International Labour Organization | 4 February 2016

Occupational Safety and Health in Polar Climates

Representatives of workers, employers, and governments met at the International Labour Organization to discuss occupational safety and health (OSH) challenges unique to the work environment (such as those caused by low temperatures); health protection and access to medical care in remote and isolated areas; working time arrangements; OSH training to promote a preventative safety and health culture; and recruitment, retention and career development schemes.


Clyde & Co. Via Mondaq | 19 January 2016

Silicosis: On The Rise?

While silica is a naturally occurring substance found in most rocks, clay, and sand, when it is processed in any way, whether through mining, cutting, crushing, or grinding, silica dust is generated. If inhaled, it can cause significant chest conditions including lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including bronchitis and emphysema), and chest infections of varying severity. Indeed, the UK National Health Service describes silicosis as “a long-term incurable lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of silica dust” and notes that silicosis in itself can cause heart failure, arthritis, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

The dangers of exposure to respirable crystalline silica and the attributable injuries are well known. Silicosis is a Prescribed Disease (D1), the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations specify a limit for daily exposure, and there are recognized latency periods depending upon the nature and extent of the exposure. While the latency period for chronic silicosis can be 10–20 years, very heavy exposure could result in acute silicosis, significantly reducing the latency period, causing a much earlier onset of symptoms (possibly within a few months) and a more serious condition. The World Health Organization recommends lifelong surveillance for workers exposed to crystalline silica.

Rigzone | 6 January 2016

Fitness Tracking Devices Not Fit for Monitoring Oil, Gas Worker Health, Safety

A surge in wearable fitness devices such as Fitbit has been seen in recent years as people sought motivation to exercise and monitor their health by tracking factors such as heart rate, number of steps taken, and quality of sleep.

Wearable health tracker devices are usually the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT) arises. Dave McCarthy, product director with BSquare Corporation, said he sees limited usage for Fitbits in oil and gas environments. Fitbits and consumer-oriented wearables are not usually built to withstand the rugged environments—with high temperatures and high soot—in which the oil and gas industry operates, McCarthy said. In his discussions regarding health tracking devices in the medical industry, McCarthy found that readings obtained from consumer-grade health tracker devices are all over the place.

“They’re good for determining trends, but not reliable for accurate readings,” McCarthy said.

Instead, he is seeing more companies focused on industrial wearables. These devices are not specifically focused on health tracking but are vertically focused for the types of industries in which they’re used. McCarthy is seeing other use cases such as devices that can track where coworkers are in a refinery, giving them alerts if they’re in a safety zone with certain restrictions. These devices are also allowing for more value-added cases, such as giving information to a worker about the equipment operating in their field of vision.

OSHA | 19 November 2015

OSHA Seeks Public Comment as it Updates Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking public comment on an updated version of its voluntary Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines. First published in 1989, the guidelines are being updated to reflect modern technology and practices.

These guidelines are intended to help employers establish health and safety management plans at their workplaces. Key principles include finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness and making sure that workers have a voice in safety and health.

The updated guidelines should be particularly helpful to small- and medium-sized businesses. They also address ways in which multiple employers at the same worksite can coordinate efforts to make sure all workers are protected.

“The goal of safety and health management is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “Employers who embrace these guidelines will experience lower injury and illness rates, and their progress in improving the safety culture at their worksites will contribute to higher productivity, reduced costs and greater worker satisfaction.”

Read the full story here.

Workplace HR & Safety | 12 November 2015

What’s Really Damaging Your Workers’ Hearing?

Approximately 30 million people in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise at their workplace each year, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) website on occupational noise exposure, making noise-related hearing loss one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for the last 25 years.

Because hearing loss is a significant workplace problem, numerous standards are in place to offer protection to workers across a variety of industries. “ OSHA’s noise standard has two main points,” explained Mark Lies, a partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw. “At a certain level of noise—85 decibels—you have to have everybody get hearing protection and you have to check their hearing every year to make sure their hearing is not degrading because of the noise of the workplace.”

Despite the standards in place, in 2012, hearing loss accounted for more than 21,000 cases of reportable workplace injuries, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—virtually unchanged from the previous 3 years. So why are hearing loss incident rates holding steady? Perhaps it is because workers, and safety professionals, are still becoming aware of new and surprising ways in which the sensitive ear is being abused.

US Department of Labor | 6 October 2015

Labor Department Releases Results From Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

Preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries show the rate of fatal work injuries in 2014 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time workers, the same as the final rate for 2013. While the preliminary total of 4,679 fatal work injuries was an increase of 2% over the revised count of 4,585 in 2013, there was also an increase in hours worked in 2014.

US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said, “Far too many people are still killed on the job—13 workers every day taken from their families tragically and unnecessarily. These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires.

“Preliminary results tell us 789 Hispanic workers died on the job in 2014, compared with 817 in 2013. While we were gratified by that drop, the number is still unacceptably high, and it is clear that there is still much more hard work to do.

