COVID-19 pandemic: Rest stops must remain open, trucking stakeholders contend

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Washington — Transportation officials and a trucking industry group are calling for highway rest stops to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic to help ensure the safety and well-being of commercial motor vehicle drivers, especially those transporting items intended to assist in relief efforts.

In a March 17 letter sent to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear asks that the federal government keep rest stops open. On March 23, Federal Highway Administration Administrator Nicole Nason sounded a similar call in a letter to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials President Patrick McKenna.

“Closing rest areas where professional drivers can rest may risk the safe and timely delivery of medical supplies, food and other essential goods,” Nason writes. “As we all work to stem the tide of this outbreak, let us also continue to facilitate the safe, efficient and seamless transport of critical supplies across the nation.”

The requests came as multiple states decided to close their rest stops. On March 16, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shuttered 35 interstate rest stops, including parking access. Two days later, however, in response to pushback from industry stakeholders, the department announced 13 of its facilities would reopen.

During the pandemic, ATA is tracking state declarations concerning various trucking issues, including parking and rest stop availability. As of April 1, three states – Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania – had enacted partial closures of rest stops. ATA notes that although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lacks preemptive authority over states that elect to close rest stops, the agency is “working closely with the states to ensure adequate truck parking and facilities are available.”

According to a March 17 report from Transportation Nation, FMCSA acting administrator Jim Mullen sent a letter that same day to NATSO (formerly known as the National Association of Truck Stop Operators) President and CEO Lisa Mullings, demanding that rest stops remain open.

“As the nation continues to come to grips with the realities of COVID-19, I am writing to let you know that [FMCSA] recognizes the integral role that travel centers and truck stops play in the nation’s supply chain,” Mullen writes. “All of your members must heed the [Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention] guidelines and follow state and local restrictions. In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical that these businesses remain open, 24 hours per day, providing America’s truck drivers with fuel, food, showers, repair services and opportunities to rest.”

A day before Mullen sent his letter, Mullings issued a statement confirming that member facilities remain open.

“Truck drivers are depending on truck stops and travel centers as they deliver food and life-saving supplies,” Mullings said in a March 16 press release. “As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s travel centers and truck stops are committed to remaining open and serving America’s drivers.”

FMCSA on March 18 issued an expanded national emergency declaration granting temporary exemption from federal hours-of-service regulations to CMV drivers transporting items intended to assist in COVID-19 relief efforts.

EPA seeks feedback on draft risk evaluation for asbestos

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Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public comment on a draft risk evaluation that states asbestos, a known human carcinogen, presents an unreasonable health risk to workers under certain conditions, while critics of the agency renew their call for a complete ban of the substance.

Used in chlor-alkali production, consumer products, coatings and compounds, plastics, roofing products, and other applications, asbestos is among the first 10 chemicals slated for evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, as outlined in November 2016.

The long-anticipated draft states that asbestos poses “unreasonable risk” to workers engaged in operations involving:

  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos diaphragms in chlor-alkali industry
  • Processing and industrial use of asbestos-containing sheet gaskets in chemical production
  • Industrial use and disposal of asbestos-containing brake blocks in the oil industry
  • Commercial use and disposal of aftermarket automotive asbestos-containing brakes/linings, other vehicle friction products and other asbestos-containing gaskets

As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, the draft risk evaluation is scheduled to undergo a virtual peer review April 27-30 during a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals. Requests to speak during the SACC virtual peer review are due April 22. Comments on the draft risk evaluation are due June 2.

In March 2019, EPA released a final “significant new use” rule the agency said is intended to keep manufacturers from reintroducing discontinued uses of asbestos. The rule, which went into effect June 24, established a review process requiring agency approval for entities seeking to start or resume uses that include – but are not limited to – adhesives, sealants, and roof and non-roof coatings; arc chutes; millboard; reinforced plastics; roofing felt; and vinyl-asbestos floor tile.

The agency states the rule does not impact the prohibited uses of asbestos covered in a 1989 partial ban.

