OSHA’s 2008 Budget Will Increase Federal Enforcement and Compliance Assistance

February 12, 2007

Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA announced that President Bush has requested $490.3 million for OSHA in fiscal year 2008. The request represents an increase of nearly $18 million over the FY 2007 continuing resolution level and includes increases for federal enforcement and federal compliance assistance.

Foulke explained the increase will help the agency improve workplace safety and health through compliance assistance and enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations and standards. “We are proposing to increase resources supporting the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) by more than $4.6 million,” Foulke said. “VPP recognizes exemplary work sites for their enhanced safety and health performance. This translates into substantial benefits for both employers and employees, including significant reductions in injury and illness rates which have proven to deliver millions of dollars in cost savings for participants.”

Since 2001, OSHA has implemented a balanced approach consisting of aggressive enforcement, cooperative programs, outreach, education, and compliance assistance, which has yielded a 19 percent reduction in occupational illness and injury rates. During this same period, the overall fatality rate has declined by 7 percent and by 18 percent among Hispanic employees.

More than $17 million will go to increasing resources allocated to the federal enforcement, federal compliance assistance, and cooperative programs. OSHA has planned 37,700 workplace inspections throughout the year and will continue to focus its resources on workplaces and industries with high rates of injuries and illnesses. The Enhanced Enforcement Program focuses on employers who ignore their safety and health obligations, while the agency's Local and National Emphasis programs focus on specific industries or safety and health issues.

Chemical Safety Board Urges All Businesses to Pay Heightened Attention to Flammable Solvent Safety



The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is continuing to investigate the root causes of a powerful explosion at the CAI/Arnel ink manufacturing facility in Danvers, Mass., which damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses during the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 2006.

A team from the CSB documented at least 100 different examples of blast damage—such as shattered windows or broken beams—throughout the Danvers community. These "blast markers" will be interpreted using computer models in an effort to better understand the nature and the explosive force of the blast.

CSB Lead Investigator John Vorderbrueggen, PE, said that two fuel sources are under consideration for the blast. "The probable source of fuel for the explosion is vapor from flammable solvents that were used to produce printing inks and paints. On the last work day prior to the accident, a heated mixing tank was filled with 2,000 gallons of printing ink ingredients, including flammable, volatile solvents such as heptane and propyl alcohol. Depending upon the temperature of the tank, solvents could have evaporated during the overnight hours when the facility was unattended, accumulated in the building, and found an ignition source."

Vorderbrueggen said that natural gas remains under examination as a possible fuel source, in addition to or in lieu of solvent fumes. A high-pressure gas transmission line runs underground a few hundred feet south of the facility, and other low-pressure gas lines are a few hundred feet west and north of the facility. However, the CAI/Arnel building where the explosion occurred had no natural gas supply and had a concrete slab floor.

"Although there is no obvious path into the facility for natural gas, we will continue to evaluate the possibility of a leak into the building." Vorderbrueggen said company tests detected some methane in nearby soils, at a level several hundred times below the lower explosive limit. However, the CSB has found no evidence of a leak from the high-pressure transmission line, and the source of the traces of methane is not clear.

"We are planning to duplicate the solvent recipe that was in use on November 21 and measure its volatility in the laboratory," Vorderbrueggen said. "The data will help us understand how long it might take to load the building with different flammable concentrations of solvent fumes under various scenarios, such as a leak, spill, or inadvertent overheating." No conclusion has been reached about the fuel for the explosion, and Vorderbrueggen said that a final determination was still months away.

"Both CAI and Arnel were aware that the materials they used were flammable, and for that reason had installed safe electrical devices to minimize the possibility of ignition. In any industrial facility, however, it is almost impossible to eliminate all ignition sources. Prevention efforts must focus on avoiding the accumulation of flammable vapors and gases, safely ventilating any that do accumulate, and detecting any dangerous concentrations before a fire or explosion occurs," Vorderbrueggen said. The CSB investigation will examine whether current national building fire code provisions on handling flammable solvents are fully effective.

CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said, "Of all the accidents the board has investigated since its establishment in 1998, the Danvers explosion caused the most severe damage to homes and nearby businesses. This blast was considerably more powerful than might be expected from a manufacturing facility of this type. For that reason, I have asked the staff to review the guidance that is currently available to urban planners and local permitting officials on chemical facility siting to see if it can be improved. Better guidance and separation distances may help protect residents from accidents at new facilities, but for existing facilities the only option is improved prevention."

