NIOSH investigators recently performed a health hazard evaluation (HHE) in response to employee and union representatives' concerns about skin irritation and potential respiratory problems from exposure to fiberglass fibers shedding from employees' cut-resistant sleeves at a steel mill. NIOSH staff found that while the fibers may cause temporary skin and upper respiratory irritation, it's unlikely that they will cause long-term respiratory disease due to the fibers' large size and shape, which makes them difficult to inhale into the lungs. Other employees working in masonry reported numbness or pain in their hands and wrists from wearing the cut-resistant sleeves with thick gloves. NIOSH staff made several recommendations to the employer, including:
provide employees who have concerns about the cut-resistant sleeves with alternative sleeves that also offer the appropriate level of protection
provide masonry employees with alternative, thinner gloves with better grip and longer cuffs to help reduce hand and wrist pain and numbness
train employees in proper care, useful life, and disposal of cut-resistant sleeves
During confidential interviews of employees, NIOSH also found that many were afraid to report occupational illnesses and injuries because they felt it would lead to disciplinary action. Investigators reported a “widespread” lack of trust in management among employees and suggested that an external consultant may be helpful in improving the workplace safety climate. In addition, NIOSH recommended that the steel mill use a labor-management health and safety committee or working group to help address the issues raised during the evaluation.
NIOSH's findings and recommendations are published in an HHE report that was released last week. More NIOSH HHE reports are available on the agency’s website.