thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
OSHA Proposes Emergency Response Standard with Broadened Scope
A new emergency response standard proposed by OSHA is intended to address the broad range of job hazards faced by today’s emergency responders. Elements of health and safety for these workers are currently regulated “under a patchwork of hazard-specific standards,” the agency explains in its notice of proposed rulemaking. If adopted, the standard would replace the agency’s existing fire brigades standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.156), which covers only firefighters and has received only minor updates since it was promulgated in 1980.
According to the Federal Register, all previous OSHA standards applying to emergency response workers “were promulgated decades ago, and none was designed as a comprehensive emergency response standard.” The Register adds that the proposal will align OSHA’s emergency response standard with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Framework and the National Fire Protection Association’s industry consensus standards. The new proposal would also expand protections to include employees who work for employers that provide emergency services other than firefighting, such as emergency medical service providers and technical search and rescue services. Additional changes reflected in the proposed standard address updated performance specifications for protective clothing and equipment and improved safety and health practices from industry consensus standards.
Because emergency services organizations can vary significantly—for example, in size and the types of services they provide—OSHA is proposing a performance-based standard, which the agency says will allow employers to establish the criteria that best fit their organization.
“The proposed rule focuses on the achievement of desired results—improving emergency responder health and safety and reducing injuries and fatalities—while providing flexibility as to the precise methods used to achieve those results,” OSHA explains in the Federal Register. “The performance-based nature of the proposed rule is particularly beneficial to small and volunteer organizations with limited resources.”
OSHA reminds stakeholders that while its standards do not apply to volunteers, volunteers may be treated as employees under some states’ laws. However, the proposed standard would cover some employers whose emergency responders are referred to as volunteers rather than employees, according to OSHA. A related discussion of the legal principles governing employment status under the Occupational Safety and Health Act appears in the Federal Register. Of the anticipated 1,054,611 workers who will fall within the scope of the proposed rule, OSHA estimates that nearly one-third will be self-identified as volunteers.
In October 2023, OSHA convened a Small Business Advocacy Review panel for the proposed emergency response standard, in accordance with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). The panel was comprised of members of OSHA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. OSHA provided representatives of small entities with the potential to be affected by the proposed standard with the draft document, and the panel received the representatives’ advice and recommendations. The review panel relayed their findings, which may be downloaded from Regulations.gov, to OSHA for consideration in the development of the proposed rule.
OSHA invites members of the public to submit comments on the proposed rulemaking until May 6, 2024. Further details about the comment period and the proposed rule can be found in the Federal Register and on the agency’s website.
Respirator Notice Applies to Certain Cylinder and Valve Assemblies
Some cylinder valves manufactured by 3M Scott between Oct. 3 and Dec. 4, 2023, have noticeable leaks when the valve handwheel is opened, a recent user safety notice (PDF) explains. The company urges users of all cylinder and valve assemblies to inspect respirators on a regular basis in accordance with 3M’s user instructions. Users who discover leaks after inspecting their respirators should contact their 3M Scott Fire & Safety Authorized Service Center to complete required repairs. According to the notice, it is unlikely that a fielded self-contained breathing apparatus inspected before being placed into service would experience this type of leak. According to 3M Scott, its cylinder and valve assemblies are safe to use once users complete the instructions outlined in the notice. The recent notice can be found on the website of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory.
EPA Finalizes Revised PM2.5 Standard
EPA has announced changes to one of its air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The revised standard includes a 25 percent reduction in the allowable national PM2.5 concentration from 12 µg/m3 to 9 µg/m3 calculated as the annual arithmetic mean averaged over three years. The 12 µg/m3 standard has been in place since 2012.
EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI), which designates categories of air pollution based on PM2.5 concentrations, will be updated to reflect new cutoffs between categories. For example, the PM2.5 concentration associated with the AQI value of 200, which designates “very unhealthy” air, will change from 150 µg/m3 under the current standard to 125 µg/m3 under the revised standard.
According to EPA, the revised standard will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths, 800,000 cases of asthma, and 290,000 lost workdays. States would need to demonstrate compliance with the new standard by 2032. Data associated with wildfires would not count toward the determination of PM2.5 concentrations under the revised standard. EPA is also changing its air monitoring practices to better protect populations at elevated risk for PM2.5-related health effects.
The revised standard is one of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS. The NAAQS include annual and 24-hour standards and can be designated as “primary” or health-based standards for protecting groups of sensitive people or “secondary” standards for protecting the public welfare. The revised standard is an annual primary standard.
For more information, read EPA’s press release and other resources available on the agency website.
