Workplace HR & Safety | 12 November 2015

What’s Really Damaging Your Workers’ Hearing?

Approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise at their workplace each year, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) website on occupational noise exposure, making noise-related hearing loss one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for the last 25 years.

Because hearing loss is a significant workplace problem, numerous standards are in place to offer protection to workers across a variety of industries. “ OSHA’s noise standard has two main points,” explained Mark Lies, a partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw. “At a certain level of noise—85 decibels—you have to have everybody get hearing protection and you have to check their hearing every year to make sure their hearing is not degrading because of the noise of the workplace.”

Despite the standards in place, in 2012, hearing loss accounted for more than 21,000 cases of reportable workplace injuries, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—virtually unchanged from the previous 3 years. So why are hearing loss incident rates holding steady? Perhaps it is because workers, and safety professionals, are still becoming aware of new and surprising ways in which the sensitive ear is being abused.

US Department of Labor | 6 October 2015

Labor Department Releases Results From Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

Preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries show the rate of fatal work injuries in 2014 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time workers, the same as the final rate for 2013. While the preliminary total of 4,679 fatal work injuries was an increase of 2% over the revised count of 4,585 in 2013, there was also an increase in hours worked in 2014.

US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said, “Far too many people are still killed on the job—13 workers every day taken from their families tragically and unnecessarily. These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires.

“Preliminary results tell us 789 Hispanic workers died on the job in 2014, compared with 817 in 2013. While we were gratified by that drop, the number is still unacceptably high, and it is clear that there is still much more hard work to do.

“BLS data shows fatalities rising in the construction sector (along with an overall increase in construction employment). Dangerous workplaces also are taking the lives of a growing number of people in oil and gas extraction. That is why OSHA continues extensive outreach and strong enforcement campaigns in these industries. The US Department of Labor will continue to work with employers, workers, community organizations, unions, and others to make sure that all workers can return home safely at the end of every day.”

OSHA | 17 September 2015

Nearly One-Fifth of Chronic Lung Disease in Construction Workers Linked to Asbestos, Silica, and Other Job Exposures

A recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training and Duke University found that 18% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among construction workers is caused by on-the-job exposure to vapors, gases, dusts, and fumes such as asbestos, silica dusts, and welding fumes.

The disease progressively diminishes a person’s ability to breathe and is characterized by mucous-producing cough, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It afflicts more than 13 million people in the US, and construction workers are at an increased risk.

Researchers compared the work history, smoking habits, and medical screening results of roughly 2,000 older construction workers with and without COPD between 1997 and 2013. Their findings indicate that, while smoking remains the main cause of COPD, workplace exposure to these hazards pose a more significant risk than previously thought and employers should take appropriate actions to protect workers.

Occupational Health & Safety | 14 September 2015

Wellness and Safety Programs Expand To Embrace Employee Wellbeing

There is emerging evidence that many work-related factors and health factors outside the workplace greatly influence the safety and health problems confronting today’s workers. Traditionally, workplace safety and health programs have been divided not only by program objectives, managing departments, but also budgets. Safety programs have focused on reducing worker exposure to risk factors in the work environment itself. And most workplace wellness programs have focused on reducing or managing off-the-job lifestyle choices that place workers higher in risk categories.

A growing number of research and surveys support the effectiveness of incorporating these efforts into a more holistic approach that addresses an employee’s overall wellbeing. Employee health status directly influences employee work behavior, attendance, and on-the-job performance. Therefore, developing healthier employees will result in a more productive workforce.

Comprehensive employee wellbeing programs are not limited to managing safety and health risk factors but also promoting the emotional, social, and financial wellbeing of the employee.

Occupational Health & Safety | 14 September 2015

Convenience of Tablets Brings Ergonomic Concerns

As the methods of communication have evolved, humans have always struggled to stay upright. From the beginning, putting a pen to paper on a typical desktop involved hunching forward and dropping the head to view the writing area.

The desktop PC with its adjustable monitor was a huge advancement toward better posture because it allowed the user to sit upright in the chair with his or her back supported, looking straight ahead at the monitor screen. Whether the user had one or two monitors, the “adjustable height” monitor created a more ergonomic workstation.

The laptop followed the desktop PC and started the “Ergo De-evolution.” Once again, our posture began to fall forward, and discomfort reared its ugly head. If you placed the laptop on a table, the keyboard is at the correct height but the monitor is too low. If the monitor portion is raised to the correct height to accommodate vision and keep you upright, the keyboard is now awkward.

Enter the tablet/eReader. Pew Research shows that this device has already been adopted by 50% of the population, and it was only released in 2010. The tablet is used for a variety of activities but in different locations and with different postures than traditional PCs, which quickly gives rise to neck and wrist discomfort, as well as muscle fatigue.

