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.

IOSH | 29 July 2015

New IOSH-Accredited Course Promotes Safe Working With Nanomaterials

The potential risks of working with and using nanomaterials are the subject of a new training course funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

With the growth of the nanotechnologies industry globally, an increasingly diverse range of products are being created which use nanomaterials to improve qualities such as their strength, durability and absorbency.

There currently exists, however, gaps in knowledge about the health risks associated with nanomaterials, which are manufactured and used at a microscopic scale and can be many thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

This has led IOSH to fund the creation of a new training course which promotes safe working practices with nanomaterials.

The course has been developed by IOM Singapore, a subsidiary of the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), and aims to give laboratory staff, students, and safety and health professionals at universities and other research and development facilities a good understanding of approaches toward safe and healthy working in laboratories where nanomaterials are used or produced.

Public Library of Science | 22 July 2015

Study: Unconventional Gas and Oil Drilling Is Associated With Increased Hospital Utilization Rates

Over the past 10 years, unconventional gas and oil drilling has markedly expanded in the United States. Despite substantial increases in well drilling, the health consequences of drilling toxicant exposure remain unclear. This study examines an association between wells and healthcare use by zip code from 2007 to 2011 in three counties in Pennsylvania.

Evidence supported an association between well density and inpatient prevalence rates for the medical categories of dermatology, neurology, oncology, and urology. The data suggest that unconventional gas and oil wells, which dramatically increased in the past decade, were associated with increased inpatient prevalence rates within specific medical categories in Pennsylvania. Further studies are necessary to address healthcare costs of unconventional gas and oil drilling and determine whether specific toxicants or combinations are associated with organ-specific responses.

Oil Review Middle East | 14 July 2015

New Service Offers Disease Advice for Oil and Gas Industry

The medical and security risk services company Pandemic Information said that it is specifically targeted at international oil and gas companies, assisting them to develop disease preparedness plans.

The portal shares information on best practices for pandemic response plans, including information on, and analysis of, emerging infectious disease outbreaks.

“The goal of pandemic planning is for organizations to be able to assess and respond appropriately to potential risks to their workers as part of their duty of care and to help assure the continuation of their operations,” explained Doug Quarry, medical director at International SOS.

IPIECA | 9 July 2015

Guidance Document Addresses Fatigue in Fly-in, Fly-out Operations

A document released by the IPIECA is designed to provide managers with a practical, broad-based guide to understanding, recognizing, and managing fatigue and fatigue-related issues in fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) operations in the oil and gas sector. The document talks about the nature of FIFO operations and describes the parameters that need to be considered to manage fatigue—for example, sleep, accommodation, travel planning, and fatigue risk management systems.


IPIECA | 9 July 2015

IPIECA Releases Health Leading Performance Indicators With 2014 Data

In 2008, the joint Health Committee of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) and IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues, published OGP Report No. 393, Health Performance Indicators—A Guide for the Oil and Gas Industry. Content from that report was used to develop two tools that can be used to assess health leading performance indicators within individual companies and to compare performance between different parts of a company and between participating companies.

Both tools were used in 2014 to gauge health performance between participating IOGP and IPIECA member companies. The results are published in Report No. 2014h. The data represent 26 companies, all of which provided data for both tools.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 28 May 2015

Pennsylvania Wades Into Ambiguous Area of Noise Regulation

Pennsylvania environmental regulators, who generally prefer the familiar matters of soil, air, and water, are tackling the vagaries of noise from oil and gas development and finding that rules for sound are best left loose.

The Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to require companies drilling and fracking in the Marcellus and other gas-rich shales to make and follow site-specific plans to mitigate noise from well pads.

The draft rules do not set limits for how loud operations can be at certain times or distances. Instead, they tell companies to evaluate the normal noise in an area before drilling begins and take steps to minimize noise reaching nearby residents during the temporary but cacophonous work up until the point when a well starts sending gas to a pipeline.

DEP officials say they have taken a lesson from other states and regions that have a long history of regulating noise from oil and gas operations, particularly the Canadian province of Alberta, and stayed away from establishing firm decibel limits that can seem unambiguous but are in practice difficult or unfair to enforce.

“It necessarily has to be flexible enough for the site-specific characteristics,” said Scott Perry, DEP’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, during a recent discussion of the proposal at an oil and gas advisory board meeting in Harrisburg.


