Date for Electronically Submitting Injury and Illness Reports Extended
To allow affected employers additional time to become familiar with a new electronic reporting system launched on August 1, 2017, OSHA has extended the date by which employers must electronically report injury and illness data through the Injury Tracking Application (ITA) to December 15, 2017.
OSHA’s final rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses sets December 15, 2017, as the date for compliance (a two-week extension from the December 1, 2017, compliance date in the proposed rule). The rule requires certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness information they are already required to keep under existing OSHA regulations.
Unless an employer is under federal jurisdiction, the following OSHA-approved State Plans have not yet adopted the requirement to submit injury and illness reports electronically: California, Maryland, Minnesota, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Establishments in these states are not currently required to submit their summary data through the ITA. Similarly, state and local government establishments in Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, and New York are not currently required to submit their data through the ITA.
OSHA is currently reviewing the other provisions of its final rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, and intends to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking to reconsider, revise, or remove portions of that rule in 2018.
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Research Highlights Development of Clinical Decision Support to Improve Worker Health
A new compilation of articles published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, describes an effort led by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop and evaluate clinical decision support (CDS) designed to assist primary care clinicians’ with care of their working patients using CDS tools in electronic health records. This is the first effort to systematically develop and assess the practicality and usefulness of providing clinical decision support linked to work through health information systems in the primary care setting.
“Primary care practitioners are often the first to see patients with work-related conditions, care for patients who may have trouble managing their health at work, or see patients whose health affects their ability to work,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “The information presented in this compendium demonstrates the potential to put resources directly in the hands of primary care clinicians that can promote better care of working patients using 21st century information technology.”
The compendium, which is part of a larger NIOSH effort to facilitate recognition of the relationship between work and health and how to address it through health information technology, includes:
- An overview of the project
- Three articles that describe the process of producing proposed recommendations to introduce computer‐mediated CDS into health information systems, to assist providers in the care of working patients. Each article covers one of three topic areas:
- The diagnosis and management of work-related asthma
- Workplace factors that affect diabetes management
- Decisions about return-to-work after an episode of acute low-back pain not associated with work
- Results of a qualitative evaluation that gathered feedback from five primary care settings representing various areas nationwide and types of clinical practices.
NIOSH selected these topics based on recommendations from a 2011 National Academies’ Institute of Medicine report, “Incorporating Occupational Information in Electronic Health Records.” NIOSH assembled three independent work groups of occupational health subject matter experts that each focused on one of three topic areas—work-related asthma, diabetes management, and return to work after acute low-back pain. Each work group reviewed relevant clinical practice guidelines, best practices, and published literature related to their respective topic area and proposed evidence-based recommendations designed for application in a primary care setting using a CDS tool.
The results of the evaluation, and the final piece of information presented in the compendium, indicate that primary care physicians and staff across a range of practice sites recognize the importance of factors encountered at work to their patients’ health, and they found the three proposed recommendations useful and feasible in their practice settings.
Workplace Injury and Illness Rate in North Carolina Remains Low
New figures show North Carolina’s workplace injury and illness rate for private industry in 2016 was statistically unchanged from its historic low in 2015. The 2016 rate is 2.5 cases per 100 full-time workers, compared to 2.6 in 2015. The Tar Heel state remains one of the safest states in which to work with a rate below the national average of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time workers.
“I take great pride in the fact that North Carolina’s injury and illness rate has dropped during my 16 years of service,” Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said. “The continuing decline over the years is a credit to the employers and employees of our state.”
The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division focuses on hazardous industries like construction and manufacturing by implementing special emphasis programs, providing free education and training, conducting free safety and health consultative visits, and establishing partnerships and alliances.
The 2016 rate for construction was 2.2 per 100 full-time workers, compared to 2.7 in 2015 and below the national rate of 3.2. The 2016 rate for manufacturing declined from 3.3 in 2015 to 2.9 in 2016, below the national rate of 3.6.
“This is positive news for North Carolina’s workplaces,” Commissioner Berry said. “We’d like to think that the safety and health programs administered by the OSH Division coupled with the increased participation in our safety and health recognition programs has contributed to this overall decline in the injury and illness rate.”
Didion Milling, Inc. Fined Nearly $2 Million After Fatal Grain Dust Explosion
OSHA has proposed $1,837,861 in fines against Didion Milling Inc. following a May 31, 2017, explosion that killed five workers and injured 12 others, including a 21-year-old employee who suffered a double leg amputation after being crushed by a railcar.
OSHA found that the explosion likely resulted from Didion’s failures to correct the leakage and accumulation of highly combustible grain dust throughout the facility and to properly maintain equipment to control ignition sources. OSHA cited Didion’s Cambria facility with 14 willful – including eight willful per-instance egregious– and five serious citations, most involving fire and explosion hazards. The company has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“Didion Milling could have prevented this tragedy if it had addressed hazards that are well-known in this industry,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha, in Chicago. “Instead, their disregard for the law led to an explosion that claimed the lives of workers, and heartbreak for their families and the community.”
The egregious willful citations were issued for violating OSHA’s Grain Handling standard by failing to perform required maintenance on operating equipment and implementing a housekeeping program to control dust accumulations. Willful citations were issued for failure to shut down ignition sources, prevent static electricity discharge, provide adequate personal protective equipment to employees, correct malfunctioning dust collection systems, maintain equipment safety controls, and have an emergency alarm system. Serious citations addressed hazards associated with fires and explosions, and the lack of employee training.
Tampa Electric Co. and Critical Intervention Services Fined for Hazardous Chemical Release
OSHA recently cited Tampa Electric Co. and Critical Intervention Services, a security services provider, for $43,458 in total proposed penalties, following a release of anhydrous ammonia – a chemical refrigerant – at its Gibsonton facility.
