Standards Enable Worker Protection

Cicely Enright

Keeping Us Safe on the Job

ASTM International standards help ensure the safety of people at work. Here's a look at some of these standards.

Occupational Safety

The study of job injury and illness information can lead to enhanced worker safety, if that data can be compared. That comparison requires a uniform framework for recording injury or illness details, which is the goal of a draft standard currently under way in Subcommittee E34.55 on Occupational Safety and Health Performance Improvement.

The E34.55 group, a part of E34 on Occupational Health and Safety, is developing WK33270, Guide for Recording Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, so that industries worldwide can use common terminology and criteria in an objective framework that will be meaningful for safety program evaluation. According to Thomas Slavin, global safety and health director for Navistar Inc. in Chicago, Ill., and E34 chairman, no such international procedure currently exists for benchmarking purposes. WK33270 should fill that gap.

In other work, Committee E34 maintains standards to protect people who work in machining, foundries, railroading and more. Slavin points to a suite of E34 standards related to metalworking fluids as important representatives of the committee's work. He explains that machining operations use fluids for cooling when cutting and drilling engine blocks, transmissions, gears, and other aircraft and car components. The more than a dozen standards from Subcommittee E34.50 on Health and Safety Standards for Metalworking Fluids, referenced by manufacturers around the world, address such safety topics as carcinogenic potential, minimizing aerosol effects, determining and analyzing endotoxins, and preventing dermatitis.

Another E34 group, Subcommittee E34.20 on Foundry Safety and Health, maintains a standard that has been improving/enhancing foundry worker safety since a project on the topic began in 1972. E2349, Practice for Safety Requirements in Metal Casting Operations: Sand Preparation, Molding and Core Making; Melting and Pouring; and Cleaning and Finishing, represents a key document for that industry, Slavin says. As noted in the standard's introduction, "Compliance with this practice should provide a relatively safe environment, which is a fundamental requirement in preventing occupational injuries."

The E34 committee continues to further worker safety with proposed standards on the safe handling of flat glass; requirements related to railroad construction, maintenance and demolition; controlling respiratory health hazards in the wet metal fluid removal environment and more.

Body Armor and More

Tightened security, concern about threats and a more uncertain world mark life in the United States since 9/11. One ASTM International committee, E54 on Homeland Security Applications, was organized following that tragedy. Its purpose: to develop standards and guidance materials in support of greater preparedness for possible future attacks and to respond to homeland security needs in specific subject areas of borders, ports and transportation; science and technology; national emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure. To help protect law enforcement officers and the medical/healthcare community, Subcommittee E54.04 on Personal Protective Equipment, in particular is charged with developing standards either within the subcommittee or through liaison with other standards bodies when needs are unmet by existing standards.

At its meetings during the January committee week, a new task group organized at the request of the National Institute of Justice and began work on WK35902, Guide for Body Armor Measurement and Fitting. "Proper fitting is necessary to obtain sufficient coverage of the torso and vital organs while allowing the range of motion required for officer operations," says Casandra Robinson, program manager, Savannah River National Laboratory, Aiken, S.C. "Additionally, it is believed that many of the issues related to comfort can be addressed by properly measuring the wearer and custom fitting the armor."

Representatives from the U.S. military, federal agencies, law enforcement and corrections agencies, certification bodies, universities, laboratories and manufacturers gathered at the January meeting to begin drafting the document.

E54.04 also has an additional proposed standard under way: WK23733, Guide to Assist PPE User Groups in Establishing an OSHA Compliant Respiratory Protection Program and on Respirator and PPE Selection, Use and Maintenance, which will support first responders and receivers in choosing and using appropriate combinations of PPE for the wide range of potential hazards from terrorist attacks and other incidents.

The Footwear-Walkway Interface

Where a sole hits a surface - that's where the standards of Committee F13 on Pedestrian/Walkway Safety and Footwear make their mark.

William Ells, vice president, Vibram USA, Concord, Mass., and F13 vice chairman, says that the requirements of F13 standards help protect workers. "The performance standards of F2412 and F2892 along with the test methods within standard F2413 have been at the forefront of helping to protect workers from potential foot injury for over 40 years," he says.

