Truck Driver Safety and Health

November 26, 2007

Truck drivers face a disproportionately high risk for fatal crash-related injuries and for serious health disorders, according to a recent NIOSH Science Blog entry. The 2004 fatality rate for U.S. heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was 48.2 per 100,000 workers, approximately 11 times the rate for the general worker population. The Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses estimated 63,570 non-fatal injuries among heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2004—the second highest number among all occupations.

NIOSH recognizes that this industry faces a high risk of illness and injury, but the prevalence of specific health problems, and the relative contributions of occupation and health behaviors to the increased risk of injury and illness, is largely unknown.

New Ergonomics Modules From OSHA

Developed with input from the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc., the modules include safety and health information for installation, repair, and prefabrication processes.
The Installation and Repair module describes hazards often encountered by employees who dig trenches and pull and feed wire. It includes information about potential tendon and nerve problems that may result from using hand tools such as pliers, crimpers, and side cutters. The module also provides solutions to help industry professionals reduce the risks associated with electrical installation and repair.

The Prefabrication module discusses ergonomics-related hazards including heavy manual lifting, repetitive movements, and awkward or stationary positions. It lists possible ways to reduce these hazards related to such activities as bending conduit, cutting and spooling wire, and welding and assembly.

Solvent Vapor Explosion Caused Massive Blast

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced that laboratory testing of chemicals involved in the Nov. 22, 2006, explosion at a Danvers, Mass., printing ink manufacturing company is complete and confirms that the mixture in the tank was sufficiently volatile to cause the explosion.

The testing revealed that the blend was significantly more volatile than its individual components, due to the formation of what chemists refer to as an azeotropic mixture.

“The mixing tank could have easily overheated due a single steam valve inadvertently left open or leaking. Our testing and calculations confirm that overheating the tank in this way would cause the building to fill with a large quantity of explosive solvent vapor,” said CSB Supervisory Investigator John Vorderbrueggen, P.E. “As we pointed out earlier this year, the CAI/Arnel facility did not follow state and federal fire safety regulations when they turned the ventilation system off.”

The facility also lacked safety interlocks to prevent accidental overheating of the mixing tank. However, national fire codes do not currently require such interlocks.
Mr. Vorderbrueggen noted, “The CAI/Arnel site was originally licensed under state law for just 250 gallons of 'lacquer' back in 1944, to a company that long since sold the property. During the 62 years that followed, the amount permitted by the license was increased to some 11,500 gallons of flammable and combustible substances. State law does not require any safety review or public impact review when a licensee obtains increases in the registered quantity.”

Each year when the occupying business went to pay its license renewal fee, it was simply asked how much flammable material was stored at the site so fees could be properly collected, Mr. Vorderbrueggen said. The CSB is currently reviewing the state's licensing and land-use rules and oversight of facilities that handle flammable substances to determine if recommendations are appropriate.

The explosion that occurred one year ago next week at the CAI/Arnel manufacturing facility damaged or destroyed approximately 100 homes and businesses in the surrounding neighborhood. The facility was not staffed during the overnight hours, and there were no eyewitnesses to what occurred inside the building.

“This was a devastating blast,” said William E. Wright, CSB board member and interim executive. “Had the explosion occurred during waking hours, there would have been far more injuries and potential fatalities among members of the public. The purpose of our investigation is to understand exactly what happened and why and to prevent something like this from happening again in Danvers or elsewhere.”

At a public meeting in Danvers in May 2007, CSB investigators presented evidence that on the night of the explosion, a mixing tank containing highly flammable heptane and alcohol solvents overheated, releasing vapor that filled the building and then ignited at about 2:45 a.m. on the morning of November 22. Investigators found that the building's ventilation system was routinely turned off at night to reduce noise in the community, allowing the accumulation of the flammable vapor.

The CSB's final report is planned for release at a public meeting in Danvers in April 2008.
CSB investigators also have been working with the Danvers community organization known as Safe Area for Everyone (SAFE) in an effort to track down the source of gas odors sometimes reported in the neighborhood around the CAI/Arnel facility. Investigators conducted a number of follow-up interviews with residents and employees of Eastern Propane, a propane supplier across the street from the CAI/Arnel facility, after the May 2007 public meeting where some neighbors raised concerns about gas.

“We spent an extensive amount of time duly considering the possibility that the explosion was due to natural gas, propane, or some other flammable gas source. However, our thorough analysis and completed laboratory testing clearly point to flammable vapor as the sole source of explosive material in this accident,” Mr.Vorderbrueggen said. “We have therefore ruled out natural gas or propane as a fuel.”

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.

Willful Cave-In Hazard Leads to $46,500 in OSHA Fines for New York Contractor

A Wellsville, N.Y., contractor's alleged failure to provide adequate cave-in protection for employees working at a Sandwich, Mass., jobsite has resulted in $46,500 in proposed fines from OSHA.

Otis Eastern Services Inc. was cited for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards at a natural gas pipeline excavation located at 1120 Sandwich Road, where OSHA inspectors found company employees working in a six-feet deep, straight-walled trench that lacked protection against its walls collapsing.

The company consequently was issued one willful citation, with a proposed fine of $42,000, for the lack of cave-in protection. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

“A cave-in can be swift and deadly,” said Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director in Braintree. “All excavations five feet or deeper must be protected against collapse, and failure to ensure this basic, vital, and legally required safeguard risks employees' lives and livelihoods.”

The company also was issued two serious citations, with $4,500 in proposed fines, for unguarded grinders and lack of eye and face protection for employees using grinders. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.


OSHA Announces New Alliance With the National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation

 The alliance's focus will be on machinery hazards and providing solutions to reduce worksite injuries, such as amputations.

“This cooperative alliance clearly illustrates our commitment to reducing safety and health hazards, while promoting best practices and technical knowledge for the poultry industry,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “Cooperation between OSHA and the poultry industry will promote new ideas and opportunities to assist employers and employees in reducing workplace injuries.”

NCC and NTF will work with OSHA to provide expertise for the development of educational programs on equipment safety in the poultry industry. Programs and training materials will be disseminated through print and electronic media, and OSHA and NCC/NTF websites. The alliance signatories will participate in conferences, forums, stakeholder meetings, and other events.

“The poultry industry already has an excellent record in worker safety, and we are pleased to work with OSHA through the Alliance Program to further improve our performance,” said George Watts, president of the National Chicken Council.

“Through this alliance with the government, the industry will increase its focus on training and use of protective equipment on processing machinery to reduce potential injuries,” said NTF President Joel Brandenberger.

The NCC is a national, nonprofit trade association representing the interests of the chicken industry. Its members include chicken producers/processors, poultry distributors, and allied industry firms. Representing all segments of the turkey industry, the NTF is a national trade association that provides services and conducts activities for its members' products. NTF's membership includes growers, processors, hatchers, breeders, distributors, allied services, and state associations.

Safety News Links