July 11, 2019
A vast number of chemical substances do not have occupational exposure limits (OELs) for the workplace, potentially exposing workers to substances at levels that could be harmful. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a chemical management strategy
that can quickly and accurately assign chemicals into categories, or “bands,” in order to protect workers on the job.
Occupational exposure banding is a voluntary process that assigns each chemical to a category based on its toxicity and any negative health outcomes associated with exposure to that chemical. The new Technical Report – The NIOSH Occupational Exposure Banding Process for Chemical Management
– provides a process with easy procedures and clear rules for assignment and can be used in a broad spectrum of workplace settings.
The occupational exposure banding process is not meant to replace quantitative occupational exposure limits (OELs); rather, it is a voluntary approach which provides a starting point to inform risk management decisions for controlling chemical substances that do not have OELs.
“NIOSH has devoted significant efforts to develop, assess, and validate the occupational exposure banding strategy with the overall goal of reducing safety and health risks for workers,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “In the absence of formalized OELs, the exposure banding approach serves to identify workplace hazards and helps employers implement control strategies that keep workers safe on the job.”
The long-awaited resource can serve as the foundation for making exposure-control decisions. Public health agencies, practicing occupational health and safety professionals, employers, trade associations, labor organizations, and state-level programs can use this process to protect workers from occupational exposures to chemicals.
The new Technical Report fully details the use and application of the NIOSH occupational exposure banding process and provides a summary of efforts taken to evaluate its effectiveness and usability. It includes an E-tool
as a supplementary online application that provides users with an automated means to band chemical substances.
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Prevent Workplace Violence
Staying safe on the job can call for varied approaches and protocols - wearing proper safety equipment, not driving while drowsy or impaired, following safety guidelines for machinery and many more. But increasingly, workers are also concerned about their safety from violence at their workplaces.
About 2 million American workers annually are victims of workplace violence.
"Unfortunately, making sure people are safe on their jobs also includes making sure they are protected from violent actions, whether from coworkers or from outside threats," said Michael D. Kleinik, director, Illinois Department of Labor.
OSHA defines workplace violence as "any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site."
Media accounts of tragic and sensational violent acts by disgruntled fellow workers certainly capture attention. But such cases make up a relatively small percentage of workplace violence events. More often the problem stems from outside the workplace. Robberies by outsiders far outnumber violent acts by fellow workers.
The taxicab industry has the highest risk for workplace violence, nearly 60 times the national average for violence on the job, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. And while one might accurately guess that police and security personnel face a significant threat of workplace violence, retail sales workers are the most numerous victims, with about 330,000 attacked each year, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration stresses that workplace violence:
- Is a growing concern for employers and their employees.
- Can happen at any place of work.
- Is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.
Nothing will stop all workplace violence, but employers can make a difference.
"They need to have a comprehensive site-specific and job-specific workplace violence prevention program that everyone has been trained on," said Ben Noven, director of Illinois OSHA, a division of the Illinois Department of Labor.
Noven noted that violence is a concern both in private and public sector jobs.
"We have responded to reports of injuries at public schools, nursing care facilities, and prisons. These are industries and professions known for having issues with understaffing and high turnover, and at times emotions can run high due to the nature of the work environment," said Noven. "This can increase the likelihood that violent incidents may occur, making a violence-prevention plan all that more important."
Establishing a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by employees is the best protection an employer can offer, according to OSHA. But other precautions should also be taken.
- Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or experience such conduct and how to protect themselves.
- Secure the workplace. Surveillance cameras, proper lighting, key or badge entry and guards can all help alleviate possible violence at work.
- Encourage employees to alert supervisors to any concerns they have about coworkers' erratic or potentially dangerous behavior as well as any other safety issue they believe could lead to violence at work.
- Provide for a buddy system or escort service for employees who need it in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
Employee safety is the main reason to take such precautions, but workplace violence poses an economic price tag as well. The private Workplace Violence Research Institute estimates the annual cost of violence in the workplace to be $36 billion.
Mattresses Could Emit Higher Levels of VOCs During Sleep
Hundreds of household items, including furniture, paint and electronics, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which at high levels can pose health risks. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology
have measured the emission rates of the gaseous compounds released by several types of polyurethane mattresses under simulated sleeping conditions, finding levels of some VOCs that could be worrisome for children and infants. However, so far there is no evidence of adverse health effects.
Exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, and for some compounds, even cancer. During sleep, people likely inhale more VOCs because of poor bedroom ventilation and the close proximity of their nose and mouth to mattresses and bedding that emit the compounds. Yael Dubowski and colleagues wanted to measure the levels of several VOCs released by eight different infant, toddler and youth polyurethane mattresses and compare these to the risk levels for the compounds. Also, the researchers wanted to investigate how temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration –– all of which are increased when people lie on a mattress for a few hours compared to the mattress alone –– could affect emissions.
The team placed pieces of polyurethane mattresses into continuous flow chambers, collected the exiting air and analyzed the levels of 18 different VOCs by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. They found that the eight mattresses released quite similar amounts of VOCs, except for a flame retardant compound emitted only by an infant mattress. The mattresses released more VOCs when temperature was elevated to simulate body heat. The team estimated the doses of VOCs inhaled by adults, infants and children, finding that most were well below the cancer and non-cancer risk reference levels for these compounds. However, for infants and young children, inhalation of some compounds (for example, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and benzene) could reach levels of concern. The researchers emphasize the need for further studies on possible health effects of chronic, low-level exposure to VOCs.
PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water Standards Proposed in NY
The New York State Department of Health has recommended new drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS – two man-made chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues. If adopted, the newly recommended drinking water standard, at 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS, would be the toughest in the nation.
However, more can still be done to protect New Yorkers’ drinking water quality. This includes lowering the standard to 2 ppt, establishing a combined standard for PFOS and PFOA (instead of setting individual limits for each), and regulating the entire group of PFAS chemicals, which likely pose similar dangers.
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