OSHA Forms Alliance to Focus on Identification and Management of Chemical Reactivity Hazards

April 01, 2004

Managing chemical reactivity hazards in the workplace received a major boost when the Environmental Protection Agency and six organizations involved in the chemical industry signed an Alliance with OSHA.

Joining OSHA and EPA in the Alliance are the American Chemistry Council, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers' Center for Chemical Process Safety, the Chlorine Institute, Inc., the Mary Kay O'Connor Center for Chemical Process Safety, the National Association of Chemical Distributors, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association.

"Last October we announced new resources on chemical reactivity safety on our website," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, "and we said we were going to work with chemical safety stakeholders throughout the nation to protect workers in the industry. Today's Alliance with this esteemed group of professionals is an example of how we are strengthening the foundation of a culture of prevention in the chemical industry."

"This Alliance signifies the very best of what can happen when industry and government use their creativity and unite in order to achieve a common objective," added Gregori Lebedev, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, speaking for the group. "There is simply nothing more important that we can do than take steps that result in saving human lives. That is exactly what this Alliance will work to achieve -- reducing and managing the risks to human life posted by chemicals and their potential reactivity."

The Alliance's goal is to offer a means for the group to provide information, guidance and access to training resources to their members, customers, contacts and others involved in the manufacture, distribution, use and storage of chemicals. Together, each organization will strive to provide chemical reactivity hazards management information, methods and tools to a variety of audiences while, at the same time, gain experience in the use of methods and tools to continuously improve identification and management of the hazards.

Alliance members will work with OSHA to provide expertise to deliver training addressing chemical reactivity hazards to be delivered in conferences, meetings, and through OSHA's Training Institute Education Centers. OSHA and Alliance members will develop and disseminate information through both print and electronic media and from each organization's respective websites, including electronic assistance tools. For example, participants will disseminate and raise awareness of the Center for Chemical Process Safety's (CCPS) publication Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards.

The Alliance also calls for the participants to speak, exhibit or appear at various conferences hosted by each organization and to convene or participate in forums, roundtable discussions, or stakeholder meetings on chemical reactivity hazards to help forge innovative solutions in the workplace or to provide input on safety and health issues.

OSHA Proposes Revisions to Electrical Installation Standard

OSHA is seeking comments on proposed revisions to its electrical installation standard that will lead to a more flexible and efficient standard that strengthens worker protections.

"The general industry electrical installation standard has not been updated since 1981, so it is important that we update these requirements to reflect the most current practices and technologies in the industry," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "These changes will strengthen worker protections and help eliminate inconsistencies and possible confusion between OSHA's requirements and many state and local building codes which have adopted updated NFPA and NEC provisions."

Proposed changes to OSHA's general industry electrical installation standard  focus on safety in the design and installation of electric equipment in the workplace. 

The agency is also proposing to replace the reference to the 1971 National Electrical Code in the mandatory appendix to the powered platform standard with a reference to OSHA's electrical installation standard.

OSHA is proposing a revised standard to update the standard to reflect current practice and technology in the field and to address stakeholder requests to revise the standard so that it conforms with the most recent editions of NFPA 70E.

OSHA's existing electrical standard  is based on the 1979 edition of NFPA 70E, a national consensus standard developed by industry, labor, and other allied interests. OSHA believes the 2000 edition of NFPA 70E should be the foundation of the revised standard because it provides nationally recognized safe electrical installation requirements.

 Comments and hearing requests on the proposed rule must be submitted by June 4, to OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-108C, Room N 2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20010. Comments may also be submitted via fax at (202) 693-1648

Potential Work Risks From Hazardous Drugs, Ways to Control Exposures, Described in NIOSH Alert

The Alert makes recommendations for reducing occupational risks in healthcare settings by controlling job-related exposures.

Pharmaceutical agents are classified in the scientific literature as "hazardous drugs" if studies in humans and animals indicate that they have the potential to cause cancer, to result in developmental or reproductive toxicity, or to harm organs in exposures at low doses, the NIOSH Alert notes. Studies have linked occupational exposures with risks for various adverse effects in healthcare employees, including studies that have found higher-than-expected prevalence of cancer, leukemia, and reproductive problems among some groups of employees.

Factors for occupational risk in healthcare settings include the potency or toxicity of a given hazardous drug, and the extent of occupational exposure, NIOSH notes. Exposures may occur from the presence of an agent in or on the air, work surfaces, clothing, equipment, patient excreta, or other surfaces in areas where the drugs are used. More than 5.5 million healthcare employees may be occupationally exposed to hazardous drugs in the U.S., including pharmacy and nursing personnel, physicians, operating room personnel, environmental services employees, veterinary care staff, and shipping and receiving personnel.

"In using antineoplastic drugs and other therapeutic agents in carefully planned regimens to slow or halt the effects of cancer and other serious illnesses, where the potential side effects of the drugs are outweighed by their benefit, physicians can give new hope to patients," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "At the same time, it is important to use proper strategies and procedures in handling these agents. Our recommendations provide tools to help prevent potentially hazardous occupational exposures."

