“2014 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index – 10 Leading Causes Of Injuries & Their Cost”

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Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety Releases 2014 Workplace Safety Index
10 leading causes of injury result in nearly $60 billion in total workers compensation costs

January 14, 2015 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time
HOPKINTON, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety has released its 2014 Workplace Safety Index, which ranks the 10 leading causes of workplace injuries and their associated direct workers compensation costs.

“For example, using our tribology research – slipperiness assessment tools – our risk control consultants can actually get in on the ground floor and meet with building designers and architects to recommend flooring standards that create safer interior and exterior walking surfaces”

Overexertion ranked first as the leading cause of disabling injury. The category, which includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing, cost U.S. businesses $15.1 billion and accounted for more than one quarter of the top 10 disabling injury causes in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. All told, the listed injury causes amounted to nearly $60 billion in total U.S. workers compensation costs or more than $1 billion dollars a week spent by businesses on disabling injuries.

The Workplace Safety Index is developed annually by Liberty Mutual researchers based on information from the company’s workers compensation claims, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the National Academy of Social Insurance. Using BLS injury event coding, researchers determined which injuries caused an employee to miss six or more days of work and then ranked those events by total workers compensation costs.

The top five injury causes accounted for 65.4 percent of the total 2012 workplace injury cost burden, based on Liberty Mutual data. The leading “overexertion” category and the two “falls” categories among the top five combined to generate more than 50 percent of the leading causes of disabling workplace injuries.

Liberty Mutual works with its commercial insurance customers to help them mitigate these and other risks of injury in workplaces of all sizes. Using findings from the Research Institute for Safety, the company’s Risk Control Services team developed a wide-variety of tools and services to help lessen the likelihood of the types of injuries listed in the Workplace Safety Index. To reduce overexertion injuries, Liberty Mutual uses ergonomic assessment tools, including a freely-accessible online calculator, to help businesses understand the risks associated with manual handling tasks including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying.

“When we know the acceptable weights and forces that employees can perform under, we use that information to design safer manual handling jobs,” said Wayne S. Maynard, program director, Risk Control Technical Services. “Potentially thousands of manual handling jobs, from construction and industrial to hospitality and healthcare, are now safer as a result of the use of this and other ergonomic assessment tools developed in partnership with our Research Institute.”

According to Mr. Maynard, the direct costs of workplace slips, trips and fall injuries have continued to rise for more than a decade. Utilizing specialized risk control procedures and programs gives businesses the opportunity to be more proactive in facility design. “For example, using our tribology research – slipperiness assessment tools – our risk control consultants can actually get in on the ground floor and meet with building designers and architects to recommend flooring standards that create safer interior and exterior walking surfaces,” Maynard added.

Liberty Mutual Risk Control Services is comprised of hundreds of certified and credentialed consultants organized with dedicated units for specific lines of business and industries. Specialized resources are offered in Enterprise Risk Management, Crisis Management, Disaster Preparedness and Business Continuity. Consultations are available to all commercial policyholders either onsite, by phone or online. For more information about Liberty Mutual Risk Control Services contact Nick Shah, director, Special Projects at 617-654-3532 or Nick.Shah@LibertyMutual.com.

Download a copy of supporting documentation here: http://www.libertymutualgroup.com/omapps/ContentServer?c=cms_document&pagename=LMGResearchInstitute/cms_document/ShowDoc&cid=1138365240689

 

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“GHS: What’s Next? – The Timeline For GHS Compliance Explained”

According to OSHA, GHS affects over 5 million businesses and 43 million workers in the US alone. This infographic illustrates the next steps for GHS Compliance, and gives a timeline of the evolution of GHS and it’s implementation.

