thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
MSHA Lowers PEL, Establishes Action Level for Silica in Mines
A new final rule published on April 18 in the Federal Register by MSHA sets a uniform permissible exposure limit and action level for respirable crystalline silica for all mines. The new PEL is 50 µg/m3 for a full-shift exposure, calculated as an 8-hour time-weighted average, and the action level is 25 µg/m3, also for a full-shift exposure. The final rule requires mine operators to conduct exposure monitoring for respirable crystalline silica, to immediately report overexposures to MSHA and take action to lower the concentration of silica until it is at or below the PEL, and to primarily use engineering controls to control silica. The rule also updates the standards for respirable crystalline silica sampling and respiratory protection by incorporating by reference ISO 7708:1995(E), Air Quality—Particle Size Fraction Definitions for Health-Related Sampling, and ASTM F3387-19, Standard Practice for Respiratory Protection, respectively. These provisions require mine operators to conduct sampling using respirable particle size-selective samplers that conform to ISO 7708:1995 and, when respirators are used, to have a written respiratory protection program to protect miners from respirable crystalline silica and other airborne contaminants.
A couple provisions apply specifically to metal and nonmetal (MNM) mines. Under the new rule, the temporary use of respirators is required at MNM mines when miners must work in concentrations of respirable crystalline silica above the PEL—for example, while engineering controls are being developed or implemented, or for necessary tasks like occasional entry into hazardous atmospheres to perform maintenance. The rule also includes medical surveillance requirements for MNM mines that are modeled after existing requirements for coal mines. MNM mine operators must provide all miners with no-cost, periodic medical examinations performed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional or specialist. According to MSHA, the medical surveillance requirements are intended to improve early detection of respiratory illnesses, including diseases related to respirable crystalline silica.
The new PEL of 50 µg/m3 for all mines is consistent with the PEL set by OSHA’s 2016 final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica , which applies to construction, maritime, and general industry workers. It’s also in line with NIOSH’s criteria for a recommended standard on occupational exposure to crystalline silica that were put forward in 1974: that no worker be exposed to a TWA concentration of respirable crystalline silica greater than 50 µg/m3 as determined by a full-shift sample for up to a 10-hour workday over a 40-hour workweek.
The new final rule will be effective on June 17, 2024. According to MSHA, coal mine operators will have 12 months to come into compliance with the rule’s requirements, whereas MNM mine operators will have 24 months. Agency estimates show that 1,067 lifetime avoided deaths and more than 3,700 lifetime avoided cases of silica-related illnesses will be attributed to the rule.
AIHA provided comments on the rulemaking to MSHA in August 2023. AIHA’s comments addressed several topic areas, including the proposed PEL, exposure monitoring, medical surveillance for MNM miners, and respiratory protection. The association’s letter to MSHA leadership is available as a PDF.
Read the final rule in the Federal Register. Further details can be found in MSHA’s news release and on its silica rulemaking webpage.
Nominations Open for 2024 Safe-in-Sound Awards
Interested parties may submit nominations for the 2024 Safe-in-Sound Awards, which recognize companies and individuals demonstrating excellence in hearing loss prevention. Two awards will be given: the Excellence Award, which honors employers who implement comprehensive hearing loss prevention programs going above and beyond OSHA standards, and the Innovation Award, which honors those whose contributions make a significant impact on hearing conservation. While nominations for other companies and individuals are due June 8, the window for self-nominations remains open until Aug. 19. Nominees from Canada, in addition to those from the U.S., are eligible this year for the first time. NIOSH established the Safe-in-Sound Awards in 2008, and they are co-sponsored by the National Hearing Conservation Association and the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation. Nomination instructions and tips for submitting a strong nomination are available from the Safe-in-Sound website.
ASSP, ANSI Publish Standard for Heat Stress in Construction
The American Society of Safety Professionals and the American National Standards Institute have released the first national voluntary consensus standard for protecting construction and demolition workers from heat stress. According to ASSP’s press release, ANSI/ASSP A10.50, Heat Stress Management in Construction and Demolition Operations, offers guidance on how to protect workers from the health effects of high heat conditions, including through acclimating workers and training supervisors and employees. The standard covers engineering and administrative controls, contains checklists and flowcharts for employers, and includes an emergency response plan.
The effects of heat stress can range from milder symptoms, including heat stress and heat cramps, to potentially fatal conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 436 work-related deaths caused by exposure to environmental heat between 2011 and 2021. As of April 2024, no national regulatory standard exists to protect U.S. workers from heat illness and injury, although OSHA began its rulemaking process for a national heat standard in October 2021.