Merritt noted that a second serious chemical accident in 2006—at a concrete products facility near Chicago—likely involved the flammable solvent heptane, which also was used at the Danvers plant. That accident, on June 14, occurred as an operator was heating a flammable liquid mixture in a 2,200-gallon open-top tank equipped with steam coils. A vapor cloud formed and exploded, killing a driver, injuring two other workers, and causing extensive facility damage.

"Flammable solvents are among the most common industrial chemicals, and it is all too easy to overlook their potentially deadly hazards," Merritt said. "All companies that use flammable solvents should promptly review their operations to ensure that appropriate controls are in place. The use of closed vessels, robust ventilation systems, vapor leak detection systems, and explosion-proof electrical systems are all important for preventing disasters. In addition, companies should evaluate using automated or redundant temperature control systems and should follow general good safety practices, such as using written operating procedures and checklists."

The CSB plans to convene a public hearing in Danvers in early April to present preliminary findings and receive comments from community members. Public comments will be considered as the board continues its investigation and develops its final report and safety recommendations.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety regulations, codes, standards, management systems, training, and industry practices.

OSHA Issues Alert on Dangers Associated with Cleanup and Recovery from Florida Storms


OSHA urged employers and workers to take appropriate safety measures to avoid injury and illnesses associated with the recovery and cleanup efforts following recent Florida storms.

The potential for fatal accidents involving electrocution from power lines, as well as serious injuries associated with cleanup and recovery efforts, has prompted the agency to remind employers, employees, and the public to ensure that they observe appropriate safety and health precautions while performing cleanup and utility restoration operations. This includes coordinating with control centers responsible for power circuits, so that employees do not enter areas where there are live wires.

“It’s important to remember that even after severe weather is over, the dangers are not over for employees doing cleanup and recovery activities,” said Cindy Coe Laseter, OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta. “This type of work can be very hazardous, and accidents can cost lives.”

Information on avoiding hazards and safely cleaning up after severe weather is available from OSHA to help employees who are involved in recovery and restoration efforts. 

OSHA Unveils New Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Influenza Pandemic

OSHA unveiled new workplace safety and health guidance that will help employers prepare for an influenza pandemic.

Under the president's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan, the Labor Department is responsible for promoting the health, safety, and welfare of employees and providing guidance to assist employers in protecting the health and safety of employees during a pandemic flu.

"In anticipation of a flu pandemic, our top priority is protecting the safety and health of America's working men and women,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "Employers and employees should use this guidance to help identify risk levels and implement appropriate control measures to prevent illness in the workplace.”

To help employers determine appropriate workplace practices and precautions, the guidance divides workplaces and work operations into four risk zones, according to the likelihood of employees' occupational exposure to pandemic influenza. Recommendations for employee protection are presented for each of the four levels of anticipated risk and include engineering controls, work practices, and use of personal protective equipment, such as respirators and surgical masks and their relative value in protecting employees.

The Labor Department/HHS guidance also encourages employers to prepare a plan to deal with a depleted workforce during a pandemic. In addition, the guidance includes links to helpful websites with additional information and a list of technical articles and resources, including a history on flu pandemics, symptoms and outcomes of various strains of the influenza, and details on the transmission of the virus.

It is important to note that workplace safety and health guidance may evolve and change over time as new information becomes available. For instance, the characteristics of the specific strain of influenza virus ultimately responsible for the pandemic may affect the way in which the disease is spread and therefore additional guidance would be tailored to that information. 



OSHA Cites Florida. Contractor Following Fatality Investigation


OSHA has cited Bradenton, Fla.-based Commercial Plastering and proposed penalties totaling $65,600 following the investigation of an employee's death at a St. Petersburg construction site.

"This incident could have been prevented if OSHA safety regulations and equipment manufacturer's instructions had been followed," said Les Grove, OSHA's Tampa area director. "The company unnecessarily put employees' lives at risk."

The department's investigation revealed that guardrails had not been installed on the scaffolding and that planks used on the scaffolding system were not installed in accordance with OSHA regulations. The fatality occurred Sept. 25, 2006, when a worker fell 100 feet from a scaffolding system.

OSHA issued two citations, with proposed penalties of $56,000, for alleged repeat violations of failing to inspect the system for visible defects by a competent person and failing to install guardrails. The company had been cited for these same two violations in 2004. OSHA issues a repeat citation when an employer has previously been cited for a substantially similar violation and that citation and its penalty have become final.

The company also received two serious citations, with proposed penalties of $9,600, for allegedly failing to install planks correctly and failing to train employees to identify and minimize potential hazards. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

Alternative Heating Sources Can Cause Deadly Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Colorado health officials Friday warned residents not to cut corners to heat their homes by using alternative heating sources, such as coal, propane, kerosene, charcoal, oil, or wood burned in a fireplace, as these sources can produce dangerous carbon monoxide levels.

