New OSHA National Emphasis Program will help protect workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a new directive establishing a National Emphasis Program for the Primary Metals Industries. The purpose of this NEP is to identify and reduce or eliminate worker exposures to harmful chemical and physical hazards in establishments producing metal products.

Establishments in the primary metals industries are involved in extracting and refining metals from rocks containing iron, lead, nickel and tin, among other elements. Among these establishments are those that manufacture nails, insulated wires and cables, steel piping, and copper and aluminum products.

The primary metals industries became a concern during OSHA’s review of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Previous OSHA inspections of establishments in this industry revealed that workers were exposed to metal dusts and fumes, carbon monoxide, lead and silica, among other substances. Inspections also showed that workers were exposed to noise and heat hazards. OSHA developed this program because of the seriousness and frequency of these problems.

“Workers who are not properly protected from the hazards of metals refining are at increased risk of serious, potentially deadly health effects,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA’s new enforcement program will raise awareness of the dangers of exposure to metals and other chemicals, so that employers can correct hazards and comply with OSHA standards.”

Workers exposed to various substances found in these industries can suffer damage to the eyes, nose, throat and skin and can experience difficulty breathing and chest and joint pain. Overexposures can also lead to death. The goals of the NEP include minimizing or eliminating exposure to chemical hazards and physical hazards such as noise and heat. Other goals include inspecting facilities that manufacture primary metals and metal products, and conducting follow-up site visits to ensure that there has been a reduction or elimination of exposures.

OSHA also has National Emphasis Programs for Hexavalent Chromium, Lead and Crystalline Silica. For more information on the hazards of various metals and solutions to control exposures, visit OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics and Publications pages on Toxic Metals.