Nature | 11 September 2015

Very Low Embryonic Crude Oil Exposures Cause Lasting Cardiac Defects in Salmon and Herring

The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster exposed embryos of pink salmon and Pacific herring to crude oil in shoreline spawning habitats throughout Prince William Sound, Alaska. The herring fishery collapsed 4 years later. The role of the spill, if any, in this decline remains one of the more controversial unanswered questions in modern natural resource injury assessment.

Crude oil disrupts excitation/contraction coupling in fish heart muscle cells, and this report shows that salmon and herring exposed as embryos to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function, the latter a key determinant of individual survival and population recruitment.

Oil exposure during cardiogenesis led to specific defects in the outflow tract and compact myocardium, and a hypertrophic response in spongy myocardium, evident in juveniles 7 to 9 months after exposure. The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated. Moreover, an irreversible loss of cardiac fitness and consequent increases in delayed mortality in oil-exposed cohorts may have been important contributors to the delayed decline of pink salmon and herring stocks in Prince William Sound.

HARC | 3 September 2015

Galveston Bay Foundation Discusses Vibrio Illness, a Summer Occurrence in Texas Bays

The Galveston Bay Foundation receives tweets, Facebook posts, and phone calls from time-to-time about news stories of wade fishermen or others who recreate in bay waters becoming victim to “flesh-eating” bacteria. The stories are horrific in recounting the tissue loss or death suffered by those who are stricken.

The bacteria responsible, Vibrio vulnificus, is naturally present in ocean or bay waters throughout the year. However, infections caused by this bacteria are seasonal, typically occurring from May through October when coastal waters are warmed by the summer sun. Vibrio vulnificus infection can result when the bacteria enter the human body through an open wound or through consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the number of illnesses annually reported in Texas over the last 10 years is low (15 to 30 cases per year). Based on the relatively small number of reported illnesses, it would appear that the vast majority of people do not suffer ill health effects from coming in contact with the bacteria. Those who do become infected by Vibrio vulnificus often have pre-existing health issues, such as a compromised immune system, that make them susceptible to infection.

International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health | 28 August 2015

The Prevalence of Asthma Work Relatedness: Preliminary Data

About 5–10% of asthmatics do not respond well to standard treatment plans. Occupational exposure may be one of the factors that can be linked with treatment failure. The aim of the study was to assess the prevalence of work-related asthma (WRA) among adult asthmatics under follow-up in an outpatient allergy clinic and to create a useful tool for detecting individuals with possible WRA.

A preliminary five-question questionnaire designed to recognize WRA was presented to 300 asthmatics. All patients with positive preliminary verification along with 50 subjects from control group were asked to fill up a detailed questionnaire. The WRA was diagnosed by positive match for asthma symptoms in combination with workplace exposure indicated in the detailed WRA questionnaire followed by confirmation of each WRA case by detailed exposure analysis.

Occupational Noise Exposure and Hearing: A Systematic Review

Occupational noise exposure causes between 7 and 21% of the hearing loss among workers, lowest in the industrialized countries, where the incidence is going down, and highest in the developing countries. It is difficult to distinguish between noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and age-related hearing loss at an individual level. Most of the hearing loss is age related. Men lose hearing more than women do. Heredity also plays a part. Socioeconomic position, ethnicity, and other factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, vibration, and chemical substances may also affect hearing. The use of firearms may be harmful to hearing, whereas most other sources of leisure-time noise seem to be less important. Impulse noise seems to be more deleterious to hearing than continuous noise. Occupational groups at high risk of NIHL are the military, construction workers, agriculture, and others with high noise exposure.

The prevalence of NIHL is declining in most industrialized countries, probably due to preventive measures. Hearing loss is mainly related to increasing age.

Safe Handling and Disposal of Nanostructured Materials

Nanostructured materials are substances that contain at least one dimension in the nanometer-size regime and can include nanoparticulate materials such as quantum dots, nanofibrous materials such as carbon nanotubes, and nanoporous material such as activated carbon. Potential applications of these novel materials in the oil and gas industry include wastewater treatment, antimicrobial additives, and multifunctional coatings. These applications cause concerns regarding safe handling and disposal of the materials. This paper provides a first-hand perspective on the appropriate handling of nanomaterials in a laboratory setting.

After several cycles of technological advances in fields such as polymers, electronics, and the energy sector, the world is currently undergoing a nano revolution, wherein materials with increasingly smaller dimensions are generating considerable interest in the interdisciplinary technology community. Such materials, known as nanomaterials or nanostructured materials, typically have at least one dimension in the nanometer range. These materials have been found to possess many useful properties, such as high strength, high surface area, abrasion resistance, and tunable chemical reactivity. They are currently being researched extensively or actively proposed for related applications in critical realms (e.g., aerospace, defense, medicine) such as aircraft composites, electronic devices, biomedical sensors, and coatings. This trend makes it evident that nanomaterials and nanotechnology, the science and application of such material or the manipulation of material at molecular or atomic scales, are here to stay and will grow in popularity. A wide range of economic institutions worldwide estimate the global market for nano-related products and technologies to be worth currently more than USD 1 trillion.

