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U.S. Department of Labor Issues Guidance to Employers to Help Protect Oil and Gas Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released coronavirus-related guidance to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus for oil and gas workers.

Employers with workers engaged in the oil and gas industry should remain alert to changing conditions, and implement infection prevention measures accordingly. The guidance includes information regarding:

  • Deferring work requiring close contact with others, if that work can be postponed;
  • Configuring communal work environments so that workers are spaced at least 6 feet apart;
  • Staggering workers’ arrival, break and departure times;
  • Ensuring adequate ventilation in work areas to help minimize potential exposures;
  • Implementing other appropriate engineering, administrative and work practice controls, and use of appropriate personal protective equipment; and
  • Encourage workers to wear face coverings as a source control to prevent the potential spread of the virus.

Visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage frequently for updates. For further information about the coronavirus, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

OSHA moves National Safety Stand-Down to September

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Photo: OSHA

Washington — OSHA has rescheduled the seventh annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction for Sept. 14-18.

The event initially was set for May 4-8, but was postponed March 27 over concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It now will coincide with Construction Safety Week, which also was recently rescheduled for Sept. 14-18.

Speaking during a July 2 webinar hosted by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, OSHA Directorate of Construction Director Scott Ketcham said the agency and its partners in the stand-down – NIOSH and CPWR – “are going to be working on getting information out to you as stakeholders on how to do a falls stand-down in a COVID environment” that includes physical distancing and other precautionary measures.

Falls are among the leading causes of fatal workplace injuries among construction workers. OSHA “encourages employers to remain vigilant and to use all available resources to enhance worker safety.” According to the agency, millions of construction workers have participated in the campaign since the stand-down began in 2014, with events having occurred in all 50 states and internationally.

MSHA – Mine Fatality #9

MINE FATALITY – On June 13, 2020, a dragline was found submerged in 25 feet of water where a miner had been using it to remove material from a pond. Divers attempted to locate the dragline operator, and after two days the dragline was extricated from the pond. The victim was recovered from the engine compartment behind the operator’s cab.

Best Practices:
  • Maintain control of operating mobile equipment.
  • Keep all exits clear in cabs, including alternate and emergency exits, and make sure the doors open freely before beginning work.
  • Retrofit older models of equipment with current automatic braking systems.
  • Ensure all controls and brakes are set to the appropriate position for the task.
Additional Information:

This is the ninth fatality reported in 2020, and the second classified as “Machinery”

COVID-19 pandemic: FMCSA extends waiver for certain preemployment drug tests

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Photo: DakotaSmith/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted to recently furloughed commercial motor vehicle drivers a 90-day waiver from certain preemployment drug testing requirements, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective June 5 and set to expire Sept. 30, the waiver amends current regulations requiring drivers to undergo preemployment drug testing and produce a negative test result to their employer before performing safety-sensitive functions, which includes operating a CMV. The regulation offers an exception to drivers who have participated in a testing program within the past 30 days and either:

  • Were tested for controlled substances within the past six months
  • Participated in the random controlled substances testing program for the previous 12 months.

Under the waiver, the exemption period is extended to 90 days from 30.

“As employers begin to recall drivers who were furloughed, laid off or otherwise not working for the company for more than 30 days, the cost and logistical barriers of testing a large influx of drivers in a short time frame are significant, at a time when the commercial trucking and motor coach industry is facing unprecedented economic challenges,” the waiver states. “This problem is further compounded by the reduced availability of controlled substances testing resources due to continued facility closures or other testing impediments caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

FMCSA says offering “temporary regulatory relief from this burden” is possible “without negatively impacting safety.” Further, the agency “reserves the right to revoke” the waiver as a result of drivers’ involvement in incidents or employers’ inability to comply with terms.

The waiver comes in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order No. 13924 – Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery, issued May 19.

New OSHA directive details enforcement of silica standards

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Image: simazoran/iStockphoto

Washington — Seeking “uniformity” in the enforcement of its silica standards, OSHA has published an instructional directive for its compliance safety and health officers.

Dated June 25, the directive outlines inspection procedures for addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime and construction. The directive guides OSHA inspectors on the enforcement of the silica standards’ requirements, which include:

  • Methods of compliance
  • Exposure assessments
  • Table 1 tasks and specified exposure control methods
  • Housekeeping
  • Communication of hazards
  • Respiratory protection
  • Regulated areas
  • Recordkeeping
  • Employee information and training
  • Medical surveillance

“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, multiemployer situations, and temporary workers,” a June 26 agency press release states.

The standards call for a permissible exposure limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an 8-hour time-weighted average. As of June 23, general industry and maritime employers must offer medical surveillance to all employees who are exposed to the silica standard’s “action level” of 25 micrograms per cubic meter for 30 or more days a year.

Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry have until June 23, 2021, to comply with OSHA requirements for the standard’s engineering controls.