7 May 2015

Five-Phase Model Aims To Maintain Psychological Well-Being While Away From Home

Oil and gas industry workers are often tasked with spending extended durations away from home while working onsite. And these absences can have a significant effect on the workers’ psychological well-being. A paper presented at the 2015 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas proposed a five-phase model for managing the psychological stress of extended stays away from home.

Paper SPE 173559, by Simon Seaton and Thomas Jelley of Sodexo, breaks the experience of being away into five phases: predeparture planning, being away, preparing to return, returning, and being back. The authors of the paper had three environments in mind when considering time away from home—the military, universities, and the oil and gas industry.

“We understand, quite well I think, somebody’s physical well-being. We’d like to think of psychological well-being in the same way,” Seaton said. “What we’re trying to do is make the psychological well-being a lot more stable, a lot more managed, a lot more predictable, and try and avoid bad days and bad outcomes … and, therefore, have a workforce that is much more engaged, motivated, and clearly focused on their job at hand, which is, at times, a very difficult and challenging job.”

Predeparture Planning
Modern communication technology makes keeping in touch while away easier, but there are also potential drawbacks. Expecting that technology will mitigate separation, travelers may fail to

  • Discuss expectations
  • Say goodbye properly and acknowledge that the coming separation is real
  • Set up support networks
  • Agree on a main point of contact so the person away is not under pressure to allocate potentially little free time or communication resources to a large number of people for similar updates

The first three points can apply as easily to a parent away on a short business trip as to someone away for much longer. The last point applies especially to individuals in more difficult, longer-term absence, such as military personnel on deployment.

Being Away
While away, technology offers only an artificial sense of connectedness. Seeing someone on a screen is not the same as being together. Daily experiences at different ends of a phone or video call may be so different that real-time connection is frustrating and counterproductive.

Also, sometimes less communication is better. News of something at home that an individual cannot manage remotely can immediately and gravely affect psychological well-being. The result can be distraction, disengagement, an inability to progress, and a threat to the performance of the organization.

Preparing To Return
The front-of-mind excitement associated with preparing to return home can mask the fact that it can have an adverse effect on psychological well-being. An individual or their perceptions may not be the same as when they left home. Family and friends may also have changed—even in a short period. Going home to continue as before may not be possible, and acknowledging this in advance is a way of managing expectations and the risk of disappointment.

A period of decompression or a staged return can facilitate a soft landing (e.g., soldiers returning home from a conflict zone via a peaceful base where they can wash, relax, and enjoy leisure time as a way of unwinding in a more normal environment before going home).

Being Back
Getting home can involve little more than a flight, but it can take much longer to feel back at home psychologically. To mitigate this potential disconnection between being back and feeling back, time for adjustment is important. After a longer period away, a welcome home celebration can have a better effect on psychological well-being if it takes place after the traveler has had time to feel back home again.

Future Research
The next step for the researchers is to analyze people in the three target environments—military, universities, and the oil and gas industry. The analyses will begin with researchers asking people how they assess their own psychological well-being and then asking them what they do to maintain that well-being while away from home.

“So, rather than present the model to them and ask them if they do it, we’re going to ask, ‘What are the things you do?’ We can then take those practices and inputs and apply them back to the model and refine it a little bit more,” Seaton said. That research is expected to be conducted by King’s College London and Cardiff University.

The full paper can be downloaded from the OnePetro online library here.

Read more about Sodexo here.

Littler via Mondaq | 16 April 2015

OSHA’s New Target For SVEP: Oil And Gas Well Drilling Operations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) isn’t exactly a new sheriff in town when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Over the past few years, OSHA has relied on several regional emphasis programs for increased scrutiny of this industry.

However, in February, OSHA’s Enforcement Director, Tom Galassi announced a new policy, whereby oil and gas well drilling, well operations, and support work are designated “high-hazard” for the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). According to OSHA, the new policy is justified because over the past 2 decades, the oil and gas industry has had a fatality rate at least five times greater than the national average for all industries.

Over a week after OSHA’s initial announcement, OSHA publicly released a February 2015 memorandum delineating more details regarding its new policy. The policy, which authorizes the addition of “upstream oil and gas hazards” to the list of High-Emphasis Hazards in SVEP, is effective for any citations that are issued on or after 11 February 2015, the date of the memorandum.

Under the new policy, a nonfatality inspection in which OSHA finds two or more willful or repeated violations or failure-to-abate notices (or any combination of these violations/notices), based on high gravity serious violations related to upstream oil and gas activities, will now be considered a severe violator enforcement case.