Countertops Putting Lives at Risk
Some of the more popular countertops are putting workers at risk, say government scientists. Engineered-countertop workers in Israel and Spain have developed silicosis, and researchers in the U.S. fear it may just be a matter of time before there are cases here.
The quartz surfacing product is made by combining quartz aggregate with resins to create a product for home building and improvement. The products come under various names, including CaesarStone, Silestone, Zodiaq, and Cambria.
The products were first introduced in the 1980s in Israel and Spain and have now grown worldwide. Workers who make and install the products are at risk for overexposure to silica released during sizing, cutting, grinding and polishing, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Prolonged exposure to silica has been linked to silicosis, or scarring of the lungs, as well as chronic obstructive lung disease, lung cancer, kidney and connective disease, and tuberculosis, the researchers say. It typically takes at least 10 years of exposure to develop chronic silicosis, and people may have no symptoms for a while.
Silicosis cases have been reported among 25 engineered-stone countertop workers in Israel and 46 workers in Spain. The patients were between 29 and 37 years old and had worked in the industry between nine and 17 years.
“While no reported cases of silicosis in the U.S. have been linked to quartz surfacing materials, recent research indicates that exposures to silica-containing dust while working with these materials may approach or exceed the OSHA current Permissible Exposure Limit,” NIOSH said. “Multiple inspections by OSHA have documented overexposures to silica at stone fabrication shops working with a combination of natural stone and quartz surfacing materials. These overexposures would indicate U.S. workers in this industry are at risk of developing silicosis as well as the other multiple health conditions associated with silica exposure.”
Keeping dust out of the air is the key to protecting workers. NIOSH offers the following suggestions:
Whenever possible, cutting, grinding, and shaping should be done wet.
Ventilation and filtration systems should be used to collect silica-containing dust at its source.
If these engineering controls fail to eliminate the risk, then use of at least a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator is recommended.
Meanwhile, NIOSH is also seeking assistance for its research. Employers with state-of-the-art engineered stone countertop manufacturing facilities that are willing to work with NIOSH are urged to contact the agency.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh.
DOT Focused on Fatigue
Impaired driving, including fatigue, was a factor in more than 12 percent of the accidents involving large trucks or buses in 2012. The U.S. Department of Transportation is hoping a requirement to use electronic logbook devices among interstate commercial truck and bus companies might prevent some fatigue-related accidents. The rule is aimed at improving compliance with mandates that govern the number of hours a driver can work.
“The proposed rule will ultimately reduce hours-of-service violations by making it more difficult for drivers to misrepresent their time on logbooks and avoid detection by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and law enforcement personnel,” according to a government statement. “Analysis shows it will also help reduce crashes by fatigued drivers and prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year for an annual safety benefit of $394.8 million.”
Officials say the rule would also “significantly reduce the paperwork burden associated with hours-of-service recordkeeping” for the drivers. Cutting the unnecessary paperwork is “exactly the type of government streamlining President Obama called for in his State of the Union address,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The increased efficiency for law enforcement personnel and inspectors who review driver logbooks would make it more difficult for drivers to cheat “when submitting their records of duty status and ensuring the electronic logs can be displayed and reviewed electronically, or printed, with potential violations flagged,” the statement said.
The electronic logbook device records would continue to reside with the motor carriers and drivers and would only be made available to officials during roadside inspections, compliance reviews and post-accident investigations. Drivers would be protected from harassment through a prohibition on harassment by a motor carrier owner toward a driver using the information. A motor carrier could be subject to civil penalties up to $11,000 for engaging in harassment of a driver that leads to an hours-of-service violation or the driver operating a vehicle when they are “so fatigued or ill it compromises safety,” the statement explained. “The proposal will also ensure that drivers continue to have access to their own records and require ELDs to include a mute function to protect against disruptions during sleeper berth periods.”
Safety Group Opposes e-Reporting Rule
A proposal to require companies to electronically report their injury and illness records may do more harm than good. The American Society of Safety Engineers said it’s not clear how the proposed rule would enhance workplace safety, and it may have unintended consequences.
ASSE submitted a letter to OSHA on its proposed rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. It includes the following requirements:
Establishments with 250 or more employees would need to electronically submit their injury and illness records to OSHA on a quarterly basis and summary data annually.
Establishments with 20 or more employees would electronically submit the annual summary form.
Upon notification, employers would be required to electronically submit to OSHA specified information from the records they keep, or would keep, under Part 1904.
“ASSE does not believe that OSHA has explained adequately how the collection of the information will actually improve workplace safety or how OSHA will manage the information that it would collect,” the safety organization wrote. “ASSE also believes that publication of the information will make more difficult the efforts of safety professionals to focus companies on prevention of hazards rather than just reporting of injuries. For these reasons, ASSE requests that OSHA withdraw the proposed rule until the agency can develop clearer objectives and a stronger rationale for this initiative.”
OSHA announced the proposed rule in November and allowed a 90-day comment period, and subsequently extended the comment period to mid-March. The agency said the plan does not add new requirements to keep records, it merely modifies an employer’s obligation to transmit them to OSHA.
Among ASSE’s concerns is what it says are “inconsistent explanations” about the impact of the rule.
“For example, OSHA has tried to minimize the impact of the rule by saying that it is the same information collection and publishing as has been done for the past several years under the OSHA Data Initiative except that it would cover more establishments,” the letter states. “However, as OSHA acknowledged at the public meeting in January, it is not just the number of establishments that would be increased, but also additional detailed information that is collected and would be published on each individual establishment. OSHA’s failure to acknowledge the differences between the ODI and the collection of information under the proposed rule does not give assurance that the impacts of the proposed rule have been thoroughly considered.”
ASSE also says OSHA has not explained how the changes will improve workplace safety despite additional costs to employers and the agency. “Does OSHA need this information to target inspections better than it now does?” the letter asks. “For what other surveillance and data collection uses, in addition to targeting enforcement, does OSHA need such data from so many employers? How does OSHA foresee using it to identify locations and hazards needing ‘intervention’?”
Rather than encouraging employers to enhance safety, ASSE says it might have the opposite effect. As the letter explains, companies committed to safety already understand how to avoid public scrutiny by having in place effective systems to protect workers.
“For companies whose commitment to safety needs improvement, most safety and health professionals do not see this approach as an effective way to motivate them,” ASSE says. “Instead, from our members’ front line experience dealing with such companies, this effort has the very real potential of creating a powerful incentive to hide problems, thus making safety and health professionals’ work in convincing, selling, and motivating such employers more difficult.”
Finally, the safety group says the rule would make employers take more of a number-centered approach to safety and health.
“Public release of numbers and rates of injuries by establishment will cause many employers to use their resources to address ‘trailing,’ not ‘leading’ indicators,” the letter says. “As OSHA itself knows, ‘trailing’ indicators focus an organization on safety after the fact of an injury or fatality. ‘Leading’ indicators better focus an organization on the best practices that prevent injuries and fatalities. ASSE is concerned that this proposal, and the additional attention that a national database of injury rates and numbers will attract, works against the professions’ years of effort in moving workplace safety towards ‘leading’ indicators. While safety and health professionals will continue their effort no matter where OSHA asks companies to focus, this proposal only hinders their efforts.”