Ladder safety during the COVID-19 pandemic: Association releases guidance

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Photo: Zephyr18/iStockphoto

Glasgow, Scotland — More regular deep cleaning of ladders are among the tips the Ladder Association has developed for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The free online resource cites as the basis of its recommendation a study, published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can live on stainless steel or plastic ladders for up to 72 hours.

Employers should communicate measures they’re taking to protect workers, remind employees about proper hygiene practices and encourage workers to stay at least 6 feet away from others. Because physical distancing can be difficult to practice when multiple people are needed to perform certain ladder tasks, including stabilizing and raising the equipment, the association has tips for employers to consider for these activities. Employers also should perform risk assessments and review rescue plans.

“Keeping ladder users safe now means protecting them from coronavirus as well as falls and other injuries,” Gail Hounslea, chair of the Ladder Association and managing director of the Ladderstore, said in a June 12 press release. “Businesses are facing the unprecedented challenge of getting people safely back to work during a pandemic. Ladders are only a small part of what they’ve got to consider, but we realized we could use our expertise to support all those whose workers will be heading back up ladders and need to ensure every safety aspect is covered.”

Traffic fatalities in Arizona reached a 3-year low in 2019

Crashes involving distracted drivers fall 11.8%

PHOENIX – Traffic crash fatalities on Arizona roadways in 2019 fell to their lowest total in three years, according to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report published Tuesday, June 30.

Total traffic crash fatalities was one of several key measurements that decreased in 2019 from 2018. The 2019 report also tallied fewer pedestrian fatalities, alcohol-related fatalities, fatalities of those not wearing seat belts and distracted drivers involved in crashes compared to the previous year.

The Arizona Department of Transportation produces the annual Motor Vehicle Crash Facts Report, which is a compilation of traffic crash reports provided by law enforcement agencies around the state. The report reflects crash data for all Arizona roadways, including city streets, county roads, reservation roads and state highways.

While the total number of fatalities decreased, the total number of crashes in Arizona rose by 1.6% from 2018 to 2019. In the same timespan, Arizona saw the total number of licensed drivers increase by 1.3% to 5.38 million.

Reducing crashes, fatalities and injuries can’t be solved by state agencies alone because 68% of crashes occur on roads other than state highways. In fact, real change must begin in the driver’s seat because driver behavior is a factor in more than 90% of collisions. Some of those behaviors saw better results in 2019 than recent years, but there are still too many preventable crashes, fatalities and injuries occurring on Arizona’s roads.

The report shows that at least 10,491 drivers involved in collisions during 2019 engaged in “distracted driving behavior.” This is an 11.8% decrease from 2018, when the figure was 11,898. In April 2019, when Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2318, it became illegal for drivers to talk or text on a cellphone while driving unless the device is in a hands-free mode.

Arizona continues to see fewer deaths related to drinking and driving and not wearing seat belts. Alcohol-related fatalities decreased for the third straight year, falling 21% since 2017, and the 256 fatalities in 2019 is the lowest total since 2010. The number of people killed not wearing seat belts fell for the fifth year in a row – from 258 in 2015 to 211 in 2019 – but unbuckled occupants still account for about a fifth of all traffic fatalities.

Pedestrian fatalities fell to their lowest total since 2016, with 220 in 2019. Most pedestrian fatalities occur on surface streets in urban areas, and pedestrians should cross streets only at marked crosswalks where drivers expect to see them.

Crashes involving bicyclists and motorcycles continued a years-long downward trend. The 1,275 total crashes involving bicyclists in 2019 are the fewest since at least 1991 – crashes involving bikes peaked in 2012 with 2,146. Crashes involving motorcycles declined for the third straight year and reached their lowest total (2,676) since 2004. Yet, despite the decrease in crashes for these categories, each saw a year-over-year increase in bicyclists and motorcycle operators and passengers killed in vehicle collisions.

The full 2019 Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report is available at azdot.gov/CrashFacts.

 

Temporary increased truck weight limits extended through July 30

Eased limits are for commercial loads with critical supplies

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation has extended through July 30 the temporary higher weight limits for commercial trucks hauling critical supplies and goods during the current public health situation.

In response to a national emergency declaration, and to align with the temporary increase in truck weights by neighboring states, ADOT in early April raised the gross weight limit for commercial vehicles to 90,000 pounds without the need for an overweight permit, up from the normal 80,000 pounds. That temporary measure, previously extended to June 30, will now remain in effect until July 30.

For more information, visit azdot.gov.

EPA publishes final risk evaluation for methylene chloride

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Photo: California Department of Public Health

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
  • Recycling
  • Distribution in commerce
  • Industrial and commercial use as a laboratory chemical
  • Disposal

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.

‘Five active generations’: Total Worker Health webinar explores the future of work

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Photo: D-Keine/iStockphoto

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.”