GHS: What
Infographic created by Creative Safety Supply

“CSB Board Votes on Status of Sixteen Safety Recommendations”

CSB

Washington, DC, April 20, 2015—The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has recently voted to update the status of sixteen recommendations resulting from twelve accident investigations including key safety improvements resulting from the 2006 CAI/Arnel fire and explosion in Danvers, MA and the 2005 BP Texas City refinery fire and explosion.  All recently voted on recommendations are highlighted on a newly launched webpage designed to update the public on safety recommendation status changes.
Deputy Managing Director for Recommendations Dr. Susan Anenberg said, “Safety recommendations are the CSB’s primary tool for achieving positive change and preventing future incidents. A recommendation is a specific course of action issued to a specific party, based on the findings of CSB investigations, safety studies, and other products.”
One of the recommendations voted upon by the board was issued to Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Public Safety, Department of Fire Services. The recommendation was to incorporate standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association into the state’s fire regulations and was the result of a powerful explosion and fire that took place at the CAI/Arnel ink and paint products manufacturing facility in Danvers, Massachusetts, on November 22, 2006. On January 1, 2015, the state of Massachusetts adopted a revised fire safety code that incorporates the CSB’s recommendations.
Dr. Anenberg said, “We are very pleased that Massachusetts’ revised fire code includes our recommended safety improvements. Their action ensures that the Board’s accident investigation has a lasting impact on safety in the state.”
Another acceptably closed recommendation is a 2007 recommendation to OSHA to implement a national emphasis program for oil refineries focusing on issues the CSB found contributed to the March 23, 2005, explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. In response to the CSB recommendation, OSHA launched a “Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management National Emphasis Program,” which led to enhanced inspections of over seventy refineries nationwide.
Also, the CSB successfully closed a recommendation made to the National Fire Protection Association to revise standards based on findings from its investigation into the May 4, 2009, explosion and fire at the Veolia facility in West Carrolton, Ohio.
Dr. Anenberg said, “Actions taken by CSB recommendations recipients trigger important safety changes that can prevent accidents and save lives. Our goal is for all CSB safety recommendations to be successfully adopted and we look forward to sharing our progress with the public through our new website feature.”
For a full list of recently updated recommendations please view the CSB’s website at http://www.csb.gov/recommendations/recently-updated/
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact CSB Public Affairs at public@csb.gov, Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202-446-8094 or Sandy Gilmour, Public Affairs, cell 202-251-5496.

“CSB Releases New Safety Video Entitled “Shock to the System” Offering Key Lessons for Preventing Hydraulic Shock in Ammonia Refrigeration Systems”

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Latest Safety Video Includes Detailed Animation of 32,000- Pound Release of Ammonia in Alabama which Led to Offsite Injuries Including Multiple Hospitalizations in 2010

Washington, D.C, March 26, 2015 – Today the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released its latest safety video detailing key lessons from the release of 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia that occurred at Millard Refrigerated Services Inc. on August 23, 2010. The accident resulted in over 150 exposures to offsite workers, thirty of which were hospitalized – four in an intensive care unit.

The newly released seven-minute safety video, entitled “Shock to the System,” includes a detailed 3D animation of the events that led up the resulting ammonia release. The video is based on the CSB’s recent View of cracked pipe following the 2010 ammonia release safety bulletin entitled “Key Lessons for Preventing Hydraulic Shock in Industrial Refrigeration Systems.”

Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The CSB’s new safety video is a valuable tool intended for use at the large number of facilities that utilize anhydrous ammonia. The key lessons learned from our investigation – examined in our report and in this video — can help facilities prevent a similar accident from occurring due to hydraulic shock.”

The CSB’s video is available at its YouTube channel and at www.csb.gov

The CSB’s investigation found that the day prior to the accident the Millard facility experienced a loss of power that lasted more than seven hours. During that time the refrigeration system was shut down. The next day, on August 23, 2010, the system regained power and was up and running, though operators reported certain problems.  While doing some troubleshooting an operator cleared alarms in the control system, which reset the refrigeration cycle on a group of freezer evaporators that were in the process of defrosting.

This resulted in both hot, high-pressure gas and extremely low temperature liquid ammonia to be present in the coils and associated piping at the same time. This caused the hot high-pressure ammonia gas to rapidly condense into a liquid.  Because liquid ammonia takes up less volume than ammonia gas – a vacuum was created where the gas had condensed.