“BLS data shows fatalities rising in the construction sector (along with an overall increase in construction employment). Dangerous workplaces also are taking the lives of a growing number of people in oil and gas extraction. That is why OSHA continues extensive outreach and strong enforcement campaigns in these industries. The US Department of Labor will continue to work with employers, workers, community organizations, unions, and others to make sure that all workers can return home safely at the end of every day.”

OSHA | 17 September 2015

Nearly One-Fifth of Chronic Lung Disease in Construction Workers Linked to Asbestos, Silica, and Other Job Exposures

A recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training and Duke University found that 18% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among construction workers is caused by on-the-job exposure to vapors, gases, dusts, and fumes such as asbestos, silica dusts, and welding fumes.

The disease progressively diminishes a person’s ability to breathe and is characterized by mucous-producing cough, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It afflicts more than 13 million people in the US, and construction workers are at an increased risk.

Researchers compared the work history, smoking habits, and medical screening results of roughly 2,000 older construction workers with and without COPD between 1997 and 2013. Their findings indicate that, while smoking remains the main cause of COPD, workplace exposure to these hazards pose a more significant risk than previously thought and employers should take appropriate actions to protect workers.

Occupational Health & Safety | 14 September 2015

Wellness and Safety Programs Expand To Embrace Employee Wellbeing

There is emerging evidence that many work-related factors and health factors outside the workplace greatly influence the safety and health problems confronting today’s workers. Traditionally, workplace safety and health programs have been divided not only by program objectives, managing departments, but also budgets. Safety programs have focused on reducing worker exposure to risk factors in the work environment itself. And most workplace wellness programs have focused on reducing or managing off-the-job lifestyle choices that place workers higher in risk categories.

A growing number of research and surveys support the effectiveness of incorporating these efforts into a more holistic approach that addresses an employee’s overall wellbeing. Employee health status directly influences employee work behavior, attendance, and on-the-job performance. Therefore, developing healthier employees will result in a more productive workforce.

Comprehensive employee wellbeing programs are not limited to managing safety and health risk factors but also promoting the emotional, social, and financial wellbeing of the employee.

Occupational Health & Safety | 14 September 2015

Convenience of Tablets Brings Ergonomic Concerns

As the methods of communication have evolved, humans have always struggled to stay upright. From the beginning, putting a pen to paper on a typical desktop involved hunching forward and dropping the head to view the writing area.

The desktop PC with its adjustable monitor was a huge advancement toward better posture because it allowed the user to sit upright in the chair with his or her back supported, looking straight ahead at the monitor screen. Whether the user had one or two monitors, the “adjustable height” monitor created a more ergonomic workstation.

The laptop followed the desktop PC and started the “Ergo De-evolution.” Once again, our posture began to fall forward, and discomfort reared its ugly head. If you placed the laptop on a table, the keyboard is at the correct height but the monitor is too low. If the monitor portion is raised to the correct height to accommodate vision and keep you upright, the keyboard is now awkward.

Enter the tablet/eReader. Pew Research shows that this device has already been adopted by 50% of the population, and it was only released in 2010. The tablet is used for a variety of activities but in different locations and with different postures than traditional PCs, which quickly gives rise to neck and wrist discomfort, as well as muscle fatigue.

Nature | 11 September 2015

Very Low Embryonic Crude Oil Exposures Cause Lasting Cardiac Defects in Salmon and Herring

The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster exposed embryos of pink salmon and Pacific herring to crude oil in shoreline spawning habitats throughout Prince William Sound, Alaska. The herring fishery collapsed 4 years later. The role of the spill, if any, in this decline remains one of the more controversial unanswered questions in modern natural resource injury assessment.

Crude oil disrupts excitation/contraction coupling in fish heart muscle cells, and this report shows that salmon and herring exposed as embryos to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function, the latter a key determinant of individual survival and population recruitment.

Oil exposure during cardiogenesis led to specific defects in the outflow tract and compact myocardium, and a hypertrophic response in spongy myocardium, evident in juveniles 7 to 9 months after exposure. The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated. Moreover, an irreversible loss of cardiac fitness and consequent increases in delayed mortality in oil-exposed cohorts may have been important contributors to the delayed decline of pink salmon and herring stocks in Prince William Sound.

HARC | 3 September 2015

Galveston Bay Foundation Discusses Vibrio Illness, a Summer Occurrence in Texas Bays

The Galveston Bay Foundation receives tweets, Facebook posts, and phone calls from time-to-time about news stories of wade fishermen or others who recreate in bay waters becoming victim to “flesh-eating” bacteria. The stories are horrific in recounting the tissue loss or death suffered by those who are stricken.

The bacteria responsible, Vibrio vulnificus, is naturally present in ocean or bay waters throughout the year. However, infections caused by this bacteria are seasonal, typically occurring from May through October when coastal waters are warmed by the summer sun. Vibrio vulnificus infection can result when the bacteria enter the human body through an open wound or through consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the number of illnesses annually reported in Texas over the last 10 years is low (15 to 30 cases per year). Based on the relatively small number of reported illnesses, it would appear that the vast majority of people do not suffer ill health effects from coming in contact with the bacteria. Those who do become infected by Vibrio vulnificus often have pre-existing health issues, such as a compromised immune system, that make them susceptible to infection.