A NIOSH health hazard evaluation (HHE) report published last week details the agency’s response to a request from employees at a plant that produces underground electrical power distribution cable accessories. Employees were concerned about inadequate ventilation, ergonomic risks, and potential chemical exposures during rubber molding, plastic extrusion, soldering, and painting that might cause respiratory disease or cancer.
During the evaluation, NIOSH staff held confidential interviews with employees; reviewed safety data sheets and injury and illness logs; evaluated work practices and plant processes; and inspected the ventilation system. Agency personnel also collected air samples for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead, tin, aldehydes, and formic acid, and surface wipe samples for lead and tin.
NIOSH found deficiencies in the plant’s ventilation system, that one worker in the paint department was overexposed to toluene, and that many employees were at risk for musculoskeletal disorders due to a combination of forceful exertion, repetitive movements, and twisting and bending during paint spraying, rubber molding, and deflashing operations.
The report states that air levels of chemicals in the plant were low except for the one personal air sample that exceeded the 12-hour occupational exposure limit for toluene. But even with these low measurements of chemicals, some employees working with solvents and irritants reported eye and upper respiratory symptoms, headaches, and lightheadedness.
“The air levels of chemicals we measured were below those that have resulted in long-term respiratory problems in other scientific studies,” the NIOSH report reads. “However, these current levels may not reflect those that existed in the plant in years past.”
NIOSH made several recommendations to the employer based on its evaluation, including:
- repair the local exhaust ventilation system
- provide adjustable workstations for assembly tasks
- rotate employees between job tasks that use different muscle groups
- educate workers on how to recognize the hazards of workplace chemical exposure and to use work practices to prevent exposure to chemicals
- continue offering gloves to employees and train them on proper wear
For more information, see NIOSH’s report. Other NIOSH HHE reports are available on the agency’s website.