OSHA Updates Enforcement Document for Process Safety Management Standard
A new OSHA directive outlines the agency’s enforcement policy for its standard on the process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals. The document is primarily intended to help OSHA personnel understand the agency’s technical interpretations of the standard and is not a regulation or substantive rule. The new instruction, which became effective on Jan. 26, cancels and supersedes the previous enforcement directive from 1994. According to OSHA, significant updates to the enforcement document include the removal of an inspection checklist and the addition of a question-and-answer format outlining existing OSHA policies on process safety management. These updates are based on suggestions stemming from OSHA’s “lookback review” of its process safety management standard. The questions and responses in the new OSHA instruction include references to applicable letters of interpretation or standard interpretations as well as current agency compliance guidance. OSHA addresses topics such as process hazard analysis, training, contractors, and mechanical integrity. Hot work permits, management of change, emergency planning and response, and compliance audits are also discussed. The new OSHA directive is available as a PDF. In 2022, OSHA announced that it was considering changes to the scope and provisions of its process safety management standard, but according to the regulatory agenda for the Department of Labor, the rulemaking remains in the pre-rule stage. A stakeholder meeting on this topic took place in October 2022, and recordings of the meeting are available from OSHA’s process safety management page.
Agencies Encourage Clinicians to Consider Occupational Exposures to PFAS
A new document published by CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) discusses considerations for clinicians whose patients are concerned about exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). According to the agencies, increased cholesterol, lower antibody response to vaccines, kidney and testicular cancer, and changes in liver enzymes are among the health effects potentially associated with exposure to PFAS. Other potential health effects include pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, and decreases in birth weight. The document highlights ingestion of contaminated food and water as a main route of PFAS exposure but notes that manufacture, use, or handling of PFAS presents additional exposure sources.
Clinicians can determine the duration, magnitude, and routes of a patient’s PFAS exposures by taking an exposure history. CDC and ATSDR recommend clinicians consult with occupational and environmental medicine specialists regarding workplace exposure reduction strategies.
The document is available as a PDF from ATSDR’s website.
New OSHA Fact Sheet Outlines Workplace Mental Health Concerns
A new fact sheet published by OSHA (PDF) summarizes the causes and symptoms of trauma, substance use disorder, and suicidality—mental health concerns common in U.S. workplaces—and provides resources to help workers in crises. “Mental health is an important component of overall well-being and is equally as vital as physical health for all employees,” OSHA states. “Mental health concerns due to work have the potential to adversely impact an employee’s social interactions, productivity, performance, and absenteeism.”
Employees in all industries may be affected by traumatic events, including industrial accidents, the death or injury of coworkers, and abuse or assault of coworkers or clients, OSHA says. These workers may feel anxious, sad, or angry; experience terrifying thoughts or flashbacks; have recurring nightmares; be confused or unable to think clearly; have difficulty falling and staying asleep; or frighten easily. Workers may develop substance use disorders for reasons that include the presence of chronic pain or injuries or other mental health conditions. Both traumatic events and substance use disorders may increase a person’s risk of developing suicidal thoughts and suicide. “That is why it is important to provide resources and encourage people to get help when they are having mental health concerns, experiencing traumatic events, or battling substance use disorders,” the fact sheet states.
OSHA’s fact sheet may be downloaded from the agency’s website. People in crisis may call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, at any time for free, confidential counseling.
NIOSH Sounds Alarm About Counterfeit P100 Filters
According to NIOSH, many respirator filters available through well-known online marketplaces are counterfeits, claimed to be P100 filters but not part of a NIOSH-approved respirator configuration. The agency’s website includes photographs of counterfeit filters that use the same part numbers associated with authentic, NIOSH-approved 3M P100 filters. The photos show that the counterfeit filters are missing some or most of the information that is required to appear on genuine products. NIOSH requires the abbreviated labels on agency-approved P100 filters to indicate the name of the approval holder, the product model or trade name, the protections or filter series, the part number, the “NIOSH” mark, and the lot number. The lot number may appear on the filter, on the packaging, or in the user instructions.
NIOSH cautions purchasers that some manufacturers and sellers that are not NIOSH approval holders may falsely claim that their filters are compatible with facepieces manufactured by NIOSH approval holders.
“Users cannot use these filters in place of the filter component associated with the NIOSH Approved respirator,” the agency stresses. “If so, it will void the NIOSH approval and may not provide the claimed level of protection to the user.”
Listings of counterfeit respirators and those that misrepresent NIOSH approval appear on NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory website. Safety managers, industrial hygienists, and others should use NIOSH’s certified equipment list to determine whether respirators they are currently using or considering using are NIOSH-certified.
New Respirator User Notice Applies to Some SCSR/EEB Units
Several M-20.3 self-contained self-rescuer/emergency escape breathing device (SCSR/EEB) units manufactured by Ocenco Incorporated have been found to produce elevated inspired carbon dioxide and inspired wet bulb temperature levels, according to a respirator user notice published in January. The notice explains that these issues were discovered during post-approval testing by NIOSH. The SCSR/EEB units that failed to meet testing requirements exceeded either the average inspired carbon dioxide limit, the average inspired wet bulb temperature limit, and the one-minute excursion inspired wet bulb temperature limit or a combination of two or three of these limits, Ocenco states. The affected part numbers are 940300 and 940301.
