thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Issues Hazard Alert on Welder's Anthrax
Inhalation of ferrous and other metal fumes may predispose metalworkers to a new form of severe pneumonia called welder’s anthrax, OSHA warns in a hazard alert. Welder’s anthrax is “a newly identified, deadly occupational disease” caused by Bacillus group bacteria that produce anthrax toxin, according to the authors of a March 2022 paper in the journal Pathogens. The hazard alert explains that these bacteria are found naturally in soils in and near subtropical locations. Seven metalworkers from Texas and Louisiana were diagnosed with welder’s anthrax between 1994 and 2020. Although welder’s anthrax is rare, researchers believe that cases may have been overlooked due to several factors, including limited detection and understanding of the pathogen. Marie A. de Perio, MD, informed The Synergist that while “metal fumes might increase susceptibility” to welder’s anthrax and other lung infections, “the hierarchy of controls can be applied to prevent workplace exposure to welding fumes and gases, and soils that may be contaminated with B. cereus group bacteria producing anthrax toxins.” Dr. de Perio is one of the lead authors for the Pathogens paper and an associate director for science at NIOSH. OSHA’s hazard alert urges employers with welding operations to implement several recommendations to help prevent employee exposures to anthrax bacteria. For example, OSHA recommends reducing workers’ exposures to environmental dust and welding fumes by using directional airflow from local exhaust ventilation to keep dust and fumes away from welders’ breathing zones. If welding is being performed outdoors, wind may be used for this purpose. Employers should also consider adding disinfectants to metalworking fluids to inhibit microbial contamination, OSHA says. Other recommendations include educating metalworkers about the symptoms of pneumonia, including welder’s anthrax, as well as cleaning the workplace to reduce workers’ exposure to dust and soils that may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. The alert also discusses personal protective equipment, including coveralls, work boots, and NIOSH-approved respirators. While OSHA does not have a standard that applies to welder’s anthrax, the agency’s respiratory protection standard may apply to some workers whose jobs require them to wear respirators. Dr. de Perio also stressed that communication and cooperation between welders, employers, clinicians, occupational safety and health professionals, and public health officials is important to identify cases of welder’s anthrax and occupational and personal risk factors. “Any cases of welder’s anthrax should be reported to CDC and a thorough work history should be performed,” she said. The next step to addressing this rare but serious disease includes conducting research to better understand how welders’ exposure to metal fumes and other welding hazards may increase their susceptibility to lung infection, according to Dr. de Perio. Researchers should also explore “the effectiveness of medical countermeasures,” such as antitoxins and vaccines, “as well as interventions to minimize workers’ exposure to metal fumes, including engineering controls and respiratory protection,” she said. The hazard alert is available as a PDF from OSHA’s website. Further information about welder’s anthrax can be found in an April 2022 NIOSH Science Blog post by the authors of the Pathogens article and in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for Oct. 15, 2021.
3M Scott Fire & Safety Issues Safety Notice for Certain SCBAs
Some self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units and spare consoles manufactured by 3M Scott Fire & Safety were shipped with incorrect programming of the heads-up display, a secondary end-of-service time indicator, according to a user safety notice (PDF). Affected units include the company’s Air-Pak 75, Air-Pak NxG7 (upgraded), Air-Pak X3, and spare consoles manufactured between May 3, 2021, through Feb. 14, 2023. In a few reports, the primary end-of-service time indicator alarms at 35 percent of cylinder pressure, but the heads-up display console lights indicate low air at 25 percent. The heads-up display lights should illuminate at 35 percent, the notice explains. The notice provides instructions for inspecting SCBAs and spare consoles. Affected users should contact their 3M Scott Fire & Safety Authorized Service Center to complete the repairs required. The notice can be found on the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory’s respirator user notices webpage.
Heat Wave Prompts OSHA to Intensify Enforcement Actions
OSHA will increase inspections and intensify other enforcement actions in industries where workers are exposed to heat hazards, the agency announced in July as a heat wave affected large portions of the United States. OSHA’s actions will focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers, a press release explains. Industries with workers at high risk of exposure to heat include construction and agriculture. But extreme heat can be deadly to indoor workers as well as those working outdoors, OSHA warns in a new hazard alert (PDF) that emphasizes employers’ responsibility for protecting workers from heat illness.
