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.
The Value Of Good Indoor Air Quality
The term Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the “air quality within and around the building structure as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants” and may include the work environment, home or other indoor locations.
Most everyone has experienced poor indoor air quality at one time or another. It is often linked to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, asthma, sinus infections, allergic reactions and respiratory tract irritation, among others. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans spend 90% of their day indoors. If you live, work or visit places that have poor air quality, it is likely that you will be affected.
The goal of many safety professionals is to reduce risks in order to prevent injuries. So why is the “Zero Injury” metric a goal that seems attainable by some organizations and impossible to others?
How often do we see a “mature” safety program – one that is compliant with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, consensus and industry standards – reach the point of diminishing returns with the typical incentives and milestone celebrations? It’s easy to blame that on the organization’s “safety culture” – that nebulous, non-measurable metric that is a critical part of every program.
Update on ANSI/ASSE Standards
Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in construction, accounting for about one-third of all fatalities in that industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 291 fatal falls to a lower level in construction in 2013, out of 828 total fatalities. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the standards for fall protection “deal with both the human and equipment-related issues in protecting workers from fall hazards”.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides an update on infections associated with potable (drinking) water in the United States. During 2011-2012, a total of 32 outbreaks were reported causing at least 431 infections and 14 deaths. Two-thirds of these outbreaks were caused by Legionella. Additionally, CDC reported that non-potable water from cooling towers, showerheads and fountains was responsible for an even larger number of cases, of which nearly all were caused by Legionella.
More recently, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York City resulted in twelve deaths and more than two hundred illnesses. The outbreak has been tentatively linked to a cooling tower on the roof of a new boutique hotel. This resulted in an administrative order to test and clean all cooling towers in New York City. Additionally, this summer, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) released a new standard, 188(2015), designed to prevent Legionellosis associated with building water systems.
Assessing the Risk
Dust inhalation as a health issue has received increasing scrutiny at construction and environmental remediation sites. Historically, the focus has been on inhalation of respirable particulates by workers, especially since instrumentation is readily available to provide real-time worksite data for particulates in air. However, the focus is now broadening to include health risks associated with contaminants contained in the airborne dust, and on more sensitive nearby receptors such as residences where dust may travel and settle. Dust-related risks thus vary as a function of two variables: dust concentration and contaminant concentrations in the dust.