F2412, Test Methods for Foot Protection, details procedures to measure the resistance of footwear to various hazards: impact, compression, electrical conductivity, electric hazard, static and puncture. F2413, Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective (Safety) Toe Cap Footwear, and F2892, Specification for Performance Requirements for Soft Toe Protective Footwear (Non-Safety/Non-Protective Toe), detail requirements so that footwear will protect workers' feet from these potential problems. And both F2413 and F2892 provide a basis for certifying protective footwear.

These standards, as well as other F13 methods and specifications, help prevent foot and metatarsal crush, electrical shock and puncturing; they are referenced in the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910.132, Personal Protective Equipment General Requirements and Part 1910.136, Personal Protective Equipment Occupational Foot Protection.

Last October, F2913, Test Method for Measuring the Coefficient of Friction for Evaluation of Slip Performance of Footwear and Test Surfaces/Flooring Using a Whole Shoe Tester, became available. This standard, Ells says, is significant because "slip and fall accidents are a leading cause of injury in the work force." The standard adapts a European Union mandate for the development and sales of CE-marked safety footwear; it represents a collaborative effort by ASTM and SATRA Technologies of the United Kingdom to bring the method into ASTM International. Subcommittee F13.50 on Walkway Surfaces also plans a performance specification based on the F2913 method.

Electrical Hazards

In the safety world, personal protective equipment holds the line in keeping workers safe from electrical shocks and arcs. For ASTM Committee F18, its name defines its topic: electrical protective equipment for workers. And in the 35+ years of its standards-writing existence, the group has published 42 standards that further the well-being of people whose profession requires them to work in hazardous conditions.

"As we know, energized electrical work is hazardous and workers only get one chance to do the job correctly," says James (Doug) Lovette, a consultant based in Knoxville, Tenn., and first vice chairman of F18. "The results of shortcuts and lack of PPE are often disastrous."

F18 standards, which are referenced by U.S. regulations, address both shock and arc hazards, so picking any particular standard or group of standards as especially significant would be impossible, according to Lovette. Standards for rubber goods, fiberglass tools, 1,000-volt insulated tools and arc-rated apparel are important, he says, but so are standards addressing protective grounds, acoustic emission, climbing equipment and more.

A number of drafts under way in F18 will further improve worker safety. These standards include a proposed guide for inspection, maintenance and testing of insulating tools; and a specification for high voltage phasing testers. Plus, WK14928, Test Method for Arc Rating of Gloves, describes a procedure to determine the thermal protection value of gloves.

F18 encourages people to invest their time with Committee F18 - that involvement will determine future direction for the group and further the process of developing standards to protect electrical workers.

Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment

From its origins with chemical protective clothing to biological and physical hazard protection, Committee F23 on Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment has progressed in its work and expanded its scope since its beginnings in 1977 to take in diverse concerns. Today, its 60+ standards respond to biological, chemical and physical hazards encountered by professionals working on the job with or around hypodermic needles and chain saws, pesticides and blood, and more.

A key current F23 method, which is also the committee's first published consensus document, sets the standard for those who work with chemicals and risk contact with them. That standard, F739, Test Method for Permeation of Liquids and Gases through Protective Clothing Materials under Conditions of Continuous Contact, describes how to evaluate materials used in protective gloves, aprons, boots and caps through a continuous contact permeation procedure.

F23 organizes its technical subcommittees by the types of hazards they address and adds groups on certification/interoperability and human factor considerations. The subcommittees are:

  • F23.20 Physical;
  • F23.30 Chemicals;
  • F23.40 Biological;
  • F23.50 Certification and PPE Interoperability;
  • F23.60 Human Factors;
  • F23.70 Radiological Hazards; and
  • F23.80 Flame and Thermal.

As well as its existing standards, close to 20 drafts are under way in F23 that address blade puncture and hip protectors, liquid permeation, medical masks and healthcare gowns, glove performance, radiological protection and flame-resistant materials. When complete, these standards will further F23's goal of protecting workers.

See the November/December 2009, March/April 2010, May/June 2010, July/August 2010 and July/August 2011 SN issues for earlier articles in the "Standards Enable" series.
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