With recent news of a sportswear and glassware company being cited by OSHA for 27 health and safety violations and fined for exposing workers to inorganic arsenic, cadmium and lead hazards, it’s hard not to be concerned about the hazards associated with these metals. Today, however, we’ll focus on determining the hazards associated with inorganic arsenic, and safety tips on how to prevent occupational exposure to it.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Teach Chemical Summary defines arsenic as a naturally occurring semi-metallic element found in the earth’s crust. It is also found in soil, water, air and some food. When combined with other elements (excluding carbon), arsenic becomes inorganic arsenic. Arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds are released into water and soil during industrial operations (like ore mining), wildfires and volcanic eruptions. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a common form of inorganic arsenic, is often used on wood products as a preservative to protect it from the elements as well as insects.
Airborne inorganic arsenic can get into the body by eye and skin contact, inhalation and ingestion. According to OSHA, high occupational exposure to arsenic is identified in workplaces near waste sites, and places where high levels of the element occur naturally. When workers are exposed to arsenic for longer periods, it can cause skin discoloration and the formation of warts on the skin. Exposure to high levels of arsenic, however, can cause lung cancer and even death which can be controlled if employees are provided with adequate safety training recommended by OSHA.
What can the citation mentioned earlier tell about inorganic arsenic violation and OSHA compliance? Listed below are some preventive measures that can mitigate risks associated with inorganic arsenic exposure, which the sportswear and glasswear company violated:
1. Wipe samples and personal air sampling can detect whether inorganic arsenic (i.e. contaminant) exceeds the action level. The said action level for inorganic arsenic is 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (5 ug/m(3)), averaged over any 8-hour period.
2. Ensure that work surfaces are not contaminated from arsenic (as well as lead and cadmium).
3. Ensure that an efficient housekeeping and maintenance program is in place to keep the workplace free of contaminants.
4. Ensure that occupational exposure to hazardous substances and materials (including inorganic arsenic) are monitored.
5. Ensure workers are trained to recognize arsenic-related hazards and that they know how to use personal protective equipment to safeguard themselves from such hazards.
6. Provide changing rooms for workers to prevent them from getting arsenicals on their street clothes.
7. Provision of PPEs like gloves and foot protection.
8. The implementation of an effective respiratory program, complete with training, medical evaluation and check-ups.
A standard interpretation letter dating back to 1985 also recommends the following safety measure to employees with regards to protecting themselves from arsenicals:
1. Don’t eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics at areas in the workplace where occupational exposure to arsenicals is expected.
2. Wear the appropriate PPEs for the job, i.e. gloves, face shield, goggles, hat, foot coverlets.
3. Wear a respirator especially when arsenical levels in the air exceed OSHA’s permissible exposure limits.
4. Decontaminate after each work shift by showering. Remove PPEs and work clothing at the end of your shift and leave them at work.
OSHA has been established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to protect US workers from the ill effects of occupational hazards, and to make sure their employers are providing a safe and healthful work environment for them. The agency enforces a host of rules and standards on employers to provide workers adequate training and assistance.