Contact information for the company’s engineering manager, who is fielding questions on this matter, can be found in the notice (PDF).
The recent notice is also available from the respirator user notices page of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory website.
Employer “Did Not Properly Limit” Emergency Response Role of Operations Staff in Fatal Accident, CSB Finds
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has released its report (PDF) on the April 2, 2019, explosion and fire that caused the death of one worker and serious injury of two others at the KMCO LLC facility in Crosby, Texas. The incident occurred as KMCO operations staff were completing a batch of sulfurized isobutylene, which the report describes as “a highly flammable, colorless gas with a sweet gasoline odor.”
After a piece of cast iron broke away from a filtration device, isobutylene leaked through the fractured piping to form a flammable vapor cloud, which ignited. CSB found that KMCO’s reliance on operations staff, instead of emergency response personnel, to take action after the isobutylene release contributed to the incident’s severity.
A field operator heard the piping break and saw isobutylene vapor pouring into the surrounding area. As the field operator was a trainee who had been at the facility for only six months, he called a board operator for help assessing the situation. The board operator identified the releasing vapor as isobutylene and radioed KMCO personnel to evacuate the area around the sulfurized isobutylene unit. He then donned a self-contained breathing apparatus and returned to the isobutylene unit, where he was joined by a second board operator, also wearing an SCBA. The two board operators manually closed valves to stop the isobutylene leak and activated firewater monitors and water deluge systems to control the released vapor.
Meanwhile, the trainee field operator helped a senior field operator instruct workers to shut down equipment, evacuate, and close gates to prevent vehicles from entering the area. The call to evacuate the facility was made via radio by a shift supervisor, who then assisted in activating firewater monitors and attempted to leave the area.
This failure to “properly limit the role of [KMCO’s] operators” put them in unnecessary danger, CSB found. Because they were responding to the leak, the two board operators were inside the vapor cloud when it ignited, and the shift supervisor was nearby. The first board operator and shift supervisor received medical treatment for severe burn injuries. The second board operator was reported missing after the explosion and found deceased by emergency responders. KMCO’s emergency response team did not begin to don personal protective equipment and approach the isobutylene unit until about three minutes after the explosion.
“Because KMCO relied on its unit operators to take quick actions to stop chemical releases, workers who were in a safe location moved toward the flammable isobutylene vapor cloud, which put them in harm’s way,” the report states. “KMCO could have reduced the severity of the event by establishing clear policies and training its workforce to respond to a chemical release without putting themselves in harm’s way.”
More information can be found in CSB’s press release.
European Chemicals Agency Launches New Chemicals Database
The European Chemicals Agency recently launched ECHA CHEM, a database of information from all registrations submitted to ECHA under REACH, the EU’s regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals. ECHA CHEM is intended to help the agency improve its handling of data and take advantage of technological advancements. The first version of ECHA CHEM includes information from more than 100,000 REACH registrations. As of late January, ECHA was working to optimize the order of search results and to publish about 500 additional registration dossiers that were not yet available in the database due to technical problems.
In the third quarter of 2024, ECHA intends to expand the database to include information related to substance classification and labeling, such as summaries of hazards that have been identified for substances and the sources of classification data. Later in the year, the agency plans to add new datasets to ECHA CHEM, including datasets related to the identification of substances of very high concern and the harmonized classification and labeling process.
ECHA CHEM is available via ECHA’s website. Further information can be found in the agency’s news release and on its webpage on the transition to ECHA CHEM.
Updated NIOSH Standard Testing Procedure Applies to PAPR HE and PAPR100 Classes
NIOSH has combined and updated two standard testing procedures related to determining fit for powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) with loose- or tight-fitting respiratory inlet coverings. The updated procedure, Determination of Respirator Fit, Quantitatively Using Corn Oil Aerosol, for Powered Air-Purifying Respirators with Loose- or Tight-Fitting Respiratory Inlet Coverings, Standard Testing Procedure, replaces CVB-APR-STP-0009 and CVB-APR-STP-0010, Determination of Facepiece Fit, which NIOSH says are now obsolete. The purpose of the document is to establish the procedure by which a generated corn oil aerosol is used for determining if PAPRs submitted to NIOSH for approval or extension of approval as well as PAPRs examined during product audits meet minimum certification standards.
According to the website of NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), the updated standard testing procedure applies to PAPR HE and PAPR100 respirator classes. To achieve NIOSH approval, a PAPR HE device must pass a silica dust loading test. Aerosol tests replace the silica dust test for the PAPR100 class of respirator.
A PDF of the updated procedure, dated Feb. 12, is available from the NIOSH website. More information on standard respirator testing procedures is available from NPPTL.