These new enforcement actions will “fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat,” OSHA says. The NEP was first announced in April 2022 and involves the agency proactively initiating inspections in more than 70 high-risk industries when the National Weather Service issues heat warnings or advisories in local areas.
OSHA is working toward a proposed standard to address occupational heat exposure. The agency launched the rulemaking process for a heat standard in October 2021 with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking covering both outdoor and indoor work settings. As part of the next step in the rulemaking process, OSHA was seeking representatives from small businesses and local government entities who might be affected by such a standard to participate in upcoming discussions and provide feedback. More information is available in the agency’s press release.
EPA Describes Intended Approach to Quantify Asbestos Hazards
A paper released by EPA for public comment and peer review in August describes the quantitative approach for human health assessment that the agency intends to apply during the second part of its risk evaluation for asbestos. Whereas Part 1 of EPA’s risk evaluation, completed in December 2020, focused on chrysotile asbestos, Part 2 will focus on all fiber types and legacy uses of asbestos. This will include talc and talc-containing products implicated as potential sources of asbestos exposure. According to EPA, the paper identifies existing hazard values for asbestos, outlines how the agency proposes to use them during the risk evaluation, and describes the considerations and criteria EPA intends to use to evaluate relevant studies for the quantification of asbestos-related hazards. “In order to evaluate the risks of asbestos in the manner required under the law, EPA needs to quantify these hazards,” the agency’s news release explains. “[This] systematic review approach helps ensure that Part 2 of the risk evaluation for asbestos is based on the best available science.” On Aug. 3, EPA published a request in the Federal Register seeking public comments to be provided to peer reviewers. The comment period ended Oct. 2. Peer review of the paper will occur between Oct. 25 and Nov. 24. According to the agency, Part 2 of the asbestos risk evaluation will be available for public comment early next year. Further details can be found in the agency’s news release.
National Emphasis Program to Target Warehousing, Distribution Center Operations
OSHA has launched a national emphasis program (NEP) intended to prevent workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers, and “high-risk retail establishments” such as hardware stores, supermarkets, and warehouse clubs and supercenters. Mail and postal processing and distribution centers as well as parcel delivery and courier services are also included in the new program. Establishments like these have injury and illness rates higher than those in private industry overall, OSHA states. For certain sectors, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show injuries and illnesses at twice the rate of private industry.
Under the NEP, OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections at covered establishments. The NEP calls for only partial inspections of retail establishments focused on storage and loading areas unless OSHA finds evidence of potential violations in other areas of a business.
More information, including a link to the new NEP, may be found in OSHA’s news release.
OSHA Announces Rules to Address Injuries and Illnesses Reporting, Clarify PPE in Construction Standard
In July, OSHA announced two rules concerning injury and illness data and personal protective equipment. In one forthcoming final rule, OSHA will require some employers to electronically submit data on injuries and illnesses to the agency. According to OSHA, these employers are already required to keep the data in question. The rule will affect businesses in high-hazard industries that have 100 or more employees. These employers will also be required to include their legal company name on their electronic submission.
An OSHA press release indicates that the agency will publish some of the data on its website to give workers, job seekers, and the public more information about companies’ health and safety performance. The published information will not personally identify individual workers, OSHA said.
The rule will take effect Jan. 1, 2024. More information about OSHA recordkeeping requirements is available from the agency website.
OSHA also announced a proposed rule that would clarify the personal protective equipment standard for the construction industry by specifying that PPE must fit each affected worker properly. The proposed change would bring the PPE construction standard into alignment with the PPE standards for general industry and the maritime industry, which already require proper fit. The announcement referred to the failure of standard-sized PPE to fit smaller workers in construction, including many women.
The proposed rule is available in the Federal Register.