The sudden pressure drop sent a wave of liquid ammonia through the piping – causing a sudden pressure surge known as “hydraulic shock.”

This abnormal transient condition results in a sharp pressure rise with the potential to cause catastrophic failure of piping, valves, and other components. Often prior to a hydraulic shock incident there is an audible “hammering” in refrigeration piping,.

CSB Investigator Tyler said, “The CSB’s animation details how the pressure surge ruptured the evaporator piping manifold inside one of the freezers causing a roof-mounted 12-inch suction pipe to catastrophically fail, resulting in the release of more than 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and its associated 12-inch piping on the roof of the facility.”

The release resulted in injuries to a Millard employee when he fell while attempting to escape from a crane after it became engulfed in the traveling ammonia cloud.  The large cloud traveled a quarter mile from the facility south toward an area where 800 contractors were working outdoors at a clean-up site for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A total of 152 offsite workers and ship crew members reported symptomatic illnesses from ammonia exposure. Thirty two of the offsite workers required hospitalization, four of them in an intensive care unit.

The video presents the key lessons learned from the CSB’s investigation including avoiding the manual interruption of evaporators in defrost and requiring control systems to be equipped with password protection to ensure only trained and authorized personnel have the authority to manually override systems. On the day of the incident, the control system did not recognize that the evaporator was already in the process of defrosting, and allowed an operator to manually restart the refrigeration cycle without removing the hot ammonia gas from the evaporator coil.

The CSB also found that the evaporators at the Millard facility were designed so that one set of valves controlled four separate evaporator coils. As a result, the contents of all four coils connected to that valve group were involved in the hydraulic shock event – leading to a larger, more hazardous pressure surge. As a result, the CSB notes that when designing ammonia refrigeration systems each evaporator coil should be controlled by a separate set of valves.

And the CSB found that immediately after discovering the ammonia release, a decision was made to isolate the source of the leak while the refrigeration system was still operating instead of initiating an emergency shutdown. Shutting down the refrigeration system may have resulted in a smaller release, since all other ammonia-containing equipment associated with the failed rooftop piping continued to operate. A final key lesson from the CSB’s investigation is that an emergency shutdown should be activated in the event of an ammonia release if a leak cannot be promptly isolated and controlled. Doing so can greatly reduce the amount of ammonia released during an accident.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, http://www.csb.gov.  For more information, contact public@csb.gov.

 

“CSB Releases Safety Bulletin on Anhydrous Ammonia Incident near Mobile, Alabama”

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Safety Bulletin Notes Five Key Lessons to Prevent Hydraulic Shock

January 15, 2014, East Rutherford, NJ – Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a safety bulletin intended to inform industries that utilize anhydrous ammonia in bulk refrigeration operations on how to avoid a hazard referred to as hydraulic shock.  The safety lessons were derived from an investigation into a 2010 anhydrous ammonia release that occurred at Millard Refrigerated Services Inc., located in Theodore, View of Cracked Pipe from Millard Investigation Alabama.

The accident occurred before 9:00 am on the morning of August 23, 2010. Two international ships were being loaded when the facility’s refrigeration system experienced “hydraulic shock” which is defined as a sudden, localized pressure surge in piping or equipment resulting from a rapid change in the velocity of a flowing liquid. The highest pressures often occur when vapor and liquid ammonia are present in a single line and are disturbed by a sudden change in volume.

This abnormal transient condition results in a sharp pressure rise with the potential to cause catastrophic failure of piping, valves, and other components – often prior to a hydraulic shock incident there is an audible “hammering” in refrigeration piping. The incident at Millard caused a roof-mounted 12-inch suction pipe to catastrophically fail, resulting in the release of more than 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.

The release led to one Millard employee sustaining injuries when he fell while attempting to escape from a crane was after it became engulfed in the traveling ammonia cloud.  The large cloud traveled a quarter mile from the facility south toward an area where 800 contractors were working outdoors at a clean-up site for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A total of 152 offsite workers and ship crew members reported symptomatic illnesses from ammonia exposure. Thirty two of the offsite workers required hospitalization, four of them in an intensive care unit.

Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The CSB believes that if companies in the ammonia refrigeration industry follow the key lessons from its investigation into the accident at Millard Refrigeration Services, dangerous hydraulic shock events can be avoided – preventing injuries, environmental damage, and potential fatalities.”

Entitled, “Key Lessons for Preventing Hydraulic Shock in Industrial Refrigeration Systems” the bulletin describes that on the day before the incident, on August 22, 2010, the Millard facility experienced a loss of power that lasted over seven hours. During that time the refrigeration system was shut down. The next day the system regained power and was up and running, though operators reported some problems.  While doing some troubleshooting an operator cleared alarms in the control system, which reset the refrigeration cycle on a group of freezer evaporators that were in the process of defrosting. The control system reset caused the freezer evaporator to switch directly from a step in the defrost cycle into refrigeration mode while the evaporator coil still contained hot, high-pressure gas.

The reset triggered a valve to open and low temperature liquid ammonia was fed back into all four evaporator coils before removing the hot ammonia gas. This resulted in both hot, high-pressure gas and extremely low temperature liquid ammonia to be present in the coils and associated piping at the same time. This caused the hot high-pressure ammonia gas to rapidly condense into a liquid.  Because liquid ammonia takes up less volume than ammonia gas – a vacuum was created where the gas had been.  The void sent a wave of liquid ammonia through the piping – causing the “hydraulic shock.”

The pressure surge ruptured the evaporator piping manifold inside one of the freezers and its associated 12-inch piping on the roof of the facility. An estimated 32,100 pounds of ammonia were released into the surrounding environment.

Investigator Lucy Tyler said, “The CSB notes that one key lesson is to avoid the manual interruption of evaporators in defrost and ensure control systems are equipped with password protection to ensure only trained and authorized personnel have the authority to manually override systems.“

The CSB also found that the evaporators at the Millard facility were designed so that one set of valves controlled four separate evaporator coils. As a result, the contents of all four coils connected to that valve group were involved in the hydraulic shock event – leading to a larger, more hazardous pressure surge.

As a result, the CSB notes that when designing ammonia refrigeration systems each evaporator coil should be controlled by a separate set of valves.

The CSB found that immediately after discovering the ammonia release, a decision was made to isolate the source of the leak while the refrigeration system was still operating instead of initiating an emergency shutdown. Shutting down the refrigeration system may have resulted in a smaller release, since all other ammonia-containing equipment associated with the failed rooftop piping continued to operate.

A final key lesson from the CSB’s investigation is that an emergency shutdown should be activated in the event of an ammonia release if a leak cannot be promptly isolated and controlled. Doing so can greatly reduce the amount of ammonia released during an accident.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, http://www.csb.gov.  For more information, contact public@csb.gov.

“CSB Warns About Danger of Hot Work on Tanks Containing Biological or Organic Material”

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Earlier this month a team of CSB investigators deployed to the Omega Protein facility in Moss Point, Mississippi, where a tank explosion on July 28, 2014, killed a contract worker and severely injured another. Our team, working alongside federal OSHA inspectors, found that the incident occurred during hot work on or near a tank containing eight inches of a slurry of water and fish matter known as “stickwater.”DSCN1166

The explosion blew the lid off the 30-foot-high tank, fatally injuring a contract worker who was on top of the tank. A second contract worker on the tank was severely injured. CSB investigators commissioned laboratory testing of the stickwater and found telltale signs of microbial activity in the samples, such as the presence of volatile fatty acids in the liquid samples and offgassing of flammable methane and hydrogen sulfide.

The stickwater inside of the storage tank had been thought to be nonhazardous. No combustible gas testing was done on the contents of the tank before the hot work commenced.

This tragedy underscores the extreme importance of careful hot work planning, hazard evaluation, and procedures for all storage tanks, whether or not flammable material is expected to be present. Hot work dangers are not limited to the oil, gas, and chemical sectors where flammability hazards are commonplace.

