thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Proposes Ban on Most Uses of Methylene Chloride
On April 20, EPA announced a proposed rule that would ban most uses of methylene chloride, a chemical used as a solvent in vapor degreasing and metal cleaning as well as an ingredient in sealants and adhesive removers. Methylene chloride also has consumer applications in adhesives, sealants, degreasers, cleaners, and automobile products. Following last year’s proposed actions to ban chrysotile asbestos, the new EPA proposal regarding methylene chloride is the second to be issued through a new process that calls for the agency to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The summary section of EPA’s proposed rule explains that methylene chloride “is acutely lethal, a neurotoxicant, a likely human carcinogen, and presents cancer and non-cancer risks following chronic exposures as well as acute risks.” EPA’s press release announcing the proposed rule states that at least 85 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride since 1980, and many more have experienced severe, long-lasting health impacts. The fatalities have largely been among home renovation contractors who, in some cases, were fully trained and wearing personal protective equipment. In addition to prohibiting the manufacture, processing, and distribution of methylene chloride for all consumer uses, EPA’s proposal would ban most of the chemical’s industrial and commercial uses. Manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors would be required to notify companies that receive methylene chloride shipments about these prohibitions and to keep records. However, the proposed rule would allow some military, industrial manufacturing, and industrial processing uses of methylene chloride under what EPA describes as “a workplace chemical protection program with strict exposure limits to better protect workers.” Examples of uses EPA’s proposal would allow to continue include the processing of methylene chloride to produce chemicals related to efforts to limit climate change as well as specific uses required by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Aviation Administration. According to EPA’s press release, the agency consulted with OSHA and considered existing OSHA requirements while developing the proposed worker protections outlined in the rule. The pre-publication copy of the proposal explains that the workplace chemical protection program would include requirements related to inhalation exposure concentration limits and exposure monitoring for certain continued conditions of use of methylene chloride. The program would also include an existing chemical exposure limit (ECEL) that EPA describes as “an 8-hour occupational inhalation exposure limit based on the point of departure of the endpoint that drives the unreasonable risk determination,” which in the case of methylene chloride is chronic non-cancer liver effects. EPA’s proposed ECEL for methylene chloride is 2 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and its proposed short-term exposure limit is 16 ppm as a 15-minute TWA. These limits are lower than OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for methylene chloride of 25 ppm as an 8-hour TWA and STEL of 125 ppm. The proposed rule may be read in the Federal Register. Stakeholder feedback was accepted during a public comment period that ended July 3. For more information, see EPA’s April 20 press release and the agency’s webpage on risk management for methylene chloride.
NIOSH Seeks Workplaces That Use Electric Arc-, Flame-, or Cold-Spray Coating
NIOSH is seeking employers who are interested in participating in a project intended to reduce workers’ exposure to metal fumes, particles, and gases during thermal spray coating (TSC) and associated activities. TSC processes are fast-growing technologies developing new specialized applications. However, little is known about exposure and potential health effects when performing these processes. NIOSH plans to assess exposures and respiratory abnormalities in workers using TSC technologies in various industries, evaluate control measures present in workplaces, and make recommendations to improve the work environment. Following inhalation exposure, respiratory health, and control measure assessments, NIOSH will meet with employers to discuss study results and develop intervention strategies. Participating employers can benefit by gaining knowledge about workplace factors and activities that influence exposures, as well as effective control measures. More information, including contact information for the project’s officers, is available in NIOSH’s flyer (PDF).
NIOSH Documents Address Hazardous Drugs in Healthcare Settings
Two documents available from NIOSH since April address hazardous drugs in healthcare settings. Procedures for Developing the NIOSH List of Hazardous Drugs in Healthcare Settings outlines the methodology that NIOSH uses to add substances to its List of Hazardous Drugs in Healthcare Settings. The document also describes the process for requesting drugs’ removal from or placement on the list as well as how NIOSH recommends the list be used in healthcare and other settings. The second document, Managing Hazardous Drug Exposures: Information for Healthcare Settings, is intended to help employers establish workplace-specific risk management procedures for hazardous drugs. A Federal Register notice published in April describes the development of these documents, including changes made in response to comments on draft versions.
The Procedures document can be used by healthcare facilities to examine new drugs and establish their own lists of hazardous drugs. It also makes clear that NIOSH’s hazardous drugs list is applicable in settings such as veterinary care clinics, drug research laboratories, retail pharmacies, and home healthcare agencies in addition to healthcare. Employers can use the Managing Hazardous Drug Exposures document as a starting point for developing facility-specific risk management plans. According to NIOSH, factors unique to each work setting can affect workers’ potential exposures from handling hazardous drugs. Among these factors are the frequency, duration, and magnitude of exposures as well as the presence or absence of exposure controls.
For more information about hazardous drug exposures in healthcare, visit NIOSH’s website.