Voluntary consensus standards such as ASSP/ANSI A10.50 are intended to fill the gaps where federal regulations are inadequate, according to ASSP’s press release. “This new industry consensus standard is an important development because there is no federal regulation focused on heat stress,” said Jim Thornton, CSP, CIH, FASSP, FAIHA, the president of ASSP.
More information can be found in ASSP’s press release. A free preview of ANSI/ASSP A10.50 may be downloaded from the ASSP website.
Draft Risk Evaluation of Asbestos Addresses Legacy Uses, Disposals
EPA has preliminarily determined that disturbing and handling asbestos associated with legacy uses presents “unreasonable risk” to human health, the agency explains in a draft risk evaluation published in April. The draft is the second part of EPA’s risk evaluation of asbestos; Part 1, completed in December 2020, focused only on chrysotile asbestos. Part 2 focuses on legacy uses and associated disposals of asbestos; other types of asbestos fibers in addition to chrysotile such as crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite, and Libby Amphibole Asbestos (and its tremolite, winchite, and richterite constituents); and conditions of use of asbestos-containing talc. Examples of legacy uses include asbestos contained in construction materials like floor and ceiling tiles, pipe wrap, and insulation in some older homes. Most exposures occur when people handle or damage asbestos-containing material in a way that releases fibers into the air, EPA says. Those most at risk for exposure include construction workers involved in demolition and others who regularly cut, sand, or grind asbestos-containing material. Firefighters may also be at risk due to the potential of fires and other emergencies to disturb asbestos-containing material in buildings. Take-home exposures and exposures related to do-it-yourself projects present risks for workers’ families and the public. Comments on the draft of Part 2 of EPA’s risk evaluation of asbestos are open until June 17, 2024. Both Part 1 and Part 2 may be accessed via EPA’s website. Further details on Part 2 are available in the Federal Register.
EPA Considers Rulemaking on Lead Wheel Weights
EPA has issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) for lead exposures associated with the use of wheel weights, which are used to correct the weight distribution in motor vehicle wheels. Many wheel weights are composed primarily of lead, although alternatives made of steel, zinc, alloy, and plastic-metal composite are available. According to EPA’s press release, the agency previously sought information on how lead wheel weights are used, ways that people may be exposed to lead, and alternatives to lead wheel weights. If EPA determines that use of lead wheel weights presents an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment, it will initiate a proposed rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The ANPRM was published in the Federal Register on April 3. More information about the ANPRM and EPA’s other lead-related regulatory activities may be found on the agency’s website.
OSHA Rule Clarifies Rights Regarding Employee Representation during Inspections
A final rule published by OSHA is intended to clarify employees’ rights to authorize representatives to accompany compliance safety and health officers during workplace inspections. Workers may authorize another employee of the employer to represent them or choose a non-employee third party to serve as their representative. Under the final rule, non-employee representatives may join compliance officers during inspections when, based on the officers’ judgment, “good cause has been shown why they are reasonably necessary to aid in the inspection.”
OSHA clarifies in the final rule that non-employee, third-party representatives “may be reasonably necessary [to conduct an effective, thorough inspection] because of their relevant knowledge, skills, or experience.” For example, these representatives may have experience with relevant hazards or workplace conditions, or they may possess language skills that would help facilitate communication between workers and compliance officers.
Compliance officers will retain the authority to prevent individuals from participating in inspections if their conduct “interferes with a fair and orderly inspection,” according to the Federal Register notice. The new rule also does not affect the right of employers to limit entry of employee-authorized representatives into workplace areas containing trade secrets.
Labor organizations such as the United Steelworkers applauded the rule, while business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the rule might allow union organizers and activists to accompany compliance officers during workplace inspections, or that employers would incur costs associated with protecting confidential business information during inspections where third-party representatives are present.
The rule went into effect on May 31, 2024. Further information can be found in OSHA’s news release and in the Federal Register.
Herbicide Dacthal Poses “Significant Health Risks” to Pregnant People, EPA Warns
On April 1, EPA issued a warning that the herbicide dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate, also known as DCPA or by the trade name Dacthal, presents “significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies.” The agency also issued a letter to AMVAC, the manufacturer of DCPA, that restates the chemical’s health risks and notifies the company of EPA’s intent to protect workers and others exposed to it. EPA is considering further action under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
DCPA is registered for use in controlling weeds in agricultural and non-agricultural settings, but its primary use is on crops including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and onions. In 2023, EPA released a risk assessment on DCPA as part of the registration review process, which requires reevaluation of pesticides every 15 years. This risk assessment determined that pregnant people exposed to the herbicide could experience changes in thyroid hormone levels linked to low birth weight, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills in their developing babies. Health risks persisted even after engineering controls and personal protective equipment were used. Pregnant people and their developing babies may be at risk when entering or working in areas where DCPA has been applied. Unsafe levels of DCPA may remain for more than 25 days after treatment, EPA found.
