|OSHA's industrial hygienists demonstrate their far-reaching work and its direct impact on workers' safety and health
OSHA’s staff members recently impressed attendees at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition in San Diego, Calif., with accounts of their most unusual or significant cases during 2001. The annual presentation, called the Glen Williamson Forum in memory of the highly respected OSHA industrial hygienist who died in 1997, gives OSHA’s industrial hygienists an opportunity to showcase how their efforts are helping to make workplaces safer and more healthful. Here’s a synopsis of this year’s presentations.
Legionnare's Disease at Engine Foundry
Presented by Nancy Newman, OSHA Cleveland Area Office
Two workers from a large automobile engine foundry were hospitalized with symptoms of respiratory distress, abdominal pain, and high fever—later diagnosed as Legionnaires’ disease. The company shut down the plant after a third employee was diagnosed, and ultimately four workers contracted the disease and another seven possible cases were identified. Two of the company’s workers died of Legionnaires’ disease.
Newman described the effort the company and union, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country health department, and OSHA made to identify the source of the outbreak and clean and disinfect the facility’s production and potable water systems. The company, as part of its Legionnaires’ prevention agreement, introduced a comprehensive water quality management program, initiated outreach with the union, and began conducting employee training.
Breathing System Failure
Presented by M. Elena Finizio, OSHA Braintree Area Office
The last phase of a construction project involving a nine-mile tunnel into Boston Harbor required the contractor to remove bulkheads at the bottom of the tunnel diffuser. The contract required the contractor to first remove all ventilation, lighting, and communication equipment. As a result, when the work took place, the tunnel was pitch black, had seawater seeping into it, and had an ambient temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit with an 8 percent oxygen content.
A commercial diving contractor hired to enter the tunnel and remove the bulkheads had designed a breathing system using a combination of diving equipment and respirator components. The primary air source was supplied by blending liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen in an industrial mixer. The mixer fed the air to supplied-air respiratory masks through 70 to 1,570 feet of airline, and each of the five employees using it had a five-minute bottle of auxiliary air. The employees also had self-contained breathing apparatuses rated for four hours. While the work was under way, the breathing system failed and two employees died.
During her presentation, Finizio described the critical flaws in the breathing apparatus: it did not maintain a proper oxygen content in the blended air, warn users immediately when the oxygen content was low, or provide enough air for five people. Finizio explained that the only safe options for removing the many bulkheads would have involved ventilation, and that the general contractor’s decision to use respiratory protection instead had proven to be a tragic mistake.
Presented by Sarah Allmaras, Bismarck Area Office
In three OSHA interventions at an industrial equipment manufacturing company and a lawn chair manufacturing company, Allmaras encountered 1,3, 5-Triglycidyl Isocyanurate, or TGIC, as a component of powered paint coatings. Employees reported symptoms of testicular atrophy, menstrual abnormalities, and possible miscarriages. Allmaras took samples during one intervention that revealed TGIC levels 74 times the consensus standard level established by recognized groups.
During her presentation, Allmaras alerted the audience to the TGIC exposure hazard involved in powered paint coating operations and discussed sampling and control methods. She explained the need for proper respiratory protection for workers applying paint coatings as well as cleaning booths to prevent TGIC absorption through the skin. She also discussed the importance of storing safety equipment in a clean place to prevent contamination, using a vacuum system to collect overspray and clean the work area, and cleaning the booth regularly to reduce exposure intervals and the risks for workers.
Exposures Handling Museum Artifacts
Presented by William Coulehan, Calumet City Area Office
Museum artifacts have historically been treated with a wide range of chemical preservatives and pesticides, including highly toxic substances such as arsenic and mercury. Employees who work with these specimens may receive dangerous exposures through inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption. Barbara Smith from the Calumet City Area Office conducted inspections at two prestigious Chicago museums in response to a complaint and referral. She concluded that many employees were unaware of the potential for exposure to toxic chemicals when handling artifacts, and that the required personal protective equipment assessment and training on these hazards were often inadequate.
During his presentation, Coulehan explained that due to the number and value of museum artifacts and the difficulty in testing for all possible contaminants, a "universal precautions approach" is the best way to protect workers who handle museum pieces. Basically, this means assuming that each artifact is contaminated and using appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and good hygiene practices. In response to the investigations, the Calumet City Area Office recently cosponsored a "Health in the Arts" outreach session to help educate museum, art gallery, and cultural institution employees about hazards associated with their work and ways to protect themselves.
Cadmium Exposure at Repair Facility
Presented by Dionne Williams, OSHA Fort Lauderdale Area Office
While investigating a fatality at an aircraft repair facility, Williams determined that the facility used coatings that contained cadmium to prevent corrosion. Although the coating process was done elsewhere, employees at the facility involved in sandblasting and finishing work were exposed to cadmium. The Material Safety Data Sheet and initial observation did not indicate the potential for overexposure, but Williams took bulk samples that revealed high concentrations of
cadmium. Personal sampling revealed exposures as high as 15.9 times the OSHA permissible exposure limit.
