Washington — Methylene chloride poses “unreasonable risk” to workers under certain conditions, according to a final risk evaluation recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, which now is compelled to propose within one year regulatory action to mitigate the chemical’s hazards.
Frequently used for bathtub refinishing, methylene chloride is among the first 10 chemicals under evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. In 2014, EPA found that exposure to the chemical may cause cancer, harm to the central nervous system and toxicity to the liver, among other adverse health effects.
The final evaluation, published June 19, is the first to be released for the 10 chemicals. Announced via a notice published in the June 24 Federal Register, the document states methylene chloride poses unreasonable risk to workers involved in numerous operations, including:
- Plastic and rubber manufacturing
- Electrical equipment, appliance and component manufacturing
- Oil and gas drilling, extraction and support activities
- Adhesive/caulk removal
- Cold pipe insulation
- Aerosol and non-aerosol degreasing and cleaning
Additionally, EPA determined an unreasonable risk is not present during the following conditions of use:
- Domestic manufacture
- Processing as a reactant
- Distribution in commerce
- Industrial and commercial use as a laboratory chemical
As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, EPA must address risks by proposing within one year regulatory actions such as training, certification, restricted access, and/or ban of commercial use, and then accept public comment on any proposals.
“Releasing the first final risk evaluation marks a key milestone in our efforts to fulfill our responsibilities for ensuring the safety of chemicals already on the market,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, said in a June 19 press release. “By following the TSCA process, we can have confidence in our final conclusions and move forward with developing a plan to protect the public from any unreasonable risks.”
In March 2019, EPA published a final rule that prohibits manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of the substance in paint removers for consumer use, as well as requires manufacturers, processors and distributors to notify retailers and others in the supply chain about the ban.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the release that the action “builds on last year’s ban on consumer sales of certain methylene chloride products and will guide the agency’s efforts to further reduce risks from this chemical.”
Liz Hitchcock, director of the Washington-based advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, called on the agency to expedite its regulatory actions, contending in a June 19 statement that “the longer EPA drags its feet, the more lives will be lost.” According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, at least 64 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride since 1980.
“The time for study and talk is long past,” Hitchcock’s statement reads. “EPA should take immediate action on the danger it has once again recognized in this risk evaluation and finish the job to protect workers. The agency must immediately finalize its proposed ban on commercial use of these products. To wait any longer to protect workers from these dangerous products when EPA has the ability to ban them now is unconscionable and will result in more preventable deaths.”
In April 2019, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families was part of a coalition of groups representing worker rights that filed a lawsuit against EPA and Wheeler for excluding workers in the final rule.
EPA previously solicited comments on problem formation documents for the first 10 chemicals before releasing its first draft risk evaluation – for Pigment Violet 29 – in November 2018. The agency released its draft risk evaluation for methylene chloride in October.
EPA says it plans to release final risk evaluations for the remaining nine of the first 10 chemicals by the end of the year.
Washington — L. Casey Chosewood pointed out the obvious reality every worker faces. “All of us are aging,” the director of the Office for Total Worker Health at NIOSH said during the agency’s June 10 webinar on the future of work and the implications for aging workers. “So this topic is germane to all of us, whether you’re age 25 or age 75. There are five active generations in today’s workforce.”
Chosewood said that although the future of work involves many new jobs, “we’re going to keep a lot of the jobs we have today” – but all jobs will undergo change. As work evolves, providing older workers the skills they will need to adjust and interventions to positively impact health are paramount. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, by 2024, people 55 and older will make up 24.8% of the nation’s workforce.
“How we adapt, design, redesign and create jobs is important,” Chosewood said. “How do we design work – both today’s work and work to come in the future – with comprehensive health outcomes in mind?”
New job designs that protect and improve health aren’t without concern, however.
One example is long-haul truck drivers operating semiautonomous vehicles to reduce the effects of stress and its potentially chronic impact on health. “The future of work is going to require debate about the future of such health interventions and certain negative aspects of new work like job loss and job displacement,” Chosewood said.
Along with stress, organizations should be mindful of issues such as substance misuse and industries with high injury risk, including construction, agriculture, mining and health care.
“I believe that worker protection and prevention efforts along the way not only are beneficial to workers later in life, but those interventions really help workers at all ages,” Chosewood said. “If you talk about intervening for an older or aging workforce, you’re actually doing things to help every single worker. Organizations that navigate this intersection well, and do it successfully, are those that are going to take a comprehensive, integrated approach at Total Worker Health strategies.”