More information may be found in EPA’s press release. Documents related to EPA’s actions on DCPA are available in the docket on Regulations.gov.
Notice Clarifies Donning Instructions for Certain N95 Respirators
A user notice published by the company Shigematsu Works Co. Ltd. was recently added to the respirator user notices webpage of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL), which lists communications from manufacturers regarding conditions or risks that may exist with NIOSH-certified products. The notice clarifies donning instructions for Shigematsu’s N95 Lambda-Line series respirators, including its DD02-N95+S surgical N95 as well as its DD02-N95-2K and DD02V-N95-2K N95 respirator products. The company’s notice instructs individuals to discontinue use of these respirators if they cannot achieve a good fit with the straps placed properly—with the bottom strap behind the head and below the ears and the upper strap high on the back of the head near the crown.
Please see the notice from Shigematsu (PDF) and the corresponding infographic (PDF) for further details. These and other recent notices may be found on the NPPTL website.
Two Final Tox Profiles Newly Available from ATSDR
Final toxicological profiles for 1,1,1-trichloroethane and hexachlorocyclohexane are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1,1,1-Trichloroethane formerly had industrial and residential uses until EPA banned its production for domestic use in 2002 due to its effects on the ozone layer. Although manufacture and use of the chemical has significantly decreased, workers may encounter it in occupational settings where it is made or used. Exposure to 1,1,1-trichloroethane can cause neurological and hepatic effects.
Hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) is a mixture of eight isomers, including the insecticide lindane. EPA began limiting the use of lindane for agricultural purposes in the 1970s and canceled the agency’s registrations for products containing it in 2006, but Food and Drug Administration-regulated prescription products containing 1 percent lindane remain available. Use of these products typically results in the highest exposures to lindane. Workers in facilities that use, package, or process lindane and people who live near sites contaminated with HCH may also have increased exposure. ATSDR has concluded that health effects of HCH exposure for humans may include hepatic, neurological, developmental, and immune system problems.
A full list of tox profiles is available on ATSDR’s website.
CSB to Investigate Two Toxic Chemical Releases at Louisiana Facilities
On April 4, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard and Investigation Board (CSB) announced it will investigate two toxic chemical releases that occurred at Louisiana facilities in 2023. One incident under investigation is an explosion and release of hydrogen fluoride and chlorine that resulted after a heat exchanger ruptured at the Honeywell facility in Geismar on Jan. 23, 2023. The other incident occurred at a Dow facility in Plaquemine, where an ethylene oxide release caused an explosion and fire on July 14, 2023. Local officials declared shelter-in-place orders for the surrounding areas due to both incidents. Neither resulted in fatalities or serious injuries, according to CSB’s press release.
“Because we recently completely eliminated the CSB’s long-standing backlog of investigation reports, we now have the ability to address other serious chemical incidents reported to the agency under the Accidental Release Reporting Rule,” said CSB Chairperson Steve Owens. Both incidents involved toxic chemicals that could have put workers and residents at risk under different circumstances, Owens noted. “We want to make sure that similar incidents do not happen again at these facilities.”
More information can be found in CSB’s press release.
CDC Stresses Importance of Proper PPE during Avian Flu Outbreak
A health advisory issued April 5 by CDC urges poultry and livestock farmers and workers, veterinary staff, responders, and others to wear appropriate personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of infection from highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) virus. The advisory follows the confirmed HPAI A(H5N1) infection of a person in Texas who worked with presumably infected cows in late March. This infection marked the first instance of cow-to-human spread of HPAI A(H5N1) virus and the second confirmed infection of a human, following an infection in a poultry worker reported in April 2022.
Recommended PPE for those with exposure to sick or dead animals, carcasses, feces, unpasteurized milk, or litter from animals potentially infected with HPAI A(H5N1) viruses includes a NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator, properly fitted unvented or indirectly vented safety goggles, disposable gloves, boots or boot covers, disposable fluid-resistant coveralls, and a disposable head or hair cover. Reusable PPE should be cleaned to remove visible dirt and then disinfected with an EPA-approved disinfectant that has label claims against influenza A viruses. PPE should be donned and doffed in separate clean areas, and people should wash their hands thoroughly after contact with infected or potentially affected animals.
CDC characterizes the current risk to the public as low but cautions that people with work-related or recreational exposures to infected birds, cattle, and other animals are at higher risk of HPAI A(H5N1) infections.
CDC’s health advisory can be found on the agency’s website.
Three New Notices Affect Certain NIOSH-Approved Respirators
Three announcements regarding NIOSH-approved respirators were recently added to the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) website. The notices have to do with certain NIOSH respirator approvals and a stoppage of sale of unapproved units of a NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator.