In a March 31 press release, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization President and co-founder Linda Reinstein claims EPA followed a “flawed approach” that examined only one of six types of recognized asbestos fibers.

“That EPA found this level of risk, despite the severe limitations and deficiencies of their evaluation, speaks volumes,” Reinstein said. “We need Congress to move to now to pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act.”

In March 2019, lawmakers in the House and Senate reintroduced the legislation, which calls for a complete federal ban of asbestos. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill – named for Reinstein’s late husband, Alan, who died from mesothelioma in 2006 – by a 47-1 vote in November.

Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) contends in an April 1 press release that the timing of EPA’s actions amid the COVID-19 pandemic is evidence that the agency “has no intention of addressing this dangerous, proven carcinogen” and echoed the call for Congress to approve a federal ban.

“Publishing this long-awaited proposal for public comment now – in the midst of a declared national emergency – shows just how out of touch the Trump administration is,” Pallone said. “Americans and our public health community do not have the time right now to review and offer comment on this proposal.”

National Work Zone Awareness Week


National Work Zone Awareness Week 2020National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) 2020 is scheduled for April 20-24.  This year’s theme is Safe Work Zones for All: Protect workers. Protect road users. It features a poster reminiscent of the World War II poster with Rosie the Riveter. In her place are a male and female roadway worker proclaiming, “We Can Do It!”, which is the original language used in the WWII poster. Michigan chose that image as a reflection of its industrial heritage. Original “Rosies” worked as riveters in an aircraft factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan that built B24 bombers, which is now the site of the American Center for Mobility (ACM). Michigan officials have canceled the April 21 kickoff event in accord with CDC guidelines regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Individual NWZAW events in your area may need to be curtailed, postponed, or canceled due to public health precautions. However, NWZAW will continue as scheduled on April 20-24. We strongly encourage all participants to take part in NWZAW this year through social media to remind the public to drive safely in and around work zones.

For more information, check out the website below.

OSHA Guidance on Respiratory Protection and the N95 Shortage Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) Pandemic

OSHA has issued guidance on the use and re-use of respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The guidance can be found here:  The OSHA press release is also below.

Per the release, the guidance “outlines enforcement discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators, as well as the use of respirators that are beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life (sometimes referred to as “expired”).

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new Enforcement Guidance for Respiratory Protection and the N95 Shortage Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) Pandemic. This memorandum provides interim guidance to Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) for enforcing the Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR § 1910.134, and certain other health standards, with regard to supply shortages of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators.  Specifically, it outlines enforcement discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators, as well as the use of respirators that are beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life (sometimes referred to as “expired”). This guidance applies in all industries and will also be highlighted on the OSHA COVID-19 webpage shortly.

For further information about COVID-19, please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19 pandemic: Miners union calls for emergency MSHA standard

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Triangle, VA — Citing concerns over the adjacent nature of mining work and the growing prevalence of respiratory illness in the industry, the United Mine Workers of America is calling on the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency standard to help safeguard mine workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a March 24 letter sent via email to MSHA administrator David Zatezalo, UMWA President Cecil Roberts contends miners are “one of the most vulnerable populations” to the potentially deadly respiratory disease. Many workers, he writes, suffer from underlying health conditions such as heart disease, compromised immune systems and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis – a deadly but preventable condition commonly known as black lung disease. According to NIOSH, rates of black lung disease have more than doubled over the past 15 years.

Roberts writes that the effects of these conditions “will greatly exacerbate” the symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The uneasiness grows for miners who reside in rural areas with limited access to health care.

“Our miners work in close proximity to one another from the time they arrive at the mine site,” the letter states. “They get dressed, travel down the elevator together, ride in the same mantrip, work in confined spaces, breathe the same air, operate the same equipment and use the same shower facilities.”