CDC’s New Building Ventilation Guidance Calls for 5 ACH, Upgraded Filters
New CDC recommendations for improving ventilation in buildings urge owners and operators to aim for at least 5 air changes per hour (ACH) in occupied spaces and to upgrade filters to those rated MERV-13 or higher. The agency stresses the importance of good ventilation in maintaining healthy indoor environments and protecting building occupants from respiratory infections, including COVID-19. CDC’s guidance outlines basic as well as “enhanced" strategies for improving buildings’ ventilation, filtration, and air treatment systems. According to the agency, enhanced strategies are those that can help lower the concentration of viral particles in building air. In addition to delivering 5 or more ACH and upgrading filters, these strategies include setting a building’s HVAC system to circulate more air when people are inside; bringing in clean outdoor air by opening windows or doors and using exhaust fans; and using air cleaners with high-efficiency filters to filter air. CDC also recommends that building owners and operators consider installing UV air treatment systems and using portable carbon dioxide monitors to help assess whether indoor air is stale or fresh. CO2 readings above 800 ppm suggest that more fresh, outdoor air may be needed in a space, the agency says. These updates accompany changes to CDC’s monitoring strategy for COVID-19 following the end of the national public health emergency on May 11. Further details can be found on CDC’s pages on improving ventilation in buildings and ventilation in buildings.
Washington State Repeals Prohibition on Regulations Intended to Limit MSDs
A bill signed into law on April 20 by Washington Governor Jay Inslee repeals the state’s prohibition on regulations intended to limit musculoskeletal injuries and musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. The law, which went into effect on July 23, empowers the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) to adopt rules related to MSD prevention for specific industries or risk classifications.
The law states that DLI may not adopt more than one set of rules related to MSD prevention over a 12-month period for industries or risk classifications that were not previously regulated for these injuries. The law also requires DLI to annually publish a list of industries and risk classifications that are eligible for MSD-related rulemaking, and prohibits the department from adopting MSD-related rules for home offices unless these are required by Congress or federal OSHA.
The rule is available as a PDF.
ASHRAE Approves Standard on Controls for Infectious Aerosols in Indoor Spaces
In June, ASHRAE approved for publication a new standard intended to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, influenza, and other airborne diseases in indoor spaces. ASHRAE Standard 241, Control of Infectious Aerosols, includes requirements for air cleaning system design, installation, commissioning, operation, and maintenance. According to the organization’s press release, Standard 241 differs from other indoor air quality standards in that it sets requirements for equivalent clean airflow rate, which ASHRAE describes as “the flow rate of pathogen free air flow into occupied areas of a building that would have the same effect as the total of outdoor air, filtration of indoor air, and air disinfection by technologies such as germicidal ultraviolet light.” Other aspects of the standard address how to use filtration and air cleaning to meet equivalent clean airflow requirements safely, efficiently, and cost effectively.
Standard 241 was not developed under rules approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) because ASHRAE wanted to make it available for use as soon as possible. ASHRAE had set a goal to finalize the standard within six months when the organization announced the project in December 2022. The draft standard was produced in 10 weeks and was available for public review and comment from May 12 to May 26, 2023.
Now that the standard has been approved for publication, ASHRAE says the Standard 241 committee will focus on clarifying requirements of the standard and developing tools to help the public use it. The organization intends to make related courses, podcasts, fact sheets, and additional information available in the future.
Further details can be found in ASHRAE’s news release.
NIOSH Launches Registry to Understand, Reduce Cancer in the Fire Service
NIOSH announced in April the launch of the National Firefighter Registry for Cancer, an effort to understand and reduce cancer among firefighters in the United States. The agency describes the NFR as “the largest effort undertaken by the nation to support and advance understanding of cancer in the fire service.” As numerous studies have found that exposures on the fireground may increase firefighters’ risk of certain types of cancer, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018 directed NIOSH to develop a registry to help improve understanding of the link between firefighting and cancer. The resulting NFR is intended to capture details about participants’ work and match that data with information from state cancer registries. NIOSH worked with experts in fire and emergency services as well as experts from the public health, epidemiology, and medical fields to plan and launch the registry.
The NFR is open to all U.S. firefighters, regardless of whether they have a previous cancer diagnosis, and participation is voluntary. NIOSH encourages all members of the fire service to participate in the NFR, including active, former, and retired firefighters; career, paid-on-call, and volunteer firefighters; structural, wildland, industrial, and military firefighters; instructors; and fire investigators. The agency also stresses the importance of recruiting many types of firefighters from the nation’s diverse fire service to join the NFR.
An article about the NFR was published in the June/July 2023 issue of The Synergist. For more information, visit the registry webpage.
NIOSH Collects Resources for Pandemic Planning
A new topic page published by NIOSH at bit.ly/nioshpandemicplan collects resources to help healthcare settings plan for infectious disease outbreaks or pandemics. The agency provides information regarding strategies to conserve supplies of personal protective equipment during shortages; ventilation headboards, which isolate patients while protecting healthcare workers from airborne infectious diseases; and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems to create expedient patient isolation rooms. Additional resources include tools to help healthcare facilities track and optimize the use of PPE and strategies for the safe and proper disposal of sharps during mass vaccination campaigns.