On May 23, 2017, OSHA responded to the incident and determined that the ammonia release occurred when a relief valve activated after a pipeline became over pressurized. As a result, four workers were taken to the hospital for observation and released.
OSHA issued Tampa Electric two serious citations for failing to include all the minimum requirements in their emergency response plan and not ensuring employees exposed to hazardous substances wore appropriate respiratory protection. The Agency also issued the power company a Hazard Alert Letter with recommendations to mitigate asphyxiation hazards.
The investigation also led to citations for Critical Intervention Services, which received two serious violations for not developing or implementing a written hazard communication program, and failing to provide information and training on hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
“When there is a potential hazardous chemical exposure, the emergency response plan must include all of the minimum safety and health requirements, including appropriate respiratory protection for employees,” said OSHA Area Director Les Grove, in Tampa.
Six California Employers Fined for Exposing Workers to Valley Fever
Cal/OSHA has cited six employers $241,950 for workplace safety and health violations after reports that workers contracted Valley Fever on a solar project construction site in Monterey County.
The employers at the California Flats Solar Project in Cholame Hills were cited for serious violations that included failure to control employee exposure to contaminated dust at the worksite, and failure to provide and ensure use of appropriate respiratory protection. One employer, Papich Construction, Inc., was cited in 2013 for some of the same violations.
“Employers who work in areas endemic to Valley Fever must take preventative measures to protect workers who may be exposed,” said Juliann Sum, Chief of Cal/OSHA.
Employers cited include:
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. $46,540
Papich Construction Co.,Inc. $68,900
Granite Construction Co., Inc. $46,590
Sachs Electric Company $46,400
Althouse and Meade, Inc. $9,900
Valley Fever is caused by a microscopic fungus known as Coccidioides immitis, which lives in the top two to 12 inches of soil in many parts of the state. When soil is disturbed by digging, driving, or high winds, fungal spores can become airborne and may be inhaled by workers. While the fungal spores are more likely to be present in the soils of the Central Valley, they may also be present in other areas of California. Cal/OSHA’s Valley Fever informational page provides detailed information with resources for workers and employers.
Tips for reducing the risk of Valley Fever exposure include:
- Determine if a worksite is in an area where fungal spores are likely to be present.
- Adopt site plans and work practices that minimize the disturbance of soil and maximize ground cover.
- Use water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust.
- Limit workers’ exposure to outdoor dust in disease-endemic areas by (1)providing air-conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate dust and making sure workers keep windows and vents closed, (2) suspending work during heavy winds, and (3) providing sleeping quarters, if applicable, away from sources of dust.
- When exposure to dust is unavoidable, provide approved respiratory protection
to filter particles.
- Train supervisors and workers in how to recognize symptoms of Valley Fever
and minimize exposure.
Colorado Residents Can Monitor Oil and Gas Health Concerns
For the first time, Colorado residents have a one-stop shop to express health concerns and obtain information about oil and gas operations in their community, and the effort is garnering national recognition.
The Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Group is a collaborative effort between the Air Pollution Control Division and the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The group includes experts in oil and gas operations, air quality measurement, exposure assessment, toxicology, environmental medicine and health communications. Its primary goals are to:
- Provide rapid response to citizen and local government health concerns through use of a hotline.
- Monitor and analyze health trends related to oil and gas.
- Use state-of-the-art air quality measurement and risk assessment methods to assess citizen concerns.
- Effectively communicate investigative findings and other objective scientific information about the potential health risks associated with oil and gas emissions to citizens and policymakers.
Earlier this year, the group received the prestigious Innovation Award from the Environmental Council of the States, which recognizes innovative approaches to address community concerns, improved collaborations and productive land use.
The response group was formed in 2015 as a result of recommendations from the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force, which wanted to help foster responsible development of oil and gas. Since then, almost 400 health concerns have been reported to the program, and health professionals have responded to every call within one to two business days, according to Tami McMullin, a toxicologist and program manager of the response group. Calls are increasing, and McMullin attributes that to increased awareness about the hotline as well as an increase in oil and gas operations in more highly populated areas.
McMullin said most of the residents with health concerns who call the hotline or fill out a form on the department’s website report eye, nose and throat irritation; nausea; and headaches. The majority of the reported concerns seem to be related to intermittent odors from nearby oil and gas operations.
When there are several calls in the same area, Daniel Bon, the mobile lab lead investigator with the Air Pollution Control Division, dispatches a mobile lab to the site that can measure a range of air pollutants.
Usually, pollutants fall within acceptable health-based guidelines set by federal or state agencies. That does not mean, however, that odors are not causing any of the symptoms being reported, McMullin said.
“Reactions to odors are very subjective,” McMullin said. “In a workplace, for example, one person might become nauseated by the smell of another person’s perfume. That physical reaction is real, but it does not mean the perfume is, in some way, toxic.”
Information obtained from mobile lab monitoring has been a great tool for the response group, Bon said, because it provides specific pollutant information to concerned residents. It also gives the response group invaluable information about health effects.
“We are trying to understand how odors are related to pollutant concentrations,” Bon said. “Having the mobile lab allows us to quantify some of the same compounds in the air that people may be smelling and complaining about, and it provides concentration data to compare to health standards.”
McMullin said the mobile lab information, coupled with health concerns reported to the hotline, have given the department a great start to better describe the health concerns and environmental exposures that may occur near oil and gas operations. More important, however, the creation of the response group has given residents an avenue for voicing their concerns. And the response group is listening.
“We can now respond immediately to residents’ concerns,” McMullin said. “We can then use that information to work with residents, oil and gas operators, and other regulatory agencies to help determine the best approach to help address the concern. That’s a huge step in the right direction.”
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