Summer 2012 OSHA & EPA Round Up

It has been a relatively quiet summer for OSHA and the EPA. However, looking at news releases for the months of June, July and August, we can see a handful of items worth our attention.OSHA News

Whistleblowing Enforcement On the Rise

The first is OSHA’s increase in the number of Whistlblower cases it is talking about. As you’ll recall, Whistleblowing was one of OSHA’s top priorities for 2012, with the cases coming under the direct supervision of OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels. A quick check of this summer vs. last summer shows at least a two fold increase in the number cases OSHA is reporting on publicly.

As might be expected the fines associated with the events are substantial, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars up to over $340,000 in one case. Here are a few of the cases OSHA has tackled this summer:

Proactive Identification of Hazards

Another trend is language used in news releases that point to OSHA’s continuing emphasis on proactive hazard identification. For instance, after one inspection that turned up a laundry list of violations, OSHA area Director Ramona Morris said, "Employers cannot wait for an OSHA inspection to identify the hazards that expose their employees to serious injury."

Those following OSHA closely will remember that the agency has touted I2P2, short for Injury and Illness Prevention Program, as a top priority, even though it has received considerable push back on the initiative. The most recent pushback was in the form of a House Bill that recently passed along partisan lines forbidding OSHA and other agencies like the EPA from pursuing new regulation (specifically like I2P2) until the unemployment rate dropped to 6%.

We strongly recommend safety professionals not get caught up in the cat and mouse game between OSHA and Congress. When it comes to compliance, OSHA has sent strong signals on how it feels about proactive hazard identification and abatement. Regardless of an I2P2 standard, you can be certain OSHA is paying attention to the good faith efforts companies make to reduce hazards in the workplace.

Mercury Safety Procedures

Another notable news release from OSHA this summer was on safety procedures for handling mercury in the workplace. More companies are moving toward sustainable practices that include incorporating more energy efficient fluorescent lighting into the workplace. As that happens, those same companies will need to revisit safe practices around safe disposal and recycling of fluorescent bulbs. As OSHA points out, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury in both a liquid and vapor form that can lead to harmful exposures for employees handling these lights, particularly in the process of destroying them.

To help educate employers, OSHA has provided resources on the safe handling and disposal of fluorescents, including:

On the Quick Card, OSHA’s outlines the following steps for the safe clean-up of broken bulbs:

  • Notify workers and tell them to stay away from the area.
  • Open any windows and doors to air out the room.
  • Do not use a broom or vacuum cleaner unless the vacuum cleaner is specifically designed to collect mercury.
  • Wear appropriate disposable chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Use a commercial mercury spill kit if available, or scoop up pieces of glass and powder with stiff paper or cardboard to avoid contact with the broken glass.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining pieces of glass.
  • Wipe down hard floors with a damp paper towel.
  • Place all pieces of glass and cleanup materials in a sealable plastic bag or a glass jar with a lid.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleanup.

EPA News

Flame Retardant Substitute

In late July, the EPA announced that it had, in a draft report, identified substitutes for the toxic flame retardant chemical decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE). The draft report is the result of the EPA’s Design for the Environment DfE program. It is also part of a larger effort to address polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). The EPA is working with larger commercial producers and suppliers of decaBDE in the US to “phase out use of the chemicals by 2013.”

According the EPA Web page on the partnership, “This concern extends to decaBDE, which breaks down into other PBDE congeners. Various PBDEs have been studied for ecotoxicity in mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates. In some cases, current levels of PBDE exposure for wildlife may be at or near adverse effect levels. Human exposure to decaBDE can occur through occupations that manufacture flame retardants or products that contain flame retardants, as well as in recycling operations. Consumer exposure to decaBDE is possible because decaBDE can be released from products in the home and become a component in household dust.”

Alternatives for Bispohenol A (BPA)

Along similar lines, the EPA issued a draft of alternatives to BPA in thermal paper. According to the EPA, thermal paper is used for ubiquitous items like airline tickets and cinema tickets, and other receipts. As such, “Workers in certain occupations, such as cashiers and restaurant servers who handle thermal paper often, may be at greater risk of exposure.” Furthermore, according to the EPA, these then often end up in recycled papers and landfills.

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