Safety November 2021

Glassworkers at Risk for Silicosis: Audit by Inspector General Finds More are Exposed

More workers are being exposed to respirable silica than you may think. That’s what the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) found after auditing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records. Not only is silica a key ingredient in glass manufacturing, but OSHA officials say the most severe exposures to crystalline silica result from abrasive blasting, which is used for etching or frosting glass.

The OIG report found that OSHA has reduced its enforcement efforts by not fully invoking, via inspection activity, its Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica rule, which calls for greater protections to minimize workers’ exposures to hazardous conditions. Additionally, the report states “inspection data provided by OSHA was inconsistent with data extracted from OSHA’s publicly available database.” The agency also failed to set clear goals and processes for evaluating whether outreach efforts sufficiently reached covered industries and 2.3 million workers at risk for silica exposure, OIG declares.

An audit reviewed silica inspection and violation data from October 1, 1999, through February 20, 2020, with some inspection data coming directly from OSHA and its public database. OIG also conducted interviews with OSHA officials from the national office and state offices in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Evidence from inspector training for the new standards and documentation for OSHA’s outreach and guidance program were also reviewed.

The inspection and violation data that OSHA provided to OIG was inconsistent with the inspection data from OSHA’s publicly available data catalog, the report states. Therefore, the OIG was unable to validate the reliability of inspection data reported publicly by OSHA.

When asked about the issue, OSHA responded, “Every time we do a data pull, we get different results, not because the underlying data changes, but because, whenever we build a custom data pull, we invariably design the program to extract the data in different ways. This discrimination on the part of the programmer to extract the data in some kind of readable format invariably causes differences in the readability of the information, but the overall numbers remain the same and the ‘data’ remains the same because [we are] always pulling from the same source.”

The OIG report suggests that OSHA implement a policy for future emphasis programs that minimizes the lapse in enforcement between canceled, revised or new programs; and provide the OIG with “read-only” access to the OSHA Information System to facilitate data requests on future audits, among other suggestions.

OSHA to Develop Heat Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is initiating an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards and launched a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard. The agency is also forming an advisory committee on Occupational Safety and Health Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group, which it says will provide better understanding of challenges and identify and share best practices to protect workers.

OSHA area directors will institute priority inspections heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses; instruct compliance safety and health officers to conduct interventions or open inspections when work in hot conditions is observed; and expand the scope of other inspections to address heat-related hazards.

OSHA is working to create a federal heat standard and will issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings.

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