The CSB has now examined three serious hot work incidents—all with fatalities—involving hot work on tanks of biological or organic matter. At the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), three workers were killed on July 29, 2008, as they were performing hot work on a catwalk above an 80-foot-tall tank of “white water,” a slurry of pulp fiber waste and water.  CSB laboratory testing identified anaerobic, hydrogen-producing bacteria in the tank.  The hydrogen gas ignited, ripping open the tank lid and sending workers tumbling to their deaths.

On February 16, 2009, a welding contractor was killed while repairing a water clarifier tank at the ConAgra Foods facility in Boardman, Oregon. The tank held water and waste from potato washing; the CSB investigation found that water and organic material had built up beneath the base of the tank and decayed through microbial action, producing flammable gas that exploded.

Mixtures of water with fish, potatoes, or cardboard waste could understandably be assumed to be benign and pose little safety risk to workers. It is vital that companies, contract firms, and maintenance personnel recognize that in the confines of a storage tank, seemingly non-hazardous organic substances can release flammable gases at levels that cause the vapor space to exceed the lower flammability limit. Under those conditions, a simple spark or even conducted heat from hot work can prove disastrous.

I urge all companies to follow the positive example set by the DuPont Corporation, after a fatal hot work tragedy occurred at a DuPont chemical site near Buffalo, New York. Following CSB recommendations from 2012, DuPont instituted a series of reforms to hot work safety practices on a global basis, including requirements for combustible gas monitoring when planning for welding or other hot work on or near storage tanks or adjacent spaces.

Combustible gas testing is simple, safe, and affordable. It is a recommended practice of the National Fire Protection Association, The American Petroleum Institute, FM Global, and other safety organizations that produce hot work guidance. Combustible gas testing is important on tanks that hold or have held flammables, but it is equally important—if not more so—for tanks where flammables are not understood to be present. It will save lives.

END STATEMENT

More resources:

http://www.csb.gov/e-i-dupont-de-nemours-co-fatal-hotwork-explosion/

http://www.csb.gov/packaging-corporation-storage-tank-explosion/

http://www.csb.gov/seven-key-lessons-to-prevent-worker-deaths-during-hot-work-in-and-around-tanks/

http://www.csb.gov/motiva-enterprises-sulfuric-acid-tank-explosion/

CSB Investigation Warns of Dust Explosion Risk at Recycling Facilities

CSB Com Dust Al Solutions 2010

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released its final report, safety recommendations and accompanying safety video into a fatal combustible dust explosion at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility in New Cumberland, West Virginia.

As presented to the Board for a vote at a public meeting in Charleston, the report reiterates a recommendation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgate a general industry combustible dust standard, which CSB said it has been calling for since its 2006 study on these preventable accidents.

The December 9, 2010 accident at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility, which milled and processed scrap titanium and zirconium metal, killed three employees and injured a contractor.

The CSB said that the incident is one of nine serious combustible dust incidents investigated by the CSB since 2003. These explosions and fires caused 36 deaths and 128 injuries.

According to the CSB’s report, most solid organic materials, as well as many metals, will explode if the particles are small enough, and they are dispersed in a sufficient concentration within a confined area, near an ignition source.

The report emphasised to industry that even seemingly small amounts of accumulated combustible dust can cause catastrophic damage.

The CSB investigation determined that AL Solutions experienced a history of fatal dust fires and explosions.

A newly developed CSB safety video entitled ‘Combustible Dust: Solutions Delayed’ details the process of milling and blending metal powder at the facility which was then pressed into dense disk called ‘compacts’.

“The CSB learned that the AL Solutions facility had fatal fires and explosions involving metal dust in 1995 and 2006 in addition to the 2010 explosion. Also, from 1993 until the accident in 2010, there were at least seven fires that required responses from the local fire department,” explained investigator Mark Wingard.

Around 1:20 pm on 9 December 2010, CSB said that a spark or hot-spot from the blender likely ignited the zirconium powder inside. The resulting flash fire lofted the metal dust particles in the blender, forming a burning metal dust cloud.