Roberts calls on MSHA to exercise its authority and require mine operators to:

  • Provide access to N95 respirators
  • Implement policies and procedures for disinfecting equipment between shifts and when changing operators
  • Offer extra personal protective equipment for pulling cables, touching shared equipment and handling shared materials
  • Provide disinfectant strategies for bathhouses and gathering places

­UMWA outlines several precautionary measures various mine operators already have taken:

  • Offering additional disinfection between shifts in toilet, sink, shower and boot wash areas, as well as near bulletin boards and lunch spaces
  • Disinfecting all cap lamps, detectors, radios and any other equipment used by miners, after shifts and before other miners are able to use them
  • Providing miners with disinfecting wipes and spray
  • Disinfecting all equipment before use
  • Providing additional nitrile medical gloves for miners to wear in addition to their required work gloves
  • Limiting the number of miners traveling on elevators and mantrips
  • Suspending the use of hand scanners

However, the letter argues that these practices alone won’t keep miners safe.

“UMWA stands ready to work with MSHA, the mining industry and our members to find ways to protect miners in these unprecedented times,” Roberts writes. “Miners are a resilient people and have overcome many challenges throughout time. This will be yet another situation where we will overcome, protecting our miners, their families, their communities, and allow them to continue to provide these valuable resources when our nation needs them most.”

Rail crossing safety for cement, garbage and dump truck drivers: New video available


Photo: Operation Lifesaver Inc.

Washington — A new video from a rail safety education group is aimed at helping drivers of cement, garbage and dump trucks safely navigate rail crossings.

Operation Lifesaver’s three-and-a-half-minute video features instructions on what to do at highway-rail grade crossings, important signs to look for and what they mean, and what to do if your vehicle stalls on the tracks.

“Due to the weight of your vehicle, you should take extra precautions when approaching and crossing railroad tracks to avoid a devastating crash,” the video says.

The most significant pieces of advice: “Do not try to beat a train” and “If your truck doesn’t fit, don’t commit.” Also, drivers should leave at least 15 feet between the front or rear of their vehicles and the closest rail because trains hang over the rails.

If a vehicle stalls on a track, drivers should get out even if a train isn’t approaching. If a train is coming, drivers should run at a 45-degree angle away from the tracks and toward the train to avoid debris. If no train is in sight, drivers should call the emergency number typically located on a sign near the rail crossing’s lights and arms.

Preliminary data from the Federal Railroad Administration, which provided funding for the video, shows that 506 incidents involving heavy trucks at rail crossings occurred in 2018 – up from 449 in 2017 and 443 in 2016.

“Our goal with the video is to educate drivers, waste management companies, municipalities and cement producers about the dangers railroad crossings pose to drivers and the importance of educating these employees to save lives,” Operation Lifesaver Executive Director Rachel Maleh said in a press release. “The increase in 2018 crossing incidents involving heavy trucks underscores the need to reach these audiences and reduce these preventable incidents.”


COVID-19 pandemic: Construction ‘one of our more challenging workplaces,’ NIOSH’s Howard says

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Itasca, IL — Many construction projects are still underway despite the majority of states issuing stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic to help stop the spread of the disease, according to NIOSH Director John Howard.

Howard was the featured speaker on a March 31 webinar – the second in a series aimed at providing workers and employers updates on the pandemic – hosted by the National Safety Council in conjunction with NIOSH.

“State governors have issued stay-at-home orders and have frequently exempted construction and declared it to be essential,” he said. “It’s probably one of our more challenging workplaces.”

Construction workers are often in close quarters and areas that aren’t well-ventilated. Howard encouraged construction employers, workers and unions to partner and create a shared set of best practices to help keep workers safe and healthy.

Among the most common best practices to follow are physical distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when on the jobsite and making appropriate personal protective equipment available.

“We should separate workers as much as we can,” Howard said. “And, when we can’t, we make sure they’re well-protected.”