Lowell, MA — Regularly lifting objects that weigh 30 pounds or more is one of seven “strong predictors” of – and most correlated to – work-related retinal detachments or tears, researchers are warning.
For the study, a team led by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell surveyed 200 participants with a retinal detachment or tear and 415 healthy control participants. All the participants answered questions about their general health, vision and physical exertion.
The participants who lifted 30 pounds or more on a regular basis at work were 1.8 times more likely to experience a retinal detachment or tear. The other strong predictors were age, gender, body mass index, myopia (nearsightedness), family history and cataract surgery.
“The biggest takeaway is safe lifting practices, which will protect your back, can also protect your eyes,” lead study author David Kriebel, a professor in the department of public health at UMass Lowell, told Safety+Health. “Thirty pounds is not a threshold for what’s safe versus dangerous to lift. Our research suggests that reducing lifting may reduce the risk of retinal detachment.”
Kriebel suggested that workers follow practices in NIOSH’s Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. The relationship between age and increased risk rose sharply from 40 years old to about 65 – where it a peaked – then dropped quickly beyond 80. Further, a nearly threefold increase in detachments and tears was found among participants with myopia.
In addition, retinal detachments and tears were more likely to be experienced by men, participants who had family members who had suffered a retinal detachment or tear, and those who had a cataract surgery on the same eye more than three months before the incident.
“These workers should consult with an ophthalmologist about whether they should adopt extra precautions, beyond standard safe lifting practices as detailed in the NIOSH guidelines,” Kriebel said. “Workers with eye conditions, including past cataract surgery, retinal detachment or a recent posterior vitreous detachment, may be at increased risk of retinal detachment.”
Among participants with increased BMI, the researchers found a lower risk of both retinal detachments and retinal tears. This contrasts with two previously published studies – a 2008 Italian study in the journal Epidemiology and a 2017 Swedish study in the British Medical Journal – that found positive associations with retinal detachments or tears and higher BMI.
The new study, which was funded by NIOSH, was published online April 7 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“This hearing is about ensuring federal agencies have plans and necessary resources to enable continuity of operations throughout the pandemic,” Connolly said. “This hearing is about ensuring the thousands of federal workers who have contracted the coronavirus are respected.”
Lorraine M. Martin, CEO and president of the National Safety Council and one of four witnesses testifying during the hearing, said the federal government “can set the example.” Such an example, Martin said, would follow “all the guidance from health organizations” as well as large multinational companies that “have very detailed playbooks on how to bring their folks back to work and when to bring them back.”
NSC launched its SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns initiative in May to help employers understand all the needed steps and considerations for bringing employees back to the workplace. Martin highlighted a new SAFER resource: the Organizational Vulnerability Assessment tool, which organizations can use to get “tailored recommendations.”
The subcommittee’s Republicans want the federal government to stay away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Two subcommittee members pointed to Internal Revenue Service office closures, which they say have slowed the issuance of tax refunds.
In contrast, Jacqueline Simon, national policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, called on federal workplaces to delay bringing workers back until “agencies have the full capacity to test, protect, trace and inform their workforces, and unless and until genuine, objective data on the status of the pandemic shows it has subsided.”
Simon also noted the success of remote work during the pandemic. “Since so many have been successfully teleworking throughout the pandemic, I inevitably ask why the rush to return?” she asked.
J. Christopher Mihm, managing director for strategic issues in the Government Accountability Office, added that “agencies’ experiences with telework during the global pandemic suggest opportunities for increased availability of telework in the future.”
Mihm also called for strengthened two-way communication, especially listening to and addressing employees’ concerns, as well as cooperation and information sharing among agencies in the same geographic areas.
Martin said telework by at least some employees in organizations – already a trend before the pandemic – likely is “here to stay.”
“Our country and its citizens have all experienced great trauma because of the coronavirus,” Martin said. “Worrying about one’s safety and well-being at work should not be needlessly added to this burden.”
- Phasing. Create a phased transition to return to work aligned with risk and exposure levels.
- Sanitize. Disinfect the workplace and make any alterations needed so employees can easily practice physical distancing.
- Screenings. Develop a health status screening process for all employees.
- Hygiene. Create a plan for handling employees who get sick, and encourage good hygiene.
- Tracing. If workers get sick, follow proper contact tracing steps to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- Mental health. Commit to supporting the mental and emotional health of your workers by sharing support resources and policies.
- Training. Train leaders and supervisors at your organization on the fundamentals of safety. These fundamentals include risk assessment and hazard recognition, as well as the mental and wellness-related impacts of COVID-19. Your employees will feel the effects of the pandemic long after it’s over.