As with any new material or technology, there will be unknowns such as questions related to safety, economy of handling and processing, and effect on the environment. Therefore, the increasing use of nanomaterials in research laboratories and industries makes it essential to understand and address these questions better.

This paper focuses on prevention of possible safety issues related to nanomaterials through a review of current good practices and regulatory developments as applied to an industrial laboratory setting. As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” As with any material or activity associated with human endeavor, risks exist and can always be addressed by the judicious use of appropriate protective or preventive measures in the research-and-development phase and during manufacturing and commercialization.

Potential Risks of Occupational Exposure to Nanomaterials
Various types of nanomaterials have their own unique sets of physical, chemical, and biological properties. For example, nanoparticulate powders can be easy to aerosolize and disperse, even unintentionally. Because these particles are very small, even a small quantity of the material can be dispersed over a wide area. Liquids containing dispersed nanomaterials (nanofluids) can sometimes be less dispersible because, unless pressurized, they cannot be dispersed over large areas as easily as the dry particles. Pressurized aerosol containers of nanodispersions (in a liquid or gaseous carrier), on the other hand, are energized and potentially are even more dispersible than dry nanoparticles.

Given that nanomaterials are a new class of widely used materials, only sparse definitive data exist on their effects on human beings. A person can be exposed to these materials through several key routes: oral ingestion, inhalation, skin contact, and injection. Upon coming in contact with finely dispersed particulate material, literature suggests that a person can suffer from mild or chronic symptoms (depending on the mode and duration of exposure). These range from respiratory discomfort and dermatitis to lung or eye damage (especially for prolonged exposure or exposure to high doses of the material). Several of these symptoms have been recorded in the literature for various micrometer-sized particles. Asbestos is another material that has been studied extensively and can provide an analog for the potential risks of exposure to nanomaterials.

Some common exposure routes and resultant consequences exist if precautions such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are not taken. Initial damage arising from external exposure to nanomaterials (in the form of dispersions, aerosols, or powders) can translate into more-complex and -­unpredictable consequences within the body of a human being. Exposure to nanomaterials can be prevented easily with some commonly used PPE such as safety glasses, laboratory coats, face masks, and gloves.

What Is Nanosafety?
Given the development of several new types of nanomaterials, the lack of definitive data on their harmful effects, and the availability of a wide range of preventive safety measures, approaches need to be developed to promote better safety when working with these materials. Such an endeavor results in safe working conditions for personnel, which can be termed “nanosafety.” Among the most common ways to promote nanosafety is prevention by the use of widely available and commonly used PPE and suitable engineering controls. A hazard-risk assessment usually helps identify opportunities for designing such controls. The use of PPE along with engineering controls effectively reduces external exposure and subsequent internalization of nano­materials by personnel. One cannot emphasize enough the importance of these simple measures.

It must be noted that merely using PPE and engineering controls would not be sufficient to promote nanosafety. The authors of this paper consider nanosafety to be a philosophy and a responsibility to work with nanomaterials in a careful manner, guided by sound scientific principles and common sense.

Regulatory Activity: Emerging Trends and Challenges
Although general guidelines and regulations pertaining to the safe handling and disposal of chemical or hazardous wastes exist, the initiatives addressing the unique requirements related to nanomaterials are still in their infancy. Several regulatory organizations are looking into addressing these initiatives. In late 2014 and early 2015, some basic information regarding nanomaterials came to be required from manufacturers by the US Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) under the auspices of the Significant New Use Rule. Moreover, in the US, the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program introduced by the EPA under the auspices of the TSCA still regards nanomaterials as conventional chemicals, despite differences in their properties. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals program rolled out in the EU tends to focus on bulk chemicals. Consequently, the smaller quantities of nanomaterials and their related wastes tend to “fall through the cracks.” While it is likely that not all nanomaterials are harmful, several categories of these materials will be capable of having a negative effect on human health and the environment, either in isolation or in a mixture with more-conventional materials and chemicals (e.g., polymer nanocomposites). Challenges regarding the effective evaluation of hazards pertaining to nanomaterials could contribute to these inadequacies, where the issues could be addressed potentially through a combination of improved toxicology-test protocols and computational methods. Any improvements to the current regulatory stipulations may take some time to be formulated and implemented. Meanwhile, one way to handle this challenge is to voluntarily adopt suitable good practices, coupled with existing regulations and intracompany policies. The key will be to err on the side of caution wherever possible.