Other best practices include:

  • Encouraging sick workers to stay home.
  • Having forepersons ask workers to self-identify symptoms of illnesses. For COVID-19, symptoms include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Screening all visitors to the site.
  • Performing temperature checks of workers, preferably with no-contact thermometers.
  • Continuing toolbox talks, but making sure they’re done with proper physical distancing of 6 feet between each worker.
  • Identifying choke points in buildings under construction and working to resolve them.
  • Minimizing worker interaction when equipment or supplies are picked up or delivered.
  • Modifying work schedules by staggering shifts, or offering alternate days of work or extra shifts to reduce the number of workers on a site at one time.
  • Restricting access to closed or confined spaces.
  • Not sharing water bottles.
  • Disinfecting shared equipment (e.g., tools and vehicles) before and after each use.
  • Providing workers with handwashing stations. If water isn’t available onsite, employers should make hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol readily available.
  • For large construction sites, Howard encouraged employers to have a specific COVID-19 officer onsite.

    When it comes to PPE, “gloves should always be worn, depending on the task. And don’t share,” Howard said. “Eye protection is a must. For workers who have to work in close quarters, they should use appropriate PPE and augment ventilation in those areas.”

    Anxiety and fear among employees

    “This is an important issue we don’t talk about enough,” Howard said. “This is a very stressful period of time for all of us. Employers should pay attention to it.”

    He recommended that workers use employee assistance programs and other resources that employers make available.

    Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting

    It’s important to understand that these three terms aren’t interchangeable when talking about precautions to prevent exposure.

    “Cleaning is getting the dirt out,” Howard said. “Sanitizing is what’s used in public health a lot to get down to a certain level of bacteria – sometimes 95% is killed. Disinfection is killing everything. That’s where you want to aim.”

OSHA announces public meeting on whistleblower program


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Washington — OSHA has scheduled a public meeting for May 12 to gather information on key issues facing its Whistleblower Protection Program.

According to a notice published in the March 13 Federal Register, the meeting is set for 1 p.m. Eastern at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

To better understand how it can improve the program, OSHA is interested in input regarding:

  • How the agency can deliver better customer service.
  • The kind of assistance the agency can provide to help explain the whistleblower laws it enforces.
  • Where the agency’s outreach efforts should be targeted.

The deadline to register is April 28. Comments are due May 5.

OSHA enforces whistleblower protections under 23 statutes.

COVID-19 pandemic: CDC issues interim cleaning, disinfection recommendations after exposure


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Washington — In light of emerging data on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released interim environmental cleaning and disinfection recommendations for community facilities with suspected or confirmed cases of the potentially deadly respiratory illness.

The guidelines – aimed at limiting the spread of the disease – are focused on community, non-health care facilities such as schools, institutions of higher education, offices, day care facilities, businesses, and community centers that “do, and do not, house persons overnight.”

SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – can be stable for several hours to even days on various surfaces, results of a study that involved CDC researchers and was published online March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine show.

“Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces, followed by disinfection, is the best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in community settings,” CDC states on its Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities webpage, which the agency intends to update as more data is made available.

Cleaning should entail using a detergent or soap and water before disinfecting. Diluted household bleach solutions, solutions with at least 70% alcohol or other Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants are recommended.

CDC also provides information on how to clean soft or porous surfaces. In addition, personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves and gowns, should be worn by cleaning staff, who are encouraged to wash their hands frequently.

Employers should provide education on COVID-19 to workers performing duties such as cleaning, laundry and garbage pickup.

“These guidelines are not meant for cleaning staff in health care facilities or repatriation sites, households, or for others for whom specific guidance already exists,” CDC states.

Safe + Sound Week set for Aug. 10-16


Photo: OSHA

Washington — OSHA, NIOSH and a number of safety organizations – including the National Safety Council – are teaming up for the fourth annual Safe + Sound Week, scheduled for Aug. 10-16.

The nationwide initiative is aimed at promoting awareness and understanding of workplace safety and health programs. Participating agencies and organizations are encouraging employers to host events highlighting the importance of programs that focus on management leadership, worker participation, and finding and fixing workplace hazards.

“Successful safety and health programs can proactively identify and manage workplace hazards before they cause injury or illness, improving sustainability and the bottom line,” OSHA states.

“Participating in Safe + Sound Week can help get your program started, energize an existing one or provide a chance to recognize your safety successes.”

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses were reported among private-sector U.S. employees in 2018. Fatal workplace injuries totaled 5,250 in 2018 – the most since 2007.