The cloud ignited other combustible dust within the production building, causing a secondary explosion that ripped through the plant, killing three workers and injuring a contract employee.

“Preventable combustible dust explosions continue to occur, causing worker deaths and injuries. The CSB believes it is imperative for OSHA to  issue a comprehensive combustible dust standard for general industry with clear control requirements to prevent dust fires and explosions,” commented chairperson Rafael Moure-Eras.

In presenting the findings of the case study, CSB’s lead investigator, Johnnie Banks, said: “As the metals were broken down during milling, the risk of a metal dust fire or explosion increased as the metal particles decreased in size.

“At AL Solutions a metal blender used to process zirconium was having mechanical problems that had not been adequately repaired. As a result, the blender was producing heat or sparks due to metal-to-metal contact.”

Investigator Wingard added: “The National Fire Protection Association Standard for Combustible Metals, called NFPA 484, recommends specific practices for controlling metal dust, but AL Solutions did not voluntarily follow those guidelines, and there are no federal OSHA standards to enforce similar requirements.

“In its 2006 Combustible Dust Hazard Study, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a combustible dust standard for general industry based on the current NFPA guidelines.”

The CSB’s report and video encourage industry to take action to prevent combustible dust incidents.  In July 2013, the CSB identified its 2006 recommendation to develop a combustible dust standard as the first issue in its ‘Most Wanted Chemical Safety Improvement’ outreach program.

According to Moure-Eraso, had a national standard for combustible dust been in place in 2006 – and if industry had followed the requirements – many of the severe dust incidents that followed, including AL Solutions, may have been prevented.

“The time is now for OSHA to take action to prevent these tragic accidents,” he urged.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

AL Solutions Fatal Dust Explosion
FINAL REPORT: AL Solutions
Location: New Cumberland, WV
Accident Occurred On: 12/09/2010
Final Report Released On: 07/16/2014
Accident Type: Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire
Company Name: AL Solutions
Accident Description
An explosion ripped through the New Cumberland A.L. Solutions titanium plant in West Virginia on December 9, 2010, fatally injuring three workers. The workers were processing titanium powder, which is highly flammable, at the time of the explosion.

Investigation Status
The CSB’s final report was approved 2-0 at a public meeting in Charleston, WV.

Man Confirmed Dead In Grain Bin Accident In Genoa, Illinois – May 5, 2014 – [Raw Video]

 

Emergency crews pulled the body of a 73-year-old man from a grain bin on an Illinois farm Monday afternoon after a frantic rescue effort.

Around 1 p.m., authorities had begun emptying the grain bin at Madey Farms in Genoa after reports that a man may be stuck inside.

Several hours later, crews removed the body from the grain bin and placed it in a waiting ambulance. Authorities later confirmed that he had died.

DeKalb County Police said a family member found the man’s truck next to the full, 10,000- to 12,000-bushel bin but couldn’t locate him.

He had been working on the bin because it was reportedly clogged, police said.

The 73-year-old man reportedly worked on the Genoa-Kingston Fire Department for several years.

Genoa is located about 25 miles east of Rockford, Illinois.

Pending OMB Review, OSHA Could Restart Effort to Update Chemical Exposure Limits (PEL’s)

By Robert Iafolla

April 16 –In an apparent effort to kickstart agency action on updating permissible exposure limits for hundreds of chemicals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration asked the White House April 15 to approve a request to gather information on ways to address chemical exposure.

OSHA cited widespread agreement that the majority of the agency’s exposure limits are decades out-of-date and need revising. But agency attempts have gone nowhere since a 1992 appeals court decision scuttled a blanket measure on exposure limits for nearly 400 chemicals.

The specifics of OSHA’s request for information (RIN: 1218-AC74) won’t be publicly available until the White House Office of Management and Budget completes its review. Agencies typically issue formal requests for information in the context of setting up future rulemaking, but OSHA may be soliciting views on a range of alternatives.

“I think they’re interested in any and all suggestions,” Scott Schneider, director of occupational safety and health for the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America, told Bloomberg BNA April 15.