Good Practices in Action
Until nanosafety regulations are in place, some voluntary good practices should be adopted, based on currently used laboratory and industrial safety protocols. On the basis of literature published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, some suggested universal guidelines pertaining to nanosafety can include

  • By default, treat nanomaterials as hazardous chemicals, and learn about related technical literature before working with them.
  • When new to the field, employees should be provided with adequate training.
  • Employers should work toward identifying tasks, processes, and equipment involved in handling nanomaterials, especially in their native forms (e.g., bulk powders). Workplace profiles of exposure to nanomaterials should be conducted regularly.
  • Ongoing education programs pertaining to nanosafety should be in place and inform employees periodically about the latest developments in this field.
  • Plan the experiment or process beforehand, and obtain the required amounts of nanomaterial; this reduces subsequent waste and disposal problems.
  • Be aware of neighboring personnel when working with nanomaterials, and always confine or restrict the workspace where nanomaterials are handled.
  • Use suitable engineering controls and proper PPE specific to the materials and processes in question.
  • Properly dispose of any waste.
  • Wash hands (even after removing gloves) with soap and water before handling food or working outside the laboratory.
  • Regularly monitor changes in the organization’s policies, industry practices, and emerging regulatory activity, and comply as required.

Fig. 1

In Fig. 1, we can see that the type and quantity of nanomaterial, the processes employed, the existing infrastructure, and (above all) the human factor all play a big role. The flow chart must be customized for specific nanomaterial-related activities.

This paper attempts to present a detailed overview of safe handling of nanomaterials in an industry setting, from a laboratory practitioner’s viewpoint. Increased usage of nanomaterials leads to increasing amounts of related waste, also termed “nanowaste,” with as-yet-­unknown ramifications.

Nanowaste is currently treated as a conventional hazardous chemical in academic and industrial entities working with these new materials, though not all nanomaterials are toxic or harmful. However, owing to size-dependent differentiation of the properties of materials, nanomaterials and related waste require certain unique additional safety measures. Moreover, nanomaterials can consist of various compositions and chemistries that must be addressed separately. Many good practices are based on current precautions used when handling hazardous chemicals and involve general common sense.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper OTC 25975, “Safe Handling and Disposal of Nanostructured Materials,” by Pavan M.V. Raja, SPE, Monica Huynh, and Valery N. Khabashesku, SPE, Baker Hughes, prepared for the 2015 Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 4–7 May. The paper has not been peer reviewed. Copyright 2015 Offshore Technology Conference. Reproduced by permission.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | 29 July 2015

CDC Releases Updated Mortality Data on Silicosis

Silicosis is a potentially fatal but preventable occupational lung disease caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica. Chronic silicosis, the most common form, occurs after exposure to relatively low silica concentrations for more than10 years. Accelerated silicosis occurs after 5–10 years of exposure to higher silica levels, and acute silicosis can occur after only weeks or months of exposure to extremely high silica concentrations.

New national mortality data for silicosis have become available since a previous report on silicosis surveillance was published earlier this year. CDC reviewed multiple cause-of-death mortality files from the National Center for Health Statistics to analyze deaths from silicosis reported during 1999–2013. Each record lists one underlying cause of death (the disease or injury that initiated the chain of events that led directly and inevitably to death) and up to 20 contributing causes of death (other significant conditions contributing to death but not resulting in underlying cause).

Available death certificates from 35 states were reviewed for the period 2004–2006 to identify occupations associated with silicosis among decedents aged 15–44 years. Results indicate that, despite substantial progress in eliminating silicosis, silicosis deaths continue to occur. Of particular concern are silicosis deaths in young adults (aged 15–44 years). These young deaths likely reflect higher exposures than those causing chronic silicosis mortality in older people, some of sufficient magnitude to cause severe disease and death after relatively short periods of exposure. A total of 12 such deaths occurred during 2011–2013, with nine that had silicosis listed as the underlying cause of death.

During 1999–2013, a total of 2,065 decedents had silicosis listed as the underlying or as a contributing cause of death. The annual number of silicosis deaths declined 40% from 185 in 1999 to 111 in 2013, but the decline appears to have leveled off during 2010–2013. The lowest number of silicosis deaths (88) occurred in 2011. Higher numbers of deaths occurred in 2012 (103) and 2013 (111), but remained within the 95% confidence interval predicted by the first-order autoregressive linear regression model used to evaluate trends for 1999–2013. Among all silicosis deaths, 47 (2.3%) decedents were aged 15–44 years; of these, 34 (72.3%) had silicosis coded as the underlying cause of death. The annual number of silicosis deaths in persons aged 15–44 years varied and was 4, 0, and 8 in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively.