New Hexavalent Chromium PEL

January 24, 2005

OSHA is proposing to lower its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium and for all Cr(VI) compounds in construction, shipyards, and general industry from 52 to one microgram of Cr(VI) per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time weighted average. The proposed rule also includes provisions for employee protection such as preferred methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping.

Hexavalent chromium Cr(VI) compounds are widely used in the chemical industry in pigments, metal plating, and chemical synthesis as ingredients and catalysts. Cr(VI) can also be produced when welding on stainless steel or Cr(VI)-painted surfaces. The major health effects associated with exposure to Cr(VI) include lung cancer, asthma, nasal septum ulcerations and perforations, skin ulcerations (or chrome holes), and allergic and irritant contact dermatitis.

The Agency is holding public hearings in Washington, D.C., to discuss the agency's proposed rulemaking for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium. The hearings will begin on Feb. 1 and are expected to run through Feb. 17. The hearings will be open to the public and will be held in the auditorium of the U.S. Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington DC. The hearing will begin each day at 9:30 a.m.

OSHA Inspectors Harmed by Beryllium

OSHA recently found that a significant percentage of its inspectors have become sensitized by exposure to beryllium, an extremely toxic metal that can cause an often-fatal lung disease. In a report in the Chicago Tribune, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) charged that OSHA acted to screen inspectors only under pressure from disclosures of one of its own top administrators.

Dr. Adam Finkel was removed from his position as OSHA Administrator for the six-state Rocky Mountain Region in 2003. This occurred after he protested an April 2002 decision by Assistant Labor Secretary John Henshaw to deny recommended blood screening tests for employees, and to not inform potentially exposed individuals of their exposures and the value of undergoing a blood test for sensitization. An OSHA database created more than 5 years ago indicates that as many as 1,000 current and former compliance officers may have been exposed to beryllium levels up to several hundred times higher than permissible levels.

Following 18 months of intransigence following Dr. Finkel going public with his concerns, OSHA finally began a medical monitoring program in April 2004, but only for its current inspectors. The first results from those screenings reportedly show that 1.5 percent of the 200 inspectors examined so far have become sensitized to beryllium. Hundreds of workers in various private industries have already died of chronic beryllium disease (CBD); a fast-progressing, debilitating and potentially fatal lung disease in those whose immune systems have become sensitized following exposure to the substance. The only known cause of CBD is exposure to beryllium dust.

Assistant Secretary Henshaw and Deputy Assistant Secretary R. Davis Layne, the two officials most responsible for the delays, resigned this December, before news of the test results leaked. PEER today sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, currently overseeing OSHA, asking her to determine why it took so long to test inspectors after the risk was known. PEER also suggested that testing should be extended to former federal inspectors, as well as active and retired inspectors who work for state OSHA programs, who may have similar or greater risks of exposure.

OSHA Fines Roxboro, NC Following Death of Worker

The City of Roxboro, NC has been fined $2,625 by OSHA in connection with an accident that claimed the life of former city employee. The employee was operating a street sweeper and became caught between the vehicleæs tailgate and the hopper. The employee was pronounced dead when emergency authorities arrived at the scene of the accident.

According to the OSHA report, the hopper door service latch had been damaged and repaired in-house, not in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. The report further stated that the hydraulic control for the hopper door was defaulting to the closed position, causing the hopper door service latch to fail.

OSHA cited the city for a serious violation and initially fined $3,500. However, following an informal conference to appeal the agency's decision, the fine was reduced by 25 percent to $2,625.

Alabama Construction Firm Cited for Exposing Workers to Trenching Hazards

OSHA has levied $112,000 in fines against A.R. Butler Construction Co. Inc. for exposing workers to trenching hazards. The agency began an inspection July 16, after being notified that a 13-foot-deep trench at a Center Point, AL worksite had collapsed, trapping a worker. Co-workers rescued the worker.

OSHA investigators found that the company, based in Birmingham, AL, had allowed employees to work in a 10-foot-deep vertical trench, which had an 8-inch, fully charged water main running through it. Additionally, employees were allowed to re-enter the trench after the collapse, again exposing them to cave-in and drowning hazards.

The company received two willful citations, with for failing to provide a protective system for the trench, such as a trench box or proper shoring or sloping, and failing to properly support the water main. The proposed penalties were $112,000.

OSHA issues a willful citation when a company has shown intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. The company failed to heed concerns about the unsafe condition of the trench and to follow requirements of its own trench safety program, according to the agency.

Texas Drilling Rig Deaths Under Investigation

OSHA is inspecting two deaths at West Texas drilling sites and an explosion that melted a 100-foot-tall drilling rig. The agency noted that the deaths and the blast are of particular concern because they all involved the same drilling company.

Officials of Midland, TX-based Big Dog Drilling made the reports in the period between September 2004 and January 2005. The latest involved a 90-foot fall from a company rig in January that resulted in an employee fatality.

Agency investigators are also looking into the Sept. 1, 2004, death of a Big Dog employee. The employee was electrocuted while picking up trash at one of the company's drilling sites. A November 2004 explosion at another company drilling site is also under investigation. OSHA expressed concern that all of the accidents happened to a single employer. The agency investigations will determine the facts and what safety standards may have been violated.

Big Dog employees receive occupational safety and health training at Lone Star Safety and Training Center in Midland. Nevertheless, some workers expressed the opinion that conditions at the drilling sites were unsafe.

Minnesota Company Fined for 21 OSHA Violations

Following a month-long investigation, OSHA found that Cintas Corp committed 21 serious safety and health violations. The company was fined over $15,000. During an October 2004 OSHA inspection, Cintas fired an employee who had complained to both the company and the agency about safety hazards, and was vocal in a current union campaign.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is currently investigating CintasÆ allegedly illegal mistreatment of this and other employees at the Eagan facility. The company is also under investigation in the U.S. and Canada for dozens of violations of federal labor law.

The agency citation detailed all 21 serious violations; serious violations are capable of causing death or serious physical harm. OSHA inspectors previously cited Cintas for four of the same violations at other plants in the last two years.

In September 2004, a Cintas facility in Rochester, NY was issued with a proposed fine of $20,000 for three of the same violations found at the Eagan facility. Some of the repeated violations include exposing workers to hazardous machine parts and electrical current, as well as failing to train employees on working on hazardous equipment. Additionally, OSHA cited the company for failure to train and protect workers from hazardous chemicals, and failure to give workers directions to emergency exits.

OSHA Honors GE for Safety and Health Achievement

GE Power Systems Composites, LLC has earned membership in the prestigious "Star" Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and was recently honored at a recognition ceremony held at the company's headquarters in Newark, Del.

"GE Power Systems has done an excellent job of safety and health management," said Philadelphia OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Soltan. "Their commitment to worker safety and health is to be commended." The facility employs 56 workers engaged in research and development, as well as supplying components for various power generation, aerospace and industrial applications. The site is noted for having an injury and illness rate that is 86 percent below the industry average.

The VPP recognizes and promotes effective workplace safety and health management. Companies in the Voluntary Protection Programs achieve average injury rates 50 percent lower than other companies in their industry. Approximately 1,100 work sites participate in the programs. Companies that have been accepted into the Voluntary Protection Programs represent more than 200 industries. Information kits about the VPP application and approval process are available from the OSHA regional office in Philadelphia at (215) 861-4900.