the European Commission news release.
OSHA Revises Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program
OSHA has announced revisions to its national emphasis program (NEP) for combustible dust. The revised NEP adds six industries in which combustible dust hazards are likely or fatalities or catastrophes related to combustible dust have occurred. The NEP will now cover establishments that engage in commercial baking, the manufacturing of printing ink, the production of cut lumber or the resawing or planing of lumber, the tanning and finishing of leather and hides, the manufacturing of trusses, or the wholesale distribution of grains and field beans.
The revisions remove six industries with low numbers of OSHA inspections or where less than half of inspections are related to combustible dust hazards. OSHA has also removed several of the NEP’s appendices that are now part of the chapter on combustible dusts in the OSHA Technical Manual.
For more information, read the OSHA press release and the directive for the revised NEP (PDF). More information on combustible dusts is available on the agency’s website.