Settlement Reached for East Palestine Derailment Site
Norfolk Southern has entered into a settlement agreement (PDF) with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Teamster’s Railway Union regarding the February 2023 train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio. The derailment led to the burning of hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, benzene, and isobutylene, and the evacuation of 2,000 residents. Concerned about the risk of explosion, responders initiated a controlled venting and burning of more than 115,500 gallons of vinyl chloride, which led to concerns about potential health effects reported by residents and responders.
The settlement requires Norfolk Southern to implement a medical surveillance program for affected employees who worked at the derailment site, provide 40 hours of training on hazardous waste operations and emergency response to union employees, create a training program on lessons learned from the derailment, and pay OSHA fines amounting to more than $49,000 for four safety and health violations. The agency cited the company for deficient emergency response planning, not requiring cleanup workers to wear chemical resistant footwear, allowing employees to pour cement on potentially contaminated soil without wearing respirators, and not training workers about hazardous chemicals.
“This agreement will improve the safety and health controls in place for Norfolk Southern employees who responded and help educate the rail operator’s employees on the lessons learned so they are prepared should another emergency occur,” said Howard Eberts, director of the OSHA area office in Cleveland.
More information is available from a DOL news release.
NIOSH Returns to Conventional Processing of Respirator Approvals
NIOSH’s Respirator Approval Program will no longer prioritize respirator approval applications by type of respirator as it did during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the agency announced in July. During the public health emergency, which expired on May 11, NIOSH prioritized applications for air-purifying particulate filtering respirators due to increased demand and decreased supply. As the agency returns to conventional operations, the supply and availability of respirators of this type has “increased significantly,” NIOSH explains in a letter to manufacturers from its National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.
NIOSH will review respirator approval applications in the following order: new applications submitted by approval holders or applications for an extension of approval for any type of respiratory protection; first applications submitted by new respirator applicants; and applications resubmitted by new respirator applicants after a prior denial by NIOSH.
The agency’s website provides further details about application processing for NIOSH’s Respirator Approval Program.
EPA Proposes Lower Dust-Lead Hazard and Clearance Levels
EPA has announced a proposed rule that would lower its dust-lead hazard standards (DLHS) and dust-lead clearance levels (DLCL). Risk assessors use the DLHS to determine whether dust-lead hazards are present in homes and childcare facilities built before lead paint was banned in 1978. The DLCL are used to determine the effectiveness of abatement activities.
According to EPA, the proposed rule would lower the DLHS to “any reportable level greater than zero.” The current DLHS, which went into effect in January 2020, are 10 µg/ft2 for floors and 100 µg/ft2 for windowsills. The proposal would also lower the DLCL from 10 µg/ft2 to 3 µg/ft2 for floors, from 100 µg/ft2 to 20 µg/ft2 for windowsills, and from 400 µg/ft2 to 25 µg/ft2 for window troughs. The new DLCL levels are believed to be the lowest that can be reliably achieved, according to the agency.
The DLHS and DLCL are usually set at the same levels. In 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the DLHS must be based only on health factors, while the DLCL must consider safety, effectiveness, and reliability.
EPA estimates that the proposed rule, if finalized, would reduce the lead exposures of approximately 250,000 to 500,000 children under the age of six per year. For more information, read the announcement on the EPA website.
California Issues Alert for Valley Fever
In August, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) warned of a potential increased risk of Valley Fever across the state. Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is a respiratory disease caused by inhaling spores of the Coccidioides fungus, which lives in the soil in the Southwestern United States and in parts of Central and South America. CDPH states that cases of Valley Fever typically increase in the summers following rainy winters.
Valley Fever has similar symptoms to COVID-19, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, and headache, according to CDC. Infected people may also develop a rash on their upper body or legs and experience muscle aches or joint pain. Symptoms may appear between one and three weeks following inhalation of Coccidioides spores and can last more than a month.
People who work outdoors, especially those who dig soil, have increased risk of exposure to Coccidioides. CDPH recommends staying indoors on windy, dusty days and closing windows and doors. Wetting soil before digging can help prevent exposure.
For more information on Valley Fever, visit the websites of CDPH, CDC, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.
