thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Clarifies Who Can Act as Employee Representatives during Inspections
A new proposed rule from OSHA would revise regulations related to employees’ ability to select a representative to accompany compliance safety and health officers during workplace inspections. According to the Federal Register notice that outlines the proposal, the Occupational Safety and Health Act “grants a representative of the employer and a representative authorized by employees the opportunity to accompany OSHA during the physical inspection of the workplace for the purpose of aiding the inspection.” OSHA’s proposed changes were prompted by the decision of a district court, which concluded that the agency’s longstanding interpretation of one of the OSH Act’s implementing regulations—that the act permits third-party representatives authorized by employees to join compliance officers during inspections—was not consistent with the regulation. OSHA’s proposed revisions seek to clarify two aspects of the relevant regulation, 29 CFR 1903.8(c). First, the proposal clarifies that employees may authorize a representative who is an employee of the employer or a nonemployee third party to accompany OSHA compliance officers on walkaround inspections. Second, the agency’s proposed changes make clear that third-party representatives authorized by employees “may be reasonably necessary to the conduct of an effective and thorough physical inspection of the workplace by virtue of their knowledge, skills, or experience.” For example, these representatives may have experience with particular hazards or workplace conditions, or they may possess language skills that would help facilitate communication between workers and compliance officers. The second proposed revision also addresses the current regulatory text’s reference to industrial hygienists and safety engineers as examples of employees’ options for third-party representation. OSHA’s proposed changes explain that employees are not limited to selecting representatives with skills and knowledge in industrial hygiene or safety. As explained in the Federal Register, third parties who might serve as employees’ authorized representatives include consultants, attorneys, and individuals from unions, worker advocacy groups, or labor organizations. “OSHA proposes to delete the examples of industrial hygienists and safety engineers … so that the focus is properly on the knowledge, skills, or experience of the individual rather than their professional discipline,” the Federal Register notice states. “This proposed deletion does not signal that an industrial hygienist or safety engineer cannot be a representative authorized by employees.” Compliance officers would retain the authority to prevent individuals from participating in inspections “if their conduct interferes with a fair and orderly inspection,” OSHA stresses in a press release. The proposed revisions would also not affect the right of employers to limit entry of employee-authorized representatives into workplace areas containing trade secrets. “This proposal aims to make inspections more effective and ultimately make workplaces safer by increasing opportunities for employees to be represented in the inspection process,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health. The deadline for OSHA to receive comments on the proposed rule was Oct. 30. As this issue of The Synergist went to press, at least one organization, the Coalition for Workplace Safety, had requested more time to consider the proposal. To learn more, refer to OSHA’s press release and the Federal Register notice. Submitted comments and other materials associated with the proposed rule are available from the rulemaking docket.
NIOSH Publishes Guide for Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss
A new online guide for preventing occupational hearing loss is available from NIOSH. Intended for use by employers and safety professionals, the guide follows the structure of a NIOSH hearing loss prevention program and contains separate sections that explain how to measure noise exposure, summarize ways to eliminate or reduce noise, provide examples of engineering and administrative controls, outline considerations for choosing hearing protection, and describe practices for recordkeeping. Recommendations in the guide for engineering controls to lower noise levels include reducing the speed of moving parts, eliminating restricted flow in pipes and ducts, isolating vibration in machinery, reducing vibrating parts and surfaces, using connectors that limit the transfer of vibrations to surfaces, keeping noisy machinery away from walls and surfaces that reflect sound, adding sound absorption materials, building enclosures around equipment, and installing barriers that block high frequency noise. Access the guide on the NIOSH website.
Report Highlights “Crisis” in U.K. Women’s Occupational Health
The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) is calling for action to address what the organization describes as a “silent and growing crisis” related to the workplace health of women in the United Kingdom. In a report released in August, BOHS points to statistics showing an increase in the number of women in the U.K. who are becoming sick because of workplace exposures and the likely under-reporting of work-induced illness to argue that women bear a greater burden of occupational disease than men.
The report cites data from the U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showing that an estimated 918,000 women workers are suffering adverse health effects from work compared to 778,000 men workers. HSE predicts that breast cancer associated with shift work will account for the second-most registrations of new occupational cancers, following only asbestos exposures. Asbestos is itself a major contributor to women’s burden of occupational disease in the U.K., with women nurses and teachers having a higher risk of asbestos-related death than other occupations outside of construction-related industries.
And because many women perform unpaid work in the home that is similar to the work they do in their jobs, their exposures to certain hazards are higher and of greater duration. These include ergonomics hazards that could lead to musculoskeletal disorders as well as dermal, inhalation, and biological hazards, according to the report.
The report calls for the creation of a health strategy to address these issues. For more information, read “Uncovering the UK’s Hidden Crisis in Women’s Workplace Health” (PDF) and the accompanying BOHS press release.
