News roundup

May 24, 2000
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The house passed its fiscal 1997 budget resolution in mid-May recommending the elimination of NIOSH and a $90-million cut to the OSHA and MSHA budgets, combined. The resolution also recommends merging the two agencies. The action comes a month after President Clinton proposed a budget increase for the agency in 1997. The amount proposed by Clinton would be $35 million more than OSHA’s final FY96 budget ($305 million), decided in late April.

John Moran, OSHA’s policy director, left the agency in early May after six months on the job. "Pressing personal matters" forced the move, he told Industrial Safety & Hygiene News. An outspoken job safety advocate, Moran discounted reports that he was fed up with the cautious leadership of agency chief Joe Dear. "Anybody working for a regulatory agency that has been under attack for one-and-a-half years and operated on 13 continuing funding resolutions would be frustrated, but senior people at OSHA are trying to do the best they can," he says. Moran’s next task: Making sure safety and health issues are considered as new environmental remediation technology is developed under a Department of Energy five-year cooperative agreement with the Operating Engineers union.

To reduce worker exposures to crystalline silica dust, which can cause disabling and sometimes fatal silicosis, OSHA issued a compliance memorandum May 2. OSHA will encourage employers to take voluntary protection measures during a 60-day outreach program before proceeding with enforcement under existing standards, including respiratory protection, PELs, accident prevention, recordkeeping, hazard communication and others. The agency’s national special emphasis program will include inspections, outreach, and designation of a silicosis coordinator in each OSHA region. Some two million workers are exposed annually to silica dust while performing sandblasting, drilling or tunneling, according to NIOSH.

The compliance memorandum is available on the Internet at http://www.osha.gov/ in the "What’s New" section. For assistance developing a silicosis prevention program, employers are encouraged to contact their local OSHA consultation office.

An international standard for job safety and health is unwarranted, at least at this time, said 86 percent of stakeholders surveyed by the American National Standards Institute at a workshop in Rosemont, Ill., last month. The workshop was held by ANSI- the U.S. member of the International Standards Organization- to discuss the need for an ISO standard for health and safety similar to the ISO environmental and quality standards.

Only 14 percent of stakeholders, who included industry, labor, government, professional society, and insurance industry representatives, supported the creation of such a standard, saying it would be good for work environments in multinational companies and small businesses, and would enhance the movement toward a global economy. But 39 percent said an ISO safety standard would add cost without adding value to business operations.

Labor advocates expressed fears that U.S. companies would comply with an international standard instead of OSHA, leading to "lowest common denominator compliance." Nearly half of respondents thought such a standard should not be developed until after OSHA’s position on a U.S. safety and health program standard is more clear. ISO will decide whether to proceed with a health and safety standard at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in September.

OSHA’s position on a safety and health program might soon be clearer to those ISO stakeholders: The agency is moving ahead with its plan to issue a proposed safety and health program rule in 1996. A new draft of the proposed standard was distributed to stakeholders for comment last month. And OSHA chief Joe Dear announced he would hold stakeholders meetings to solicit additional comments in early June.

The Lyondell-Citgo Refining Co. will pay osha $200,000 for process safety management violations discovered during an investigation into an incident at the Houston plant last November in which 100 workers experienced respiratory irritation from gases emitted when disulfide oil passed through a flare and ignited. The company, OSHA, and the union representing workers at the plant also agreed that operating procedures for the entire plant should be rewritten by December, 1997.

NIOSH released a national occupational research agenda at an event to commemorate the OSH Act’s 25th anniversary in Washington, D.C., on April 29. The agenda targets three areas -disease and injury, work environment and work force, and research tools and approaches. A total of 21 items are identified within the three areas for research, including hearing loss, fertility and pregnancy abnormalities, infectious diseases, musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities, and social and economic consequences of workplace illness and injury, among others.

For further information, contact NIOSH at 1-800-35-NIOSH. The research agenda is also available on the NIOSH home page at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html.

Also during the anniversary celebration, OSHA donated several artifacts to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, including a door that was locked during the 1991 fire at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet, N.C., that killed 25 workers.

The AFL-CIO urges OSHA to exempt small workplaces from a proposed indoor air quality rule. At workplaces smaller than 10,000 square feet, employers should have to educate workers and maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning, the union says. But no further steps should be required unless a complaint is filed or an obvious problem exists.