EPA to Require Reporting of Asbestos Use, Exposure Information
A final rule announced in July by EPA requires manufacturers, importers, and processors of asbestos to report use and exposure information from the past four years. Those with annual sales above $500,000 in any year between 2019 and 2022 are required to electronically report exposure-related information such as the quantities of asbestos manufactured or processed, types of uses, and employee data. The rule also applies to asbestos-containing products, including those that contain it as an impurity or as a component of a mixture. EPA issued this rule under section 8(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to collect information about chemical uses, production volumes, disposal, exposures, and hazards.
“We’ve already proposed to ban chrysotile asbestos, and the data we’ll receive from this final rule will help us to better evaluate and address the health risks from the remaining uses and types of asbestos,” said Michal Freedhoff, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The data collected through the new rule is intended to inform EPA’s future actions regarding asbestos, including its ongoing risk evaluation of legacy uses of asbestos and associated disposals, other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile, and conditions of use of asbestos in talc and talc-containing products. EPA says that data reported on asbestos as an impurity could better inform its risk evaluation of the use of asbestos in talc, for example.
The rule took effect on Aug. 24, 2023. Entities affected by the rule will have until May 24, 2024, to collect and submit all required data to EPA.
The new final rule is available for download from EPA’s website (PDF). Further details can be found on the agency’s website.
NIOSH to Survey Thermal Spray Coating Facilities
A new project proposed by NIOSH would focus on work practices and controls related to metals, particles, and gases generated during thermal spray coating, which the agency describes as “a surface treatment process that enables different types of feedstock material to be deposited on to various substrates.” Thermal spray coating processes, including flame-, cold-, electric arc-, and plasma-spraying, are used in the automotive, aerospace, machine shops, electronics, medical, shipyards, and printing sectors. Newly developed specialized applications for these processes intend to impart new properties and functionalities to the coatings. NIOSH notes that thermal spray coating “generates exposures that are known to be hazardous in other settings” but that few epidemiologic and exposure studies have examined the effects of these processes on workers.
“Limited data on exposures of workers engaged in [thermal spray coating] and associated operations and personal communications with industrial hygienists in this industry suggests exposures can greatly exceed the current occupational exposure limits,” NIOSH explains. “[B]ut the prevalence of respiratory abnormalities including occupational asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in this population remains unknown.”
The agency plans to conduct a survey of thermal spray coating facilities to better understand the effects of these processes and identify areas for potential intervention. NIOSH also hopes to identify facilities that would be willing to participate in future exposure and health research.
Comments on NIOSH’s proposed project are due by Oct. 6. Additional information and instructions for submitting comments can be found in the Federal Register.
Cal/OSHA Emergency Standard to Address Silicosis among Engineered Stone Fabrication Workers
On July 20, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board granted the petition of a medical association for Cal/OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to address increasing cases of advanced silicosis among workers in engineered stone fabrication shops. According to the petitioner, the Western Occupational and Environmental Medical Association, “irreversible end-stage lung disease has now been shown to develop in fabrication workers after only a few years of poorly controlled occupational exposure” to respirable crystalline silica. WOEMA, a regional component of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, expressed concern that the current silica standard is insufficiently protective for these workers. The association’s petition recommended that an ETS cover the use of engineered stone with high silica content, require controlled access to areas where artificial stone is fabricated, prohibit dry fabrication work practices, and address inadequate respiratory protection.
Cal/OSHA found that an ETS would be easier for employers—particularly smaller stone fabrication shops—to implement than its existing silica regulation. Larger employers with more resources can more easily conduct the sophisticated exposure assessments required by the existing standard, but Cal/OSHA has found smaller businesses less likely to be able or willing to install engineering and work practice controls. The agency agreed with WOEMA that an ETS with a prescriptive approach would be more effective in protecting the health of workers in this industry.
The agency’s adopted decision may be downloaded as a PDF. Information about the recent regulatory developments related to engineered stone in California can be found on the website of the California Department of Industrial Relations. An article published on July 22 by northern California’s KQED provides additional details about this topic.