Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures, materials and devices. Many, if not most, consumer products utilize nanotechnology. Clothing, sporting goods, skin care, sunscreen, lithium ion batteries, paints and flame retardants all utilize nanomaterials. The continually increasing use of these nanomaterials in the global economy brings continuing challenges to understand, predict and manage potential safety and health risks.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is one of the most widespread and recognized occupational hazards. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) estimates 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to occupational environments with dangerous noise levels annually. NIHL accounts for one in nine occupational illnesses according to the Bureau of Labor and Industry. While employers may meet the requirements of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Standard 29 CFR 1910.95 to establish a Hearing Conservation Plan (HCP) for workplaces with noise exceeding 85 dBA (decibels, A-weighted), many employers have not performed adequate noise exposure assessments. This can result in employees working in environments above 85 dBA without proper hearing protection – potentially leading to citations, recordable illnesses, increased insurance premiums, and workers’ compensation claims.
Evaluating NIHL Claims
The evaluation of hearing loss claims is complicated, as the cause may not be solely occupational. The OSHA occupational injury and illness recording and reporting requirements final rule states that although work-relatedness is not presumed, the determination of work-relatedness is made on a case-by-case basis. And, according to workers’ compensation law, the employer is responsible for providing evidence that an individual was not exposed to sufficient noise levels in the workplace to cause illness. Preparation and retention of thorough and complete noise surveys and individual noise exposure assessments are the primary means to evaluate the work-relatedness of NIHL claims. However, it is not uncommon that an adequate noise exposure assessment is not performed until there is a problem.
What’s new with respect to safety trends and insurance in the construction industry? From the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) citation perspective, not much has changed. According to the latest (2015) statistics, OSHA’s “Top 10” most frequently cited standards have not changed much over the past decade and most of these citations continue to be related to construction activities. Unfortunately, the construction industry also still remains one of the leaders in both serious and fatal accidents at work.
The Construction “Fatal Four”
Out of 4,379 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2015, 937 or 21.4% were in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that these “Fatal Four” were responsible for 64.2% of construction worker deaths in 2015. So, eliminating the Fatal Four would save some 600 worker lives in America every year.
Beryllium is a unique metal. One of the lightest elements on the periodic table, beryllium improves many physical properties when it is added in small amounts to alloys of copper, aluminum or nickel. Beryllium imparts high rigidity, thermal stability and thermal conductivity – making it ideal for uses where weight is critical. A beryllium-copper alloy is very hard and lightweight and does not create sparks when it strikes a steel surface. In fact, adding just 2% beryllium to a copper alloy increases its strength six-fold. As a result, it has found multiple uses in the defense and aerospace industries for applications such as missiles, spacecraft and satellites. More recently, beryllium has been used in electronic switches and components and even sporting goods, such as high-end golf clubs and bicycles, where power to weight is an advantage. Sound too good to be true?
Gypsum concrete floor underlayment (i.e., Gyp-Crete®, FIRM-FILL® Gypsum Concrete, etc.) is used extensively in the construction of multi-family apartments and condominium buildings – with a reported installation exceeding four billion square feet. It is lighter than traditional concrete, which reduces the structural requirements, yet meets the noise control and fire building codes of many municipalities. Gypsum concrete is mixed on-site and pumped onto a structurally sound, broom-clean subfloor. It self-levels and fills the space where the drywall meets the floor, completely sealing room perimeters and protecting the base plates from the spread of fire. Gypsum concrete also reduces horizontal and vertical sound transmission. It sets up quickly and can be walked on after 90 minutes – allowing other light sub-trades to begin work the next day. Gypsum concrete is considered a “green” building material, and also meets the stringent volatile organic compound (VOC) requirements of GREENGUARD Gold Certification.
Overall, gypsum concrete provides a cost-effective means of providing fire and sound barriers, without impacting the project schedule. While it often appears to be the right product for the job, there have been numerous construction defect and product liability claims and losses related to its use. Water damage and mold have been reported on several construction projects using gypsum concrete – resulting in multi-million dollar losses and schedule delays.
Risk management seeks to compare the projected costs of a loss and its probability to the costs of preventing or mitigating the loss. Some sources of potential loss are reasonably foreseeable and the costs associated with repair or recovering from the loss are generally understood and predictable. In those cases, calculating potential risk is less complicated. Then there are the situations that don’t conform to reasonable expectations. These can be events in which catastrophic consequences result from seemingly minor causes or events where the unfortunate proximity of receptors to incident creates excessive damages. Recent well-publicized examples include the train derailment and fire that devastated the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada and the rupture and explosion of a natural gas pipeline beneath a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, California.
Taking Action To Make Workplace Air Healthier
In the March 2016 issue of HETI Horizons, we talked about “The Value of Healthy Indoor Air” and addressed the cost and risks of poor indoor air quality (IAQ). As a continuation, this edition discusses ways to improve the indoor environment, increase productivity, and enhance employee satisfaction about the environment in which they work.
Businesses are starting to have an appreciation for the impact and value of maintaining a healthy indoor environment. There is a growing body of evidence to support findings that air in offices may have higher levels of pollutants than outdoor air. While there is no environment – either indoor or outdoor – that is totally free of chemicals (many of which occur naturally in the environment), there are many steps that building managers and businesses can take to improve overall air quality.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a Final Rule to reduce lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in America’s workers – by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The rule is comprised of two standards: one for Construction, the other for General Industry and Maritime.
Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in materials that we see every day in roads, buildings, and sidewalks. It is a common component of sand, stone, rock, concrete, brick, block and mortar.
Exposure to crystalline silica is associated with a lung disease called silicosis. Over time, exposure to silica particles may cause scarring and inflammation of the linings of the inner portions of the lungs, reducing the ability to breathe. A person with acute silicosis will experience coughing, weight loss, fatigue, and chest pain and is also at a higher risk of other lung diseases such as tuberculosis, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Chronic silicosis may not be diagnosed until many years after exposure – as the silica dust causes swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes, making breathing difficult.
In 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act, more commonly known as TSCA. The law was passed with the goal of keeping dangerous chemicals off the market and protecting the public from substances that could cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive hazards. While the law directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop procedures for evaluating new chemicals, existing chemicals were grandfathered without review.
In the last year, the health hazards associated with the off-gassing of unsafe levels of formaldehyde from laminate flooring products made in China have made headlines. Formaldehyde is a common component of the glue used to bind many wood composites. Manufacturers in countries without stringent health and safety standards produced products with elevated formaldehyde levels to reduce costs, while also making false claims that the products were compliant with California standards (the only state with formaldehyde emissions standards). The resulting scare has left industry and regulators trying to catch up to guarantee product safety and to establish a national standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.