On Monday, May 5th, of this year, it was business as usual for the families of the historic town of Pequannock, New Jersey. Parents got up, prepared for work, dressed their children, dropped them off at the local childcare center, and clocked into their day jobs. Little did they know, that in a few hours, they would get a phone call that every parent dreads; the one where you find out your child may be in danger.
Neurological damage, blindness, and severe burns are all potential risks when working in a chemical production facility. Most employers take the necessary precautions to protect their workers, but once in a while, there are those employers that forfeit employee safety for a cushioned bottom line. Diversified CPC International Inc., a chemical manufacturer based out of Channahon, Illinois, was recently cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for numerous violations of the organization’s process safety management, which will cost the firm $73,500 in proposed penalties.
That safety management standard requires employers to develop, implement, and update safety management programs for hazardous chemicals. Diversified’s Sparta, NJ branch failed to do so, with violations stemming from their use of liquefied petroleum gases, fluorocarbons, and dimethyl ether. Despite OSHA’s victory in Sparta, the agency has had its hands tied when it comes to regulating facilities using extremely hazardous chemicals.
“OSHA itself has said many times they don’t have the resources to go around inspecting all of the places that need inspecting,” exclaimed Sandy Gilmour of the Chemical Safety Board.
Too often, OSHA has to rely on the EPA’s lists (which amount to guesswork) on the chemicals present at certain factories. They also lack the resources to do more than three or four thorough inspections a year at these dangerous facilities leaving room for employers to clean their act up when an OSHA representative comes knocking on their door.
With a shortage of resources, the responsibility for employee safety falls entirely on the employer. Here are some ways to protect your employees from future injury, and to ensure that your business remains afloat.
- Develop and implement written procedures for mechanical integrity and operating procedures, so employees are informed on how to conduct themselves safely.
- Do a hazard analysis and have an emergency action plan.
- Keep tabs on equipment and make sure it is working properly.
- Complete a compliance audit.
- Certify operating procedures are current and accurate annually.
- Complete accurate piping and instrument diagrams.
- Make sure your relief system design and design basis are included in information about certain equipment.
Three weeks of public hearings conducted by OSHA regarding their proposed silica exposure rule have finally come to an end after the last session on April 4. Fully aware that their legislation could be potentially divisive as employers, employees, and other special interest groups all had their own opinions on the issue, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to open the floor so everyone could have their voices heard.
Supporters of the bill, ranging from the American Cancer Society to AIHA, insist that setting new permissible exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica could drastically reduce the outbreak of silicosis, lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, airway diseases, and autoimmune disorders. Testifying in support of the rule, AIHA Vice President Daniel H. Anna stated that, “Ultimately the question is, ‘will this proposal result in improved employee health and safety?’ AIHA answers a resounding ‘yes’ and supports OSHA’s efforts to move forward with the proposed rule that helps to protect worker health and reduce illnesses related to silica exposure.”
The opposition claims that the legislation, though sound in theory, will fail to translate to the real world. Contractors and building professionals understand that the environment in which they work hardly represents the safest of work environments. Typically, these areas are exposed to the elements and, though the potential risks are thoroughly examined, there are only so many actions one can take to promote worker safety. The proposed legislation would force employers to pay more to prevent worker exposure to respirable silica, which could affect the recovering industry’s ability to hire new workers, thereby stalling growth.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels thanked everyone who had contributed over the past couple weeks for their input. He continued that, “This is an open process, and the input we receive will help us ensure that a final rule adequately protects workers, is feasible for employers, and is based on the best available evidence.” OSHA has a difficult couple weeks ahead of it as the organization weighs the best possible direction for contractors and builders across the United States. If you would like to read transcripts from the hearings they are available to you here. And, as always, we will do our best to keep you updated on OSHA’s decision in the not so distant future.
In 122 days, 7 hours, and 45 minutes, the world will have the privilege of watching the ocean’s deadliest predators bite, thrash, and chomp their way to fame on Discovery’s Shark Week. For some, that week represents an event even bigger than the Super Bowl, and for others it’s a week that makes you think twice (at least) about even putting your pinky toe in the ocean, let alone going swimming. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, the chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million (you’re more likely to be killed by lightning). Most people are afraid of things that, in their mind, have the greatest potential to end their existence. They fear spiders, snakes, heights, dogs, and lightning, but very few people are afraid of the air that they breathe.
That may sound like an odd fear to have but for those construction workers who use equipment that releases minute, sand-like particles into the air called “silica,” it speaks to an ever-present threat. In a statement on their website, OSHA states that, “Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe.” The proposed legislation expects to, “prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease.”
While the proposal sounds feasible in theory, it may have a difficult time in the real world. The Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) testified that the new legislation lacked pragmatism, as construction sites encounter conditions (such as rain, wind and cold) that would make it impossible to enforce OSHA’s new silica rule. Instead of protecting workers, the proposal could dramatically increase costs that would leave construction firms with less money for workers and projects, resulting in layoffs and fewer job opportunities.
The CISC and OSHA will continue to debate over the positives and negatives of the regulation of airborne silica, but in the meantime, here are a few steps your business can take to protect yourself and your workers. Stay safe!