Information from NIOSH about respiratory infections in the workplace is available via a separate webpage that covers general information for businesses as well as industry-specific information for healthcare workers and first responders, airline and airport workers, and maritime workers.
A full list of NIOSH workplace safety and health topic pages can be found on the agency’s website.
New Chapters on Ergonomics, Young Workers Added to OSHA Handbook
OSHA has updated its handbook on safety and health information for small businesses to include new chapters on ergonomics, young workers, workplace violence, and infection control plans, the agency announced in May via its QuickTakes e-newsletter. The new sections of the Small Business Safety and Health Handbook are checklists that employers can use to ensure hazards are being controlled and regulatory requirements are being met with respect to each topic. For example, the infection control checklist asks whether frequently touched surfaces are routinely cleaned and disinfected, and the checklist for young workers directs employers to ensure that workers between 18 and 21 years of age do not drive commercial vehicles across state lines.
A checklist on heat-related illnesses, developed through an OSHA-NIOSH partnership, was added in September 2022. The handbook also provides checklists for electrical safety, fire protection, hazard communication, lockout/tagout procedures, noise exposure, personal protective equipment, and a range of other safety and health topics. Additional sections summarize the benefits of safety and health programs and outline additional resources for controlling hazards, training employees, and protecting whistleblowers.
OSHA’s Small Business Safety and Health Handbook is available from the agency’s website (PDF).
OSHA Warns of Heat Illness in Shipyard Confined Spaces
A new OSHA document focuses on preventing heat illness among maritime sector employees who work in confined spaces. The agency explains that working in confined spaces can increase employees’ risk of heat illness due to several factors: for example, some personal protective equipment can contribute to overheating, and temperatures in confined spaces are often higher than outside, while airflow is usually low. The publication outlines measures employers can take to prevent heat illness among shipyard workers, covering topics such as training workers on heat illness risks, symptoms, response procedures, and prevention; planning work schedules to allow new and returning workers to acclimatize to heat; adjusting work duration or scheduling based on current heat conditions; and setting controls and monitoring activity at work sites. Another section of the publication highlights the signs of heat illness and lists actions to take if a worker exhibits heat illness symptoms.
The new publication on heat illness in confined spaces is available from OSHA as a PDF. A fact sheet published by OSHA earlier this year also highlighted physical hazards in shipyard confined spaces (PDF). See the agency’s publications webpage for additional resources.
EPA Proposes New Occupational Risk Mitigation Measures for Two Pesticides
EPA has proposed new mitigation measures intended to protect the health of workers with occupational exposures to the pesticides chlormequat chloride and diazinon, according to press releases published in late April.
Chlormequat chloride is registered as a growth regulator for ornamental plants, but EPA is considering a new use for the substance to improve the yield of small grain crops by reducing the problem of “lodging,” or the bending or breakage of the stems of small grains. Although EPA’s human health and environmental risk assessments have found no risks of concern, the agency has suggested measures to protect workers exposed to the pesticide under its potential new use, as well as animal species in the surrounding environment. The proposal was available for public comment on Regulations.gov until May 26.
EPA has also proposed mitigation measures for the insecticide diazinon in light of an updated risk assessment that found potential risks of concern for workers mixing, loading, and applying diazinon and for bystanders exposed to spray drift. Adama U.S. and Drexel Chemical Company, the registrants of diazinon, are working with EPA voluntarily to develop mitigation measures years ahead of the normal review process and have agreed to cancel certain applications and reduce spray drift. EPA plans to issue its proposed interim decision for diazinon in fiscal year 2026. The updated risk assessment may be read on Regulations.gov.
More information about the proposed measures for these pesticides can be found in EPA’s news releases on chlormequat chloride and diazinon.
OSHA Announces National Emphasis Program on Fall Prevention
OSHA has launched a national emphasis program (NEP) to prevent falls across all industries, the agency announced in May. Falls from heights are the leading cause of fatal workplace injuries, OSHA states: 680 of 5,190 fatal workplace injuries recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021 were associated with falls, which equates to about 13 percent of all deaths related to work injuries. The NEP provides OSHA compliance officers with procedures for locating and inspecting fall hazards and authorizes them to open inspections whenever they observe someone working at heights. The program also includes an outreach component to educate employers on keeping their workers safe from falls.
About 65 percent of OSHA inspections in the construction industry between 2014 and 2021 emphasized fall hazards, the NEP document (PDF) states. Falls to lower levels accounted for 32 percent of fatalities in the construction industry for the same period. Although less common, falls remain a hazard in non-construction industries.
Under the NEP, state OSHA plans must have fall protection policies and procedures identical to or at least as effective as those outlined in the federal program. State plans had up to 60 days from the date of the NEP’s announcement to notify OSHA of whether they planned to adopt such policies or already had them in place.
More information, including a link to the NEP, may be found in OSHA’s press release. OSHA also provides fall protection resources on its website.