New Dashboard Tracks EMS Responses to Heat Illnesses
The new Heat-Related Illness EMS Activation Surveillance Dashboard, known as EMS HeatTracker, will track emergency medical services (EMS) responses to heat-related illnesses across the United States. The online information portal is intended to help public health officials and other decision-makers prioritize interventions for communities most affected by extreme heat, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The dashboard will include data from the National EMS Information System and will focus on EMS responses resulting from 911 calls for heat-related illnesses and injuries in the pre-hospital setting. EMS HeatTracker will be updated weekly on Mondays, and the information displayed will have a two-week lag behind real time. Users will be able to compare county- and jurisdiction-level information to national averages in categories such as the population rate of heat-related EMS activations within a community and the percentage of patients who were transported to a medical facility for further treatment. But the dashboard will only track the number of heat-related EMS responses and deaths for patients who were alive when EMS officials arrived on scene. According to HHS, EMS HeatTracker “will continue to evolve” as more data become available. The dashboard can be viewed via the National EMS Information System website. Further information is available in the HHS press release.
3M Posts Advisory for Versaflo V-Series Air Control Valves
When operated according to the pressure schedule in its user instructions, 3M Versaflo V-Series air control valves can exceed the maximum airflow required by the NIOSH respiratory protection standard for supplied air respirators, according to a notice published by the company. The NIOSH standard specifies that the maximum airflow rate for Type C supplied-air respirators should not exceed 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm). A new pressure schedule for 3M part numbers V-300 and V-350 specifies a supply pressure range of 33–47 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) when used with a 125–200-foot hose and 38–58 psig when used with a 225–300-foot hose.
For more information, read the advisory notice on the 3M website (PDF). User notices issued by respirator manufacturers are collected on the website of the NIOSH National Personal Protection Technology Laboratory.
EU Establishes Emission Limits for Formaldehyde in Consumer Products
New measures adopted by the European Commission in July establish maximum emission limits for formaldehyde in consumer products. The rules, which are intended to reduce adverse health effects related to formaldehyde exposure, set an emission limit of 0.062 mg/m3 of formaldehyde into indoor air from wood-based products and furniture as well as the interiors of road vehicles. The limit for all other products—including textiles, leather, plastics, construction materials, and electronics—is 0.08 mg/m3.
According to the European Commission, most of the formaldehyde manufactured or imported in the European Union is used in the production of formaldehyde-based resins, which are used in a wide variety of products but primarily in the manufacture of wood-based panels. These resins are also used to make furniture and flooring as well as parts for road vehicles. The commission considers wood-based articles as the main emission sources of formaldehyde in indoor air, particularly in newly built homes.
Manufacturers will have 36 months to comply with the new rules. Due to the long development and marketing time for road vehicles, the regulation states that automotive industry manufacturers will have a bit longer—48 months—to comply. The commission expects stakeholders to use this time to develop analytical methods to test formaldehyde emissions and to deploy formaldehyde-free products or products with low formaldehyde emissions. The European Chemicals Agency will develop guidance intended to facilitate consistent implementation of the test conditions for the measurement of the formaldehyde emissions.
To learn more, see the European Commission website or view the text of the new regulation.
New Toxicological Profiles Available for Five Substances
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has published new toxicological profiles for acrylonitrile, creosote, 1-2-dichloroethene, nickel, and vinyl acetate.
Acrylonitrile is used in the manufacture of acrylic fibers, plastics, and other chemicals. Studies of laboratory animals indicated health effects that include nasal legions following inhalation exposure, forestomach damage following oral exposure, neurological effects, and cancer.
The tox profile for creosote discusses wood creosotes and coal tar products. Wood creosotes are no longer used in the pharmaceutical industry. Coal tar creosote is used as a wood preservative pesticide and has applications as a fungicide, insecticide, and sporicide. Health concerns related to coal tar include adverse respiratory and developmental effects as well as an increased risk for cancer.
1,2-Dichloroethene, which exists as two geometric isomers, is used as a chemical intermediate and industrial solvent. The health effects of trans-1,2-dichloroethene include eye irritation and skin damage from inhalation exposure and immune system effects from oral exposure.
Occupational exposures to nickel typically involve dusts or powders containing nickel or nickel compounds. Exposure is presumed to lead to a range of respiratory effects as well as immunological effects such as contact dermatitis.
The synthetic compound vinyl acetate is used in the production of polymers and copolymers as well as in adhesives, paint and powder coatings, plastics and resins, and other materials. The health effects of vinyl acetate exposure can include nose and throat irritation.
ASTDR is accepting public comments on the new tox profiles through Nov. 28. The documents can be accessed from the agency's index of tox profiles.
Study Links PM2.5 to New Cases of Dementia
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests a link between long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and new cases of dementia. Researchers used data from the nearly 28,000 adults aged 50 and older who participate in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which surveys older Americans every two years about their cognition, health behaviors, and other factors. Results of the NIH study showed that 15 percent of HRS participants developed dementia within a follow-up period that averaged a little more than ten years.