OSHA’s Hurdles

The problem of outdated exposure limits seems to need a creative solution, given the legal, political and practical restrictions that OSHA faces.

Working on exposure limits one chemical at a time is nearly impossible given the agency’s limited resources, said Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs at the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Changing the law to update the limits and amend the process to make it easier for OSHA to update the limits moving forward is complicated by the reality of Congress actually drafting, introducing and passing legislation, Trippler said.

“That doesn’t leave too many other options,” so OSHA is putting out a request for information, Trippler told Bloomberg BNA April 15. “By chance there may be something no one has thought of to date.”

Alternatives to Rulemaking?

OSHA has tried non-regulatory efforts to mitigate the potential for worker harm that results from out-of-date exposure limits. In October 2013, the agency launched a pair of online tools to help employers substitute safer chemicals and use more protective exposure limits on a voluntary basis.

Some employers have been using exposure limits that are more protective than OSHA’s as a matter of good practice or by agreement in union contracts, Jim Frederick, United Steelworkers’ assistant director for safety and health, told Bloomberg BNA April 15.

But Frederick said OSHA-enforced limits create a level playing field for employers, since competing businesses all have to make the investments to meet the same limit, and for workers, who would be afforded the same degree of protection no matter where they work.

The Path to the Problem

OSHA has permissible exposure limits for various forms of about 300 chemicals, established in 1971, that are based on science from the 1950s and 1960s. In 1989, the agency issued a rule that revised 212 existing limits and established 164 new ones. But that rule faced a legal challenge from industry, which said the limits were too stringent, and from labor, which said some were too weak.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated those limits in a 1992 decision on the grounds that the agency failed to demonstrate sufficiently that they were necessary or feasible (AFL-CIO v. OSHA, 965 F.2d 962 (11th Cir. 1992)). The agency resumed enforcing the 1971 limits.

In the wake of that decision, OSHA began work on trying to prioritize chemicals for revision, said Charles Gordon, a former Labor Department lawyer who worked on the exposure limit issue for the agency. OSHA started with about 20 chemicals, Gordon told Bloomberg BNA April 16, and finally settled on four. Despite completing risk assessments and feasibility analyses for those chemicals, the agency never issued new limits.

Gordon said OSHA also discussed the possibility of negotiated rulemakings, which would feature advisory committees overseeing updates to chemicals divided by groups, either by health effects or industries affected. But nothing came of those discussions, Gordon said.

Industry has been involved in developing solutions. In 1998, the industry consulting group Organization Resources Counselors Inc. started working with OSHA on a proposal to bring together labor, industry and other interested parties to help guide rulemaking on updating exposure limits.

However, the push to revise the 1971 limits ground to a halt during the Bush administration due to a lack of agency interest, Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of safety and health, told Bloomberg BNA April 15.

Renewed Campaign on Updating Old Limits

OSHA under the Obama administration–and agency head David Michaels–revived the effort, soliciting input in 2010 at a stakeholder meeting and through a Web forum. The agency added the request for information on its fall 2011 regulatory agenda, although it took more than two years to finally develop and send it to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

OSHA published its last request for information about a month after sending it to OMB for review, although that request on potential updates to the process safety management standard is directly connected to the White House’s efforts to improve chemical safety. The issue of permissible exposure limits doesn’t appear similarly linked to any White House initiatives.

Should the agency decide to move forward with rulemaking on updating the exposure limits, it would be a long process that would probably require the commitment of whoever takes over the White House after the 2016 presidential elections. The Government Accountability Office found OSHA rulemaking took an average of more than seven years.

“I don’t see why this would go faster than any other rule,” Sidney Shapiro, a law professor and regulatory specialist at Wake Forest University, told Bloomberg BNA April 15.

Source: Bloomberg BNA®

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Stimson at jstimson@bna.com

OSHA Table Z-1: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/annotated-pels/tablez-1.html

Defining Risk In Process Safety Management

Process safety is intended to prevent unwanted conditions or releases of hazardous chemicals, especially into locations that could expose employees and communities to serious health hazards.
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