The communications workers of america moved in April to join a class action suit that charges the Hoechst Celanese Corp. with knowingly exposing workers at its Pampa, Tex., chemical plant for 35 years to chemicals which have caused "cancer deaths, debilitating diseases, mutants and generations of children born with chromosomal aberrations," according to allegations. The suit also charges the chemical company with contaminating an eight-state underground water supply -the Ogallala Aquifer- and conspiring to hide its activities from regulatory agencies and the public. Other plaintiffs in the original lawsuit filed last December include the families of two CWA members who died of cancer, other cancer victims and their survivors, and a worker’s child with a congenital abnormality.

Vitamin B6, used by some doctors to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, is ineffective and potentially dangerous, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. A University of Michigan study of 125 industrial workers found no relationship between vitamin B6 blood levels and symptoms of CTS. Previous medical reports linked CTS to a deficiency of B6. But researchers recommend against prescribing vitamin B6, as overdoses can cause serious side effects including skin and nerve disorders.

Even one night of disturbed sleep impacts daytime mental alertness, according to a study published by the American Lung Association which appears in the April issue of the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Frequently disturbed sleep can cause daytime sleepiness, as well as affect attention span, mental flexibility, and a worker’s mood.

Worldwide yearly job injury totals are reaching 125 million, about 220,000 of which are fatal, according to a report released by the International Labor Organization. The U.N. agency suggests in a report to the World Congress on Safety and Health in Madrid that these rates are growing and may be a signal of the problems caused by increased global competition. Developing countries have the worst conditions spurring work-related injuries each year, but all countries contributed to the increase, the ILO reported.

Ergonomics programs can boost quality and productivity, according to the Joyce Institute, a unit of Arthur D. Little specializing in ergonomics consulting. A survey of 45 organizations conducted by the institute and reported in A.D. Little’s quarterly management journal Prism, reveals that 70 percent of respondents increased productivity and 30 percent increased product quality after implementing an ergonomics program. Three-quarters reduced workers’ compensation or medical costs. Contact Marilyn Joyce in Seattle at 201-441-6745 for further information or a copy of the article.

Workplace health and safety remains the number one risk concern for executives in manufacturing firms, according to the Ninth Annual Alexander & Alexander Risk Management Survey. In all industry sectors combined, safety was ranked second only to liability as a risk concern.

But according to survey responses, the cost of risk is decreasing, or at least remaining stable, at most U.S. corporations. Of executives surveyed by the risk management consulting and insurance broking company, 43 percent said the cost of insurance, workers’ compensation, disability and other risk management expenses is decreasing. Looking ahead, 65 percent said they expect no increases in business insurance premiums through 1998.

Of manufacturing firm executives, 42 percent said their cost of risk is decreasing and 39 percent said it is stable. Only 19 percent said it is increasing.

After denying NIOSH health hazard researchers entry to its plant twice, Caterpillar, Inc., was dealt a court order to pay a $10,000 per day fine as long as it continued to deny access to its York, Pa., plant. NIOSH was responding to a United Auto Workers request for an investigation of potential health effects suffered by workers exposed to chemicals in the plant’s oil cooler department. Caterpillar refused NIOSH entry for three weeks, saying the scope of the agency’s investigation was "unreasonably broad, highly subjective, and not scientifically valid." After the court order was issued, NIOSH was permitted entry on May 6, according to a NIOSH spokesman.

OSHA will not have to expedite environmental tobacco smoke rulemaking, a U.S. Court of Appeals decided, denying a motion filed by Action on Smoking and Health in the District of Columbia Circuit. The non-profit group petitioned to force OSHA to move quickly to promulgate a standard on secondhand smoke in the workplace. The group also argued that secondhand smoke should be addressed in its own rule, not in a rule on indoor air. Further, it argued that ETS should be the highest of OSHA’s rulemaking priorities now, and that the court should examine those priorities. The court declined to fulfill ASH’s request that it order OSHA to expedite rulemaking, but agreed to decide whether or not OSHA must eventually issue a standard under the cancer policy, 29 CFR 1990.147.

NIOSH will hold a public meeting for scientific and technical discussion of a NIOSH draft criteria document, "Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Noise Exposure," June 20-21 in Cincinnati. For copies of the document, or to register to attend, contact Kellie Wilson by e-mail at kmp0@NIOSDT1.em.cdc.gov, or at (513) 533-8362.

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