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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has released a report that examines oven, furnace, and dryer explosions in recent years. NFPA 86, Standard for Ovens and Furnaces, provides standardized methods to minimize fire and explosion hazards of ovens and furnaces used for commercial and industrial processing of materials, and it includes requirements for proper explosion ventilation methods for new ovens and furnaces.

In an effort to review the NFPA 86 explosion ventilation requirements for the next revision cycle, the Technical Committee on Ovens and Furnaces sought information on real-world incidents where NFPA 86 ventilation requirements would be involved and gathered information about explosion incidents in which an oven, furnace, or dryer was involved. Survey respondents listed human error as the cause of the explosion more than any other cause. Failure of a safeguard, a safeguard not installed, unforeseen hazard, poor process design, and all of the above were other causes listed.

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Tagged in: NFPA

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition among the general adult population in the United States, affecting more people than diabetes or cancer. And occupational hearing loss, caused mainly by exposure to noise, is the most common work-related illness in the nation. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 22 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous occupational noise. The good news is that occupational hearing loss can be prevented with hearing loss prevention strategies and technology.

We might expect workers in some types of industry to be at a higher risk than others for developing hearing loss. That is exactly what the recently published CDC Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project found. The study, the first to estimate the prevalence of hearing loss by industry sector, focused on noise-exposed workers in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012.

To do so, researchers compared the prevalence of hearing loss within nine U.S. industry sectors from more than 1.4 million worker audiograms. The audiograms came from workers who were exposed to high noise levels, defined as greater than 85 decibels on the A-scale.

The study found a prevalence of 13 percent hearing loss (from mild to complete) among the study population. In terms of the industry sectors studied, mining (17 percent), construction (16 percent), and manufacturing (14 percent) industries showed the highest prevalence of workers with any hearing impairment or moderate to severe hearing impairment. Within manufacturing sub-sectors that include wood product, apparel and machinery manufacturing, workers have occupational hearing loss risks as high as those in mining and construction. In comparison, the public safety sector, which includes police officers and firefighters, showed the lowest prevalence of workers with any hearing loss (7 percent).

Some of the results of the study supported commonplace assumptions about hearing loss in general: The severity of the loss increased with age and a greater percentage of males showed hearing impairment (14 percent) compared to females (7 percent). Another finding was that 2.5 healthy years were lost each year for every 1,000 noise-exposed U.S. workers due to hearing impairment (hearing loss that impacts day-to-day activities).

Another finding was that although occupational hearing loss has been well-established in the construction industry, present noise regulations do not require audiometric testing for construction workers. Without such testing, intervention could be delayed or simply might not happen.

In their conclusion, the authors wrote that early detection of hearing loss by yearly audiometric testing and intervention to prevent further loss – such as training – is critical. The study results support beginning rehabilitation for those at a mild level of hearing impairment to help employees’ quality of life.

According to OSHA, a personal exposure level exceeding 85 dBA requires enrollment of the exposed worker in a hearing conservation program. Companies have the responsibility to assess noise levels and determine whether adequate protections exist to maintain workers' health. Industrial hygienists are challenged to protect employees from noise exposure in all types of work environments, including variable conditions and newly commissioned facilities. In work environments that cannot be remediated to reduce levels below the OSHA action level, personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to protect employees.

Tagged in: hearing loss OSHA

OSHA encourages pre-rescue planning, communication, and effective coordination among employers and emergency service providers. In support of that goal, the agency recently published a fact sheet for employers on summoning rescue or emergency services in permit-required confined spaces. The Confined Spaces in Construction standard requires employers to develop and implement procedures for summoning rescuers for emergency situations.

The fact sheet contains information for employers on choosing off-site emergency responders by finding a service that has the required equipment, is able to respond quickly, and is capable of handling potential hazards. In addition, the emergency responders chosen must be provided with access to all permit-required confined spaces such as a project site plan, GPS coordinates, and access routes, gates, or landmarks. The document includes information such as checklist questions for emergency service providers to help with preparation.

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Tagged in: OSHA

A key aspect of employee safety involves training on how to limit heat exposure and how to identify signs of heat-related illness. We tend to think of heat-related illnesses as occurring most often in outdoor environments during the summer months, and with good reason. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, 4,420 workers were affected by heat-related illnesses and 61 workers died as a result of them. Even indoors, heat exposure from various sources can lead to illness, accidents and unsafe work conditions in general. Not surprisingly, like an increasing number of life situations, there’s an app for that. Make that several.

OSHA’s heat stress app (OSHA Heat Safety Tool) “allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite.” That’s according to the agency’s website. When supplied with temperature and humidity information, the app makes a quick calculation to determine the heat index – a fairly realistic measure of what the environment actually feels like. The app goes a step further by offering specific precautions to take based on the calculated heat index. Useful as it may be in assessing a present situation, its value as a planning tool is limited.

Enter the Maximum Heat Index Forecasts page from the National Weather Service. While not a smartphone app, the page is easy to access from a variety of devices and provides the heat index forecast for the next five days.
The page starts off by showing the heat forecast three to seven days from the present date. By clicking on the small map in the left-most column for a given day, the user can view a larger, color-coded map filled with that date’s predicted maximum heat index values. It’s possible also to click on other cities in a given area to view a specific forecast presented in the form of a table. All this is great when you want to look ahead several days. In the short term – say, when you want to know about maximum index forecast for today or tomorrow – the NWS forecast webpage draws a blank.

The workaround? It’s possible to view an hour-by-hour heat index forecast from the local NWS forecast page.

Navigate to and input your zip code or city. On the local forecast webpage, scroll down and click on the hourly weather forecast graph in the right column. Presto. There, in the top part of the graph, is the hourly heat index.
If all this seems very useful but a bit clunky, it also serves to point the way to the development of a streamlined app that can provide NWS heat index forecast information in real time. Web developers, take note.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is urging state departments of transportation to make sure that railroad crossing warning systems interconnected to traffic lights function properly. The agency also urged states to add event recorders to traffic lights connected to railroad crossing systems so information obtained during inspections can be used to improve safety. Across the United States, there are nearly 5,000 railroad crossings interconnected with traffic lights. A state-by-state list of crossings connected to traffic lights is available at

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