- Engagement plan. Notify employees in advance of the return to their pre-coronavirus workplace. Consider categorizing workers into different groups based on job roles and bringing back groups or departments one at a time.
- Communication. Create a communication plan that involves being open and transparent with workers about returning to work.
- Assessment. Outline the main factors you’re using as guidance to provide a simple structure for the extremely complex return-to-work decision.
SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns – a group of experts from companies of all sizes, leading safety organizations, nonprofits, government agencies and public health organizations – is the first national task force focused on worker safety.
For more information, go to nsc.org/safer.
Here are some travel safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First, ask yourself these questions:
- Is COVID-19 spreading where you’re going? How about where you live?
- Is it realistic that travel companions will be able to stay 6 feet from you?
- If you are traveling with others, are they at high risk for severe illness (i.e., older adults and people with existing medical conditions)?
- Do you live with someone who is at high risk for illness?
- Does your local government require you to stay home for 14 days after your trip?
- If you get sick, will you have to miss work?
“Do not travel if you are sick, or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days,” CDC states. “Do not travel with someone who is sick.”
If you do decide to travel, follow these tips:
- Clean your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place. Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with others.
- Wear a face covering in public.
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
- Pick up food curbside if you eat out.
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a compliance directive designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime, and construction.
The new directive provides OSHA compliance safety and health officers with guidance on how to enforce the silica standards’ requirements, including:
- Methods of compliance;
- Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods;
- Exposure assessments;
- Respiratory protection;
- Regulated areas;
- Employee information and training;
- Medical surveillance; and
- Communication of hazards.
The directive also provides clarity on major topics, such as alternative exposure control methods when a construction employer does not fully and properly implement Table 1, variability in sampling, multi-employer situations, and temporary workers.
OSHA began enforcing most provisions of the construction standard in September 2017, with enforcement of the requirements for sample analysis starting in June 2018. Enforcement of most of the general industry and maritime standards began in June 2018, with enforcement of some medical surveillance requirements commencing on June 23, 2020. On June 23, 2021, OSHA will begin enforcing requirements for engineering controls for hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.
28 miners have died after falling from heights over the last 10 years.
Deaths from falls have increased from 8% to 19% of mining fatalities in the last two years.
- Working without fall protection on top of trucks, in aerial lift baskets, and while accessing and egressing other mobile equipment
- While performing maintenance on crushers, screens, conveyors, and other milling equipment
MSHA issued 92 imminent danger orders for people working at heights without fall protection between January 2019 and June 2020. The most common violations were truck drivers climbing atop their vehicles, and maintenance and quarry personnel climbing to or working without fall protection in high places. Supervisors have been ordered down from dangerous locations.
- Reduce hazards. Design work areas and develop job tasks to minimize fall hazards.
- Have a program. Establish an effective fall prevention and protection program. Provide task and site-specific hazard training that prohibits working at unprotected locations.
- Provide a fall protection harness and lanyard to each miner who may work at an elevated height or a location unprotected by handrails. Ensure their use.
- Provide identifiable, secure anchor points to attach lanyards.
- Proactively enforce fall protection equipment usage and safe work-at-height policies and procedures with supervisors, miners, contractors, and truck drivers.
- Provide mobile or stationary platforms or scaffolding at locations and on work projects where there is a risk of falling.
- Provide safe truck tarping and bulk truck hatch access facilities.
Announced in a June 23 press release, the safety alert and five-minute video include highlights from a Center for Chemical Process Safety guidance document. Assessment of and Planning for Natural Hazards, published in October, was developed after CSB’s investigation into an August 2017 incident at an Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, TX.
After flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused an evacuation of the facility, organic peroxide products stored inside a formerly refrigerated trailer decomposed and caught fire, releasing dangerous fumes and smoke into the air. Officials initially chose to keep a nearby highway open and, as a result, 21 people needed medical attention for exposure to hazardous fumes. More than 200 residents living nearby were later evacuated and could not return home for a week.
CSB found “a significant lack of industry guidance on planning for flooding or other severe weather events” despite an increase in flooding throughout the United States in recent years.
“Some experts predict this trend will continue,” CSB Chair and CEO Katherine Lemos says in the video. “The incident at Arkema is not an anomaly.
“When analyzing safety hazards at a facility, companies are not specifically required to consider the risks of extreme weather. For this reason, I’m concerned that other companies may not be aware of the potential for flooding to create process safety hazards.”