What BBQ Smoke Exposure Tells You About Occupational Chemical Exposures

June 18, 2018

With summer coming, it’s only a matter of time before the smells and tastes of barbecued foods dominate the neighborhood. But there’s a downside to grilling that can literally get under your skin. In a study appearing in Environmental Science & Technology, scientists report that skin is a more important pathway for uptake of cancer-causing compounds produced during barbecuing than inhalation. They also found that clothing cannot fully protect individuals from this exposure.

In the U.S., 70% of adults own a grill or a smoker, and more than half of them grill at least four times a month, according to the Barbecue Industry Association. But barbecuing produces large amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. These carcinogenic compounds can cause respiratory diseases and DNA mutations. Eating grilled foods is the most common source of PAHs arising from barbecuing. However, according to a previous study by Eddy Y. Zeng and colleagues, bystanders near barbecues were likely exposed to considerable amount of PAHs through skin exposure and inhalation, even if they didn’t eat the grilled foods. Building on that study, the team sought to more precisely quantify skin uptake of PAHs from barbecue fumes and particles.

The researchers divided volunteers into groups at an outdoor barbecue to provide them with varying degrees of exposure to the food and the smoke. After analyzing urine samples from the volunteers, the researchers concluded that, as expected, diet accounted for the largest amount of PAH exposure. However, the skin was the second-highest exposure route, followed by inhalation. They say oils in barbecue fumes likely enhance skin uptake of PAHs. The team also found that while clothes may reduce skin exposure to PAHs over the short term, once clothing is saturated with barbecue smoke, the skin can take in considerable amounts of PAHs from them. They suggest washing clothes soon after leaving a grilling area to reduce exposure.

So, what can we learn from BBQ smoke about occupational chemical exposures? It's that workplace exposures might be complex. We might protect workers with respirators, but what about skin exposure? Even if workers wear impervious gloves, fumes and vapors in the air can lead to skin exposures that may have been overlooked. Worker clothing might not be protective and could even exacerbate chemical exposures. Therefore, more research is needed to evaluate chemicals in the workplace to determine if any exposures have been overlooked, and if so, new protections may be needed.

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What’s on OSHA’s Agenda

All federal agencies that publish regulations are required to publish a semiannual regulatory agenda in order to inform the regulated community of pending, as well as recently completed regulatory actions. In the past, OSHA published regulatory agendas spanning dozens of proposed rules. The Agency’s current agenda is much more limited, it includes:

Communication Tower Safety

While the number of employees engaged in the communication tower industry remains small, the fatality rate is very high. Over the past 20 years, this industry has experienced an average fatality rate that greatly exceeds that of the construction industry, for example. Falls are the leading cause of death in tower work and OSHA has evidence that fall protection is used either improperly or inconsistently.

Employees are often hoisted to working levels on small base-mounted drum hoists that have been mounted to a truck chassis, and these may not be rated to hoist personnel. According to OSHA, communication tower construction and maintenance activities are not adequately covered by current OSHA fall protection and personnel hoisting standards, and OSHA plans to use information it will collect from a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panel to identify effective work practices and advances in engineering technology that would best address industry safety and health concerns. While this panel will be focused on communication towers, OSHA plans to consider inclusion of structures that have telecommunications equipment on or attached to them (e.g., buildings, rooftops, water towers, billboards, etc.). An estimated date for a proposed rule has not been identified.

Tree Care Standard

Because there is no OSHA standard for tree care operations; the agency currently applies a patchwork of standards to address the serious hazards in this industry. The tree care industry previously petitioned the agency for rulemaking and OSHA issued an ANPRM (September 2008). Tree care continues to be a high-hazard industry and OSHA intends to initiate a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) panel in April, 2019.

Infectious Diseases

Employees in health care and other high-risk environments face long-standing infectious disease hazards such as tuberculosis, varicella disease (chickenpox, shingles), and measles (rubeola), as well as new and emerging infectious disease threats, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and pandemic influenza.

Health care workers and workers in related occupations, or who are exposed in other high-risk environments, are at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis, SARS, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), and other infectious diseases that can be transmitted through a variety of exposure routes. OSHA is examining regulatory alternatives for control measures to protect employees from infectious disease exposures to pathogens that can cause significant disease. Workplaces where such control measures might be necessary include: Health care, emergency response, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, drug treatment programs, and other occupational settings where employees can be at increased risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. A standard could also apply to laboratories, which handle materials that may be a source of pathogens, and to pathologists, coroners' offices, medical examiners, and mortuaries. An estimated date for a proposed rule has not been identified.

Process Safety Management (PSM) and Prevention

In accordance with the Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, OSHA issued a Request for Information (RFI) on December 9, 2013 (78 FR 73756). The RFI identified issues related to modernization of the Process Safety Management standard and related standards necessary to meet the goal of preventing major chemical accidents. Although potential changes in the PSM standard has been on OSHA’s agenda for several years, significant movement on any changes has not occurred and an estimated date for a proposed rule has not been identified.

Contractor Cited for Fall and Other Safety Hazards

OSHA has cited Appleton, WI roofing contractor Hector Hernandez again after OSHA inspectors observed employees exposed to falls and other safety hazards at two Wisconsin job sites. OSHA proposed penalties of $120,320.

Hernandez, who operates Town City Construction, was cited for one repeated and two willful violations for failing to provide fall protection, train workers on fall hazards, properly install an extension ladder for safe egress, and provide required ladder jack scaffold components.

Hernandez has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Healthcare Challenges After Radiological Incidents

Many resources are available for healthcare, public health, and emergency management professionals planning for a potential large-scale radiological release or nuclear detonation incident, but planning is difficult, and few jurisdictions have detailed plans. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (TRACIE) will host a webinar with panelists to discuss the impact and potential solutions of different event types and provide guidance and lessons learned related to casualties of radiological and nuclear emergencies. The webinar will take place July 11, 2018 from 2:00-3:15 p.m. ET.

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