Among the steps described in the alert, NIOSH recommends that:

  • Employers of healthcare workers should have written policies for medical surveillance of their employees, and for all phases of handling hazardous drugs, including receipt and storage, preparation, administration, housekeeping, deactivation, and cleanup and disposal of unused drugs, spills, and patient wastes.
  • Employers should formally seek input from employees who handle drugs.
  • Guidance documents, material safety data sheets, and training should be provided to employees.
  • Proper controls should be provided and used to reduce potential exposures. For example, properly ventilated safety cabinets should be provided for drug preparation. Horizontal laminar flow workstations that move the air from the drug toward the employee should never be used.
  • Syringes and intravenous (IV) sets used for preparing and administering hazardous drugs should have Luer-lok TM fittings to reduce risk of needlesticks, consistent with recommendations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other organizations. (The reference to specific products does not constitute a commercial endorsement by NIOSH.) Employers should consider closed-system drug-transfer devices and needle-less systems to protect nursing personnel during the administration of drugs.
  • Personal protective equipment should be provided and used, including chemotherapy gloves; low-lint, low-permeability disposable gowns and sleeve covers, and eye and face protection. Proper respiratory protection should be provided and used when controls such as safety cabinets are not adequate to protect against exposure through inhalation.

 NIOSH plans to update the list annually.

 Printed copies will be available after final editing and formatting. Requests for printed copies when they become available can be made through the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH, 

Inattention to Workplace Safety Leads to $84,750 Fine for Furniture Manufacturer

A Chicago southside company is facing $84,750 in fines following an inspection by OSHA that allegedly revealed serious and willful workplace hazards.

OSHA opened its investigation at Belcino, Inc. following receipt of a formal complaint. OSHA has alleged serious safety violations including machine guarding issues, electrical hazards and potential fall problems. Serious workplace health violations were alleged for noise, control of wood dust and potential explosion hazards.

OSHA issued alleged willful violations for over-exposures to wood dust and deficiencies in the company's "lockout/tagout" program to ensure that machinery does not start up accidentally when workers are performing repairs or maintenance.

"Belcino, Inc. has had 11 previous OSHA inspections since 1987," said OSHA Area Director Gary Anderson, Calumet City. "Continuing problems with machinery lockout hazards and with over-exposure to wood dust must be addressed at this facility to ensure the safety of the roughly 40 men and women working there."

The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to appeal before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

CSB Chairman Calls for Improvements in Material Safety Data Sheets

Carolyn Merritt, Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) told a Congressional committee that the safety information accompanying chemical products delivered to industrial plants frequently is deficient, leading to avoidable deaths and injuries. She made her remarks in written testimony delivered to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, which is holding hearings on the safety information, called Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs.

Ms. Merritt said, “Deficiencies in hazard communication and Material Safety Data Sheets are among the common causes of major chemical accidents that result in loss of life, serious injures, and damage to property and the environment.”

Chairman Merritt cited data and root cause findings from the 19 investigations CSB has conducted since becoming operational in 1998. Deficiencies in communicating hazards on the data sheets were cited in ten of the 19 reports. The deficiencies were found to be an actual root cause, contributing cause, or major causal factor in nine of the ten.

“These nine accidents were responsible for the deaths of 12 workers and injuries to 79 other workers, emergency responders, and members of the public. These totals will likely increase as additional investigations are completed,” she said.

The Material Safety Data Sheets are required in the Hazard Communication Standard promulgated by OSHA. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) creates voluntary standards on preparing precautionary labels and developing the language for MSDSs.

The Chairman in particular cited the inadequacy of information in data sheets concerning combustible dust dangers that occur in certain chemical processes. Noting the CSB has investigated three major dust explosion accidents over the past year, Ms. Merritt said “The CSB is concerned that neither the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard nor the ANSI standard contains a definition for combustible dust…Employers need this information to accurately assess the hazards of dust in the workplace.”

The Chairman concluded her testimony saying, “The CSB believes that improving the quality of hazard communication and Material Safety Data Sheets will help prevent major chemical accidents and should be an important goal of government agencies as well as the producers and users of hazardous materials.”

In written comments to ANSI on the upcoming revision to the consensus standard on preparing MSDSs, the CSB staff on August 22, 2003, recommended that ANSI incorporate a definition for combustible dust. However, on November 19, 2003, ANSI declined to do so, stating that OSHA had not yet incorporated the concept of combustible dusts into the Hazard Communication Standard.

Among the ten specific investigations cited in her testimony were these examples: MSDSs not provided to disposal site operators for flammable wastes that exploded in Texas; an explosion in New York City involving incompatible chemicals for which workers were provided no MSDSs; an explosion of a spent sulfuric acid tank in Delaware despite an MSDS that said of the spent sulfuric acid: “the product is not combustible.”

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.