Surveillance of Washington OSHA Exposure Data to Identify Uncharacterised or Emerging Occupational Health Hazards

In the present study, chemical substance exposure data from the Washington State Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) programme were reviewed to determine if inspections conducted as a result of a report of a hazard from a complainant or referent may alert the agency to uncharacterised or emerging health hazards. Exposure and other electronically stored data from 6890 health inspection reports conducted between April 2003 and August 2008 were extracted from agency records. A total of 515 (7%) inspections with one or more personal airborne chemical substance samples were identified for further study. Inspections by report of a hazard and by targeting were compared for the following: number of inspections, number and percentage of inspections with workers exposed to substances above an agency’s permissible exposure limit, types of industries inspected, and number and type of chemical substances assessed. Report of hazard inspections documented work sites with worker overexposure at the same rate as agency targeted inspections (approximately 35% of the time), suggesting that complainants and referents are a credible pool of observers capable of directing the agency to airborne chem. Substance hazards. Report of a hazard inspections was associated with significantly broader distribution of industries as well as a greater variety of chemical substance exposures than were targeted inspections. Narrative text that described business type and processes inspected was more useful than NAICS codes alone and critical in identifying processes and industries that may be associated with new hazards. Finally, previously identified emerging hazards were found among the report of a hazard data. The authors concluded that these findings indicate that surveillance of OSHA inspection data can be a valid tool to identify uncharacterised and emerging health hazards. Additional research is required to develop criteria for objective review and prioritisation of the data for intervention. Federal OSHA and other state OSHA agencies will need to add electronic data entry fields more descriptive of industry, process, and substance to fully use agency exposure data for hazard surveillance.

Authors: Lofgren, Don J.; Reeb-Whitaker, Carolyn K.; Adams, Darrin ;Full Source: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 2010, 7(7), 375-388 (Eng) ;