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Notices to Readers NIOSH Alerts on Workplace Hazards: Falls Through Skylights and Roof Openings, Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits, and Exposure to Dimethylformamide

CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) periodically issues alerts on workplace hazards that have caused injury, illness, or death to workers. Three alerts are now available about the serious hazards posed by skylights and roof openings, manure pits, and the organic solvent dimethylformamide (DMF).* Each alert is summarized briefly below.

NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Worker Deaths and Injuries from Falls Through Skylights and Roof Openings (1). Fatal falls frequently result from inadequate guarding and fall protection for work around skylights, skylight openings, and other roof openings. More frequent use of skylights in new construction has increased the risk to workers for such falls. This alert describes eight incidents in which workers died from falls through skylights or roof openings. NIOSH recommends four steps to prevent fatal falls through skylights and roof openings: 1) strict adherence to applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, 2) adequate worker training to recognize fall hazards, 3) placement of decals on skylights to warn workers against sitting or stepping on them, and 4) design of skylights to support the weight of a worker who steps, sits, or falls on one.

NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits (2). Farm workers who enter manure pits risk death from exposure to oxygen-deficient, toxic, or explosive atmospheres resulting from fermentation of the animal wastes in these confined spaces. Gases commonly encountered in manure pits include methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. The hazards of manure pits have been known for several years, but recent NIOSH investigations suggest that many farm workers are unaware of the danger, and deaths continue to occur after entry into these pits. This alert describes two incidents (3) that resulted in seven deaths from asphyxiation in manure pits. Victims in both incidents included rescuers who were members of the same family. Deaths in manure pits occur most frequently from April through September, when warm weather may result in increased gas accumulation. Manure pits should be treated as confined spaces, with proper ventilation, testing of the atmosphere before entry, presence of a standby person outside the manure pit, and use of a safety belt or harness with a lifeline attached to mechanical lifting equipment. A positive-pressure, self-contained breathing apparatus should be used if an oxygen-deficient or toxic atmosphere is detected. No one should enter a manure pit unless it is absolutely necessary and proper precautions have been taken.

NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Adverse Health Effects from Exposure to Dimethylformamide (DMF) (4). NIOSH estimates that greater than 100,000 U.S. workers may be exposed to DMF, an organic solvent that is readily absorbed through the skin. This chemical is toxic to the liver and can cause skin problems and alcohol intolerance. Some reports also suggest an increase in cancer among workers exposed to DMF, but the evidence is not conclusive. DMF is used in acrylic fiber spinning, chemical manufacturing, and pharmaceutical production; it is also present in textile dyes and pigments, paint stripping solvents, and coating, printing, and adhesive formulations. Workers exposed to DMF should be informed about its adverse health effects and trained to avoid skin contact and to use appropriate protective equipment and work practices. Employers should institute engineering controls to ensure that DMF exposures do not exceed the NIOSH recommended exposure limit/OSHA permissible exposure limit of 10 ppm as an 8-hour time-weighted average (5). Environmental and biological monitoring should be instituted if skin contact with liquid DMF is possible, and medical screening should be performed under certain circumstances, as outlined in the alert. Reported by: Div of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

References

  1. NIOSH. NIOSH alert: request for assistance in preventing worker deaths and injuries from falls through skylights and roof openings. Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1990; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)90-100.

  2. NIOSH. NIOSH alert: request for assistance in preventing deaths of farm workers in manure pits. Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1990; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)90-103.

  3. CDC. Fatalities attributed to methane asphyxia in manure waste pits--Ohio, Michigan, 1989. MMWR 1989;38:583-6.

  4. NIOSH. NIOSH alert: request for assistance in preventing adverse health effects from exposure to dimethylformamide (DMF). Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1990; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)90-105.

  5. Office of the Federal Register. Code of federal regulations: occupational safety and health standards. Subpart Z: Air contaminants--permissible exposure limits. Table Z-1-A. Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 1989. (29 CFR *** 1910.1000).

*Single copies are available without charge from the Publications Dissemination Section, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, CDC, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226; telephone (513) 533-8287.

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