NIH researchers used air quality measurements from several sources as well as geographic factors to estimate total PM2.5 at participants’ homes and model emissions from agriculture, traffic, coal combustion, and other sources. The study “Comparison of Particulate Air Pollution from Different Emission Sources and Incident Dementia in the U.S.” was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on August 14.
For more information, read the NIH press release.
ILO Report Highlights Need for Workplace Eyesight Protection Programs
A new report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) outlines an approach to workplace eyesight protection based on the hierarchy of controls. AIHA member Laurence Svirchev, CIH, prepared the report during his term as the chair of AIHA’s International Affairs Committee. Svirchev informed AIHA that one of the report’s most important contributions is the provision “that employers need to provide a system to include workers’ naturally occurring sight loss, including age-related vision loss, in risk assessments.”
While Svirchev noted that much of the report’s technical content about occupational exposures causing vision loss is known to OEHS professionals, he added that his research led him to notice “the paucity of active collaboration” between OEHS professionals, optometrists, and ophthalmologists. “Our medical colleagues are great at treatment, and we are great with prevention,” Svirchev said.
ILO’s publication of “Eye Health and the World of Work” (PDF) was timed to promote World Sight Day, a global initiative to promote eye health that occurred Oct. 12.
A related “policy brief” from ILO states that more than 13 million people worldwide live with vision impairments linked to their work and an estimated 3.5 million workplace eye injuries occur every year.
CSB: Regulatory Exemptions Contributed to 2019 Fire at Texas Tank Farm
A March 2019 fire at a liquid storage terminal that caused more than $150 million in damages could have been prevented if the company had been required to apply a formal process safety management program, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). The incident stemmed from the failure of a circulation pump at a facility owned by the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) in Deer Park, Texas. The failure resulted in the release of a product that contained naphtha, a volatile mixture of petroleum hydrocarbons, and butane, a highly flammable gas. The product ignited a fire that spread to 14 other tanks and burned for three days.
According to CSB, the tank that leaked was exempted from requirements in both the OSHA process safety management (PSM) standard and the EPA risk management program (RMP) rule. OSHA originally cited ITC for violations of the PSM standard, but these were removed following a settlement agreement between the agency and the company. ITC maintained that the PSM standard’s “atmospheric storage tank exemption” applied to the tank in question. CSB has called for OSHA to eliminate the exemption from the standard. For more information, refer to the CSB news release or read the agency’s report (PDF).
EPA Orders Three Companies to Conduct PFAS Testing
EPA has ordered Chemours, DuPont, and 3M to conduct testing on 2,3,3,3-Tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy)propanoyl fluoride (HFPO-DAF), a substance used in chemical manufacturing. The agency’s action is the third “test order” issued under EPA’s national testing strategy for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. HFPO-DAF, a replacement for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is also used in the production of nonstick coatings, stain repellents, and other products. According to EPA, exposure to HFPO-DAF potentially presents hazards for acute toxicity, skin corrosion, serious eye damage, skin sensitization, genetic toxicity, specific target organ toxicity, and carcinogenicity.
Test orders are issued for substances that EPA determines to present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment; about which too little information exists to predict their effects on health or the environment; or for which testing is necessary to develop this information. For HFPO-DAF, EPA is requiring tests related to the physical and chemical properties of the substance as well as health effects from dermal exposure.
Companies subject to test orders must either conduct testing as specified by EPA or submit existing information about the substance that the agency may not have considered.
For more information, see the EPA press release and national PFAS testing strategy. The test order for HFPO-DAF is available for download as a PDF, and related documents can be found in the rulemaking docket. The agency’s website provides a full list of EPA test orders.
NAS Workshop Proceedings Examines PPE Standards, Supply Chains
The proceedings of a workshop that discussed the role of standards in supply chains for personal protective equipment and technology is now available from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS). The workshop examined issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic including the unavailability of N95 filtering facepiece respirators and other problems.
Presenters at the workshop observed that when demand for respirators dramatically increased in early 2020, many organizations had not stockpiled respirators and had divergent practices for respirator use. For example, some healthcare organizations required users to throw respirators away after every patient visit while others instituted extended reuse practices. A representative from a respirator manufacturing company explained that manufacturers operating on just-in-time delivery models did not possess large stockpiles for meeting high demand. Ramping up production required significant increases in workers and quantities of raw materials. The speaker said that NIOSH’s role as the entity that evaluates not only respirator performance but also manufacturers’ plans, user instructions, and packaging was crucial in helping companies set priorities and increase capacity. Other speakers called for extending the kind of PPE guidance provided for healthcare organizations to other occupations and the public.
Additional needs identified during the workshop include harmonization of standards around the world to enable better design of PPE, the ability to rapidly scale manufacturing in emergencies, and standards for the design of PPE for a wide range of users, including children.
A PDF of the proceedings can be downloaded for free from the NAS website.