In one notice, NIOSH announced that it has honored the request of Aswan International Corp. to voluntarily rescind nine respirator approvals issued to the company. A second notice similarly states that NIOSH has honored the request of the company Makrite Industries Inc. to voluntarily rescind one of its respirator approvals. Respirators bearing the approval numbers listed in the agency’s notices are no longer NIOSH approved and may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed. The agency directs individuals to contact Aswan International and Makrite Industries regarding inquiries about the decisions to voluntarily rescind these approvals.
A stoppage of sale related to unapproved color variations for N95 filtering facepiece respirators manufactured and sold with the Mechanix Wear label was announced on Feb. 22. According to a safety bulletin (PDF) issued by Fido Masks Co., the company is investigating a nonconformance associated with these respirators, which bear the NIOSH approval number TC-84A-7792. The company’s communication provides information about the affected products, including part numbers, lot numbers, and manufacturing dates. Fido Masks states that it has addressed the issue at its production facility.
These and other recent respirator-related notices can be found on the NPPTL website.
Food Processing Industry Reports “Alarming Number” of Severe Injuries, OSHA Warns
In a recent hazard alert (PDF), OSHA urges employers, employees, contractors, and staffing agencies to reduce the “alarming number” of serious preventable injuries and deaths in the food processing industry. Between 2015 and 2022, machinery used for food and beverage processing and butchering contributed to the greatest number of severe injury reports within the industry, the document states. The alert emphasizes employers’ responsibilities to protect younger workers and temporary and contract workers, two groups likely to receive less training. 
According to the alert, OSHA investigations completed between 2022 and 2023 found an increase in fatalities and amputations among young people who had just joined the food processing workforce. “Failure to provide sufficient training resulting in a lack of understanding of the hazards are frequently the root cause” of such incidents, the agency states. “Employers should focus appropriate attention to ensuring younger and inexperienced workers receive sufficient instruction and oversight.”
OSHA also notes that more temporary and contract workers are present at food processing facilities due to a rise in subcontracting for sanitation services. Safe cleaning and sanitizing of machinery requires employers to write, implement, and communicate lockout/tagout procedures in accordance with OSHA’s standard on the control of hazardous energy. “It is the employer’s responsibility to communicate all hazards to subcontractors hired to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations and who may be unfamiliar with the facility,” the agency stresses. 
OSHA’s new hazard alert may be downloaded from the agency’s website.
EU Lowers Exposure Limits for Lead, Establishes Limits for Diisocyanates
Rules published in March in the Official Journal of the European Union set stricter occupational exposure limits for lead and establish the first exposure limits at the EU level for diisocyanates, which the rules describe as “skin and respiratory sensitizers (asthmagens) that can have harmful respiratory health effects.” The rules lower the EU’s OEL for lead from 0.15 mg/m3 to 0.03 mg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and revise the biological limit value (BLV) for lead to 15 micrograms of lead per 100 milliliters of blood (15 µg Pb/100 ml), down from 70 µg Pb/100 ml. A BLV of 30 µg Pb/100 ml will apply for a transitional period until Dec. 31, 2028. This is the first time that the EU’s OEL and BLV for lead have been updated since 1982.
The new EU rules establish for all diisocyanates an OEL of 6 µg NCO/m³ as an 8-hour TWA and a 15-minute short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 12 µg NCO/m³. For these limits, “NCO” refers to “isocyanate functional groups of the diisocyanate compounds.” A less strict OEL and STEL for diisocyanates—10 μg NCO/m3    and 20 μg NCO/m3, respectively—will apply during a transitional period that runs through 2028.
The directive requires EU member states to adjust laws, regulations, and administrative provisions by April 9, 2026.
Further information can be found in the news release of the European Commission. The text of the directive is available from the EUR-Lex website.
NIOSH Releases Proceedings of 2022 PPE Workshop
NIOSH has published the proceedings of the Equitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Protections Workshop (PDF), which was held virtually on Nov. 8 and 9, 2022. This workshop focused on equitable use, availability, accessibility, acceptability, and knowledge of PPE for underserved user groups, including workers of atypical size and members of gender, racial, ethnic, or linguistic minorities.  
Workshop participants provided insights on topics from standards development to PPE design approaches. The proceedings summarize the main points of the workshop activities, and this information “can be used by PPE selectors, users, purchasers, and manufacturers as well as by organizations that provide training, knowledge development, or advocacy for these populations such as professional societies and unions,” according to the document’s abstract.
A PDF of the proceedings may be downloaded from NIOSH’s website. NIOSH also provides access to recordings of workshop keynotes, presentations, and panel discussions.