Susan Parachini, a manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “If the home is not vented properly or if gas appliances are not in proper working order, carbon monoxide poisoning can occur.”

Parachini explained that carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that can be potentially harmful. Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of any fuel including natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline, or wood.

Parachini provided a few tips to stay warm indoors:

  • Close heating vents and doors in unused rooms.
  • Contact the utilities company to obtain information about qualifying for budget billing.
  • Wear clothing in layers or wear an extra sweater.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Have an energy audit conducted to learn how to prevent heat loss.


Parachini advised residents to take the following safety precautions to avoid carbon monoxide buildup in the home:

  • Do not use portable heaters powered by propane or kerosene in the home. Not only are they expensive to operate, they also can be a safety hazard. Electric space heaters also can be an extreme fire hazard if used incorrectly.
  • Do not try to use a range or an oven as a supplemental heater, and never use charcoal or propane grills indoors.
  • Have natural gas furnaces and major natural gas appliances checked regularly by a qualified technician.
  • Check vents and chimneys to make certain they’re clear and undamaged. Watch for loose mortar or bricks in the chimney that can slip and block airways.
  • Have wood-burning stoves and new fireplaces installed and vented by a professional.
  • Clear snow and ice away from vents on the exterior of the house.
  • Do not seal off all the fresh-air sources in the home when weatherizing. A fresh air supply is critical for the complete combustion of any fuel source and to help remove pollutants. This can cause dangerous carbon monoxide fumes to build up in the home and could create a serious fire hazard.
  • Avoid operating gasoline-burning engines, such as a car or lawnmower, in unventilated areas such as a garage where the exhaust fumes may enter the home.

Consider purchasing a carbon monoxide detector. It will sound an alert if there is a harmful carbon monoxide level in the home.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, call 303-692-3620.

A Low Cost Radon Test Can Save Lives


According to Robert Varney, EPA’s New England Regional Administrator, nearly 20,000 people die across the country each year from lung cancer caused by exposure to radon. A common, but completely avoidable, exposure to radon can be in your own home—yet only one in five homeowners have actually tested for this colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring gas.

In New England alone, it is estimated that nearly a thousand preventable deaths occur each year due to this silent killer. This concern is not limited to each January during National Radon Action Month, but all the cold-weather months. EPA urges people to invest in a $25 radon test for their homes.

Radon, an invisible radioactive gas, is easy to ignore because it can’t be detected with our senses. However, radon can seep into your home from underground, reaching harmful levels if trapped indoors. Nearly 80 percent of American homes have not been tested for radon, even though a simple test costing as little as $25 can help detect a possible radon problem. The only way to know if your home contains high radon levels is to test for it.

The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a national Radon Health Advisory recommending all homes be tested and fixed when elevated radon is found. During the winter months when our boilers and furnaces work all day and we keep windows and doors sealed shut, radon is more likely to be drawn into the home from underground sources.

Radon is found in the soils beneath and around your home. A radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in bedrock, radon can accumulate to unsafe levels in homes by leaking in through cracks in building foundations.

If the air in your house does have radon, don't despair—it's not difficult to take steps to protect your family's health. Dangerous radon levels are completely preventable and can be fixed at any time. Consult with a qualified professional who can reduce radon exposure for a cost similar to many common home improvement repairs. State experts, who work with EPA, can help you find a trained radon professional to advise you of how to reduce the radon levels in your home.

Approximately one in four homes in New England has a radon problem. If you rent, ask the landlord if your home has been tested and ask for a copy of the results. If you are buying a home, this is also a great time to test and mitigate radon problems—before you move in. Conversely, if you’re selling a home, think of the advantage being able to show prospective purchasers that your home has been tested or that the problem has been fixed.

New homes can be built with radon-resistant features. Radon-resistant construction methods can be effective in reducing radon entry. When used properly, these simple and cost-effective techniques can help reduce the accumulation of radon gas in homes.

Remember—healthy homes make for healthy families. Test your home for radon. It's a simple step to providing peace of mind and a healthy indoor environment.

The National Safety Council (1-800-SOS-Radon) offers test kits at a discounted price.

Nominate an EHS Professional for the Rachel Carson Award


The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Environmental Issues Committee is accepting nominations for its 2007 Rachel Carson Award from all interested parties through February 28. The award is presented to those EHS individuals who have achieved outstanding success and distinction in their EHS business, profession, or life's work.

The nominee(s) and the nominator(s) do not have to be members of AIHA. 


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