Based on Williams’ intervention, the employer, who had ignored several earlier warnings from a consultant to monitor for cadmium, finally installed a downdraft table for the buffing and polishing operation, as well as a more effective abrasive blasting booth. These actions, combined with improved housekeeping, now protect workers from overexposure to cadmium.
Lead Overexposures at Firing Ranges
Presented by Elizabeth Freeman, Savannah Area Office
Freeman inspected two contracting companies that perform support services at a federal agency’s firing ranges to evaluate their employees’ exposure to lead. In both cases, personal sampling revealed high overexposures to lead, although the employees had limited exposure times.
One contractor was a lawn service that maintained the grounds for the outdoor firing ranges. Freeman told the group that to reduce exposure among these workers, the agency hired a lead abatement company to treat the ranges with a growth inhibitor, which reduced the mowing frequency from weekly to monthly. The ranges were cut only during wet conditions, and the contractor collected clippings in a mower bagging system and decontaminated the riding lawn mower after each use. The other contractor Freeman inspected was a general service company that serviced weapons, provided supplies, and emptied the firing range hoppers containing waste material collected from behind bullet traps at the indoor and open-air ranges. To reduce exposure during the hopper cleanout, the contractor built an enclosure around the hopper, eliminated manual hopper dumping, and introduced a new cleaning procedure. As a result, the lead exposure levels in both contractors’ employees dropped well below
the OSHA action level.
Endotoxins in Processing Water
Presented by Sharon Reyes Ingalls, Appleton Area Office
Despite a long history of employee complaints of respiratory irritation and flu-like symptoms at a potato processing facility, repeated evaluations over a 15-year period had failed to identify the cause. Ultimately, OSHA pinned down the source as aerosolized endotoxins during specific processes and with specific equipment at the facility.
During her presentation, Ingalls discussed how the samples were taken and the strategy she developed for the company to control endotoxin exposure levels. She described reliable sampling methods and recognized physical symptoms and exposure limits that employers can apply in specific job settings. In summary, she explained the value of endotoxin evaluations for cases of air-quality complaints, particularly after chemical sources have been ruled out.
Crystalline Silica Overexposure in Foundry Operations
Presented by Angela Irwin, Kansas City Area Office
Irwin inspected a foundry as part of the national emphasis program on silica and found that employees were overexposed to crystalline silica at levels far exceeding the permissible exposure limit. The employer had previously monitored and found instances of employee overexposure to silica. As a result, the employer had increased natural ventilation, but did no follow-up monitoring to check its effectiveness and did not require the affected employees to wear respiratory protection.
During her presentation, Irwin explained that OSHA enforcement efforts compelled the employer to take positive action. The employer spent time and effort to look at the foundry’s processes, develop a plan to reduce employee exposure, and introduce engineering controls that addressed exhaust systems, air exchange, and isolation. While these controls were being installed, the employer closed the foundry several times to prevent employee exposure and made respirator use mandatory until the controls were in place and monitoring results proved their effectiveness.
Elevated Blood Lead Levels from Maritime Work
Presented by Clifford Jarrett, formerly of the Bellevue Area Office, now with the Harrisburg Area Office
A blood lead monitoring program revealed that a worker for a painting contractor in a U.S. Navy shipyard had elevated blood lead levels, which ultimately led to an OSHA intervention. The contractor’s employees were involved in abrasive blasting and painting a large hammerhead crane. OSHA found many deficiencies involving lead exposure control. In an attempt to speed up the project, employees had devised a system of heating contaminated spent grit with a torch to dry it out. Work rules to control lead exposures were not enforced. Respirator selection was not based on the lead hazard. The "clean" room and lunch room were contaminated. Biological monitoring was not performed according to OSHA’s lead standard, and employees were not notified of the results in writing. In addition, required elements of the training program and the exposure monitoring records were missing.
Jarrett discussed corrections made by the contractor that reduced or eliminated lead hazards and the medical monitoring of previously exposed employees. He focused on the success of partnerships between OSHA, the National Institute for Occupa-tional Safety and Health, the state of Washington, and the medical community to use their respective resources to protect the workers. In addition, Jarrett discussed the employer’s later harassment of the employee who initially reported a high blood lead level and OSHA’s actions that resulted in the employee winning a judgment for back pay and compensatory damages. However, the contractor declared bankruptcy before the employee collected those funds.
Dust Explosion in Foundry
Presented by Kipp Hartmann, Providence Area Office
An explosion and fire in a gray iron foundry lifted the roof of the building and blew out the walls in it and two adjoining buildings. Twelve employees received burns over 40 to 100 percent of their bodies, and three employees died from their injuries.
In his presentation, Hartmann described the OSHA response and demonstrated the principle that accidents usually result from not one cause, but a sequence of events. Among the contributing factors, he explained, were the explosiveness of the dust, the levels of dust in the facility, and malfunctions in the foundry equipment. Hartmann also discussed how OSHA undertakes a root-cause investigation. JSHQ