Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | 25 February 2016

Occupational Exposure Limits—State of the Science

The process of developing and using occupational exposure limits is a cornerstone of industrial hygiene practice, with a history dating back to the 1880s. Occupational exposure limits, known as OELs, have not—until recently—evolved enough to reflect the advances in related sciences of toxicology, risk assessment, and exposure assessment.

Much of the pioneering effort to develop and promote OELs as a risk-management strategy occurred in the 1940s, when an organization now known as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists created a list of occupational exposure limits for 132 specific chemicals. While these limits represented a significant step forward in the practice of occupational hygiene, they lacked consistent guidelines, explicit definitions, and technical documentation.

Gradually, these OELs and others have evolved to consider toxicological mechanisms of action, and uncertainties associated with the data available for assessing specific chemical hazards. Yet, there has still not been a concerted effort to explore how advances in toxicology, risk assessment, and exposure and risk management might better inform consistent and transparent processes for assessing chemical hazards and establishing OELs.

To begin to tackle these issues, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health worked with outside subject-matter experts. They developed a collection of 10 articles published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene focusing on the underlying principles for developing and interpreting OELs. The articles also discuss using and interpreting OELs in the context of evolving occupational risk assessment and management practices.

OSHA | 17 February 2016

New Hazard Alert From OSHA and NIOSH Highlights Dangers of Tank Gauging

A new hazard alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identifies health and safety risks to oil and gas industry workers who manually gauge or sample fluids on production and flowback tanks. It was triggered by a series of preventable deaths related to manual gauging of tanks.

The new alert, Health and Safety Risks for Workers Involved in Manual Tank Gauging and Sampling at Oil and Gas Extraction Sites, provides specific recommendations for employers that will protect workers from hazards associated with opening tank hatches to manually gauge or sample hydrocarbon levels. The recommendations fall into three main categories: engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment.

“It has been known for years that oil and gas extraction is extremely dangerous work, with high rates of workplace fatalities. We also know that every incident is preventable,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “It’s critically important that we all work together to make sure that oil and gas extraction workers are aware of life-threatening exposure to hydrocarbon gases and vapors and low oxygen atmospheres and that they are protected.”

“The expansion of the oil and gas extraction industry has led to new opportunities, but also new risks for workers,” said NIOSH Director John Howard. “This joint alert highlights the importance of remaining vigilant about the safety and health of our nation’s workers as our nation changes and adapts to these new opportunities.”

The alert highlights research from both OSHA and NIOSH that has shown that workers at oil and gas extraction sites may be exposed to very high concentrations of hydrocarbon gases and vapors when manually gauging or sampling production tanks. Workers also face the risk of fires or explosions from high concentrations of hydrocarbon gas and vapors. These activities can also result in oxygen-deficient environments, which can cause loss of consciousness and death. OSHA and NIOSH identified nine fatalities to workers manually gauging or sampling production tanks during 2010–14.

This alert is a supplement to the OSHA Alliance Tank Hazard Alert that was released in 2015 by the National Service, Transportation, Exploration & Production Safety Network.

ISO | 15 February 2016

ISO Occupational Health and Safety Standard Approved for Public Consultation

The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 45001, one of the world’s much anticipated standards for occupational health and safety, has been approved as a Draft International Standard.

Every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease, and 153 people experience a work-related injury. These represent an enormous burden for organizations and society as a whole, costing over 2.3 million deaths a year, not to mention the more than 300 million non-fatal accidents.

Now, with ISO 45001 at the Draft International Standard stage, the world is one step closer to a robust and effective set of processes for improving work safety in global supply chains. Designed to help organizations of all sizes and industries, the future standard is expected to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses around the world.

Now that ISO 45001 has advanced to the DIS stage, national member bodies of ISO have been invited to vote and comment on the text of the standard during the three-month balloting period. If the outcome is positive, the modified document may then be circulated to ISO members as a Final Draft International Standard. In the event of an affirmative vote, ISO 45001 is expected to be published as an International Standard by late 2016 or early 2017.

International Labour Organization | 4 February 2016

Occupational Safety and Health in Polar Climates

Representatives of workers, employers, and governments met at the International Labour Organization to discuss occupational safety and health (OSH) challenges unique to the work environment (such as those caused by low temperatures); health protection and access to medical care in remote and isolated areas; working time arrangements; OSH training to promote a preventative safety and health culture; and recruitment, retention and career development schemes.


Clyde & Co. Via Mondaq | 19 January 2016

Silicosis: On The Rise?

While silica is a naturally occurring substance found in most rocks, clay, and sand, when it is processed in any way, whether through mining, cutting, crushing, or grinding, silica dust is generated. If inhaled, it can cause significant chest conditions including lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including bronchitis and emphysema), and chest infections of varying severity. Indeed, the UK National Health Service describes silicosis as “a long-term incurable lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of silica dust” and notes that silicosis in itself can cause heart failure, arthritis, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

The dangers of exposure to respirable crystalline silica and the attributable injuries are well known. Silicosis is a Prescribed Disease (D1), the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations specify a limit for daily exposure, and there are recognized latency periods depending upon the nature and extent of the exposure. While the latency period for chronic silicosis can be 10–20 years, very heavy exposure could result in acute silicosis, significantly reducing the latency period, causing a much earlier onset of symptoms (possibly within a few months) and a more serious condition. The World Health Organization recommends lifelong surveillance for workers exposed to crystalline silica.

Rigzone | 6 January 2016

Fitness Tracking Devices Not Fit for Monitoring Oil, Gas Worker Health, Safety

A surge in wearable fitness devices such as Fitbit has been seen in recent years as people sought motivation to exercise and monitor their health by tracking factors such as heart rate, number of steps taken, and quality of sleep.

Wearable health tracker devices are usually the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT) arises. Dave McCarthy, product director with BSquare Corporation, said he sees limited usage for Fitbits in oil and gas environments. Fitbits and consumer-oriented wearables are not usually built to withstand the rugged environments—with high temperatures and high soot—in which the oil and gas industry operates, McCarthy said. In his discussions regarding health tracking devices in the medical industry, McCarthy found that readings obtained from consumer-grade health tracker devices are all over the place.

“They’re good for determining trends, but not reliable for accurate readings,” McCarthy said.

Instead, he is seeing more companies focused on industrial wearables. These devices are not specifically focused on health tracking but are vertically focused for the types of industries in which they’re used. McCarthy is seeing other use cases such as devices that can track where coworkers are in a refinery, giving them alerts if they’re in a safety zone with certain restrictions. These devices are also allowing for more value-added cases, such as giving information to a worker about the equipment operating in their field of vision.

OSHA | 19 November 2015

OSHA Seeks Public Comment as it Updates Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking public comment on an updated version of its voluntary Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines. First published in 1989, the guidelines are being updated to reflect modern technology and practices.

These guidelines are intended to help employers establish health and safety management plans at their workplaces. Key principles include finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness and making sure that workers have a voice in safety and health.

The updated guidelines should be particularly helpful to small- and medium-sized businesses. They also address ways in which multiple employers at the same worksite can coordinate efforts to make sure all workers are protected.

“The goal of safety and health management is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “Employers who embrace these guidelines will experience lower injury and illness rates, and their progress in improving the safety culture at their worksites will contribute to higher productivity, reduced costs and greater worker satisfaction.”

Read the full story here.

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.