2016 in Retrospect
Along with the good news, some of the year's safety and health highlights were bad or even ugly, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' confirmation in December that workplace fatalities increased in the most recent fiscal year to the highest number since 2008.
With 2016 almost finished, it's a good time to look back at the year's highlights and lowlights in the EHS world. There was good news, and some bad news, throughout the year for safety, health, and environmental professionals:
- BLS releases its Census of Fatal Occupational Injury data for fiscal 2015, confirming that the year's 4,836 fatal workplace injuries were the most since 5,214 fatal injuries in 2008, the 903 deaths among Latino workers were the most in any year since 937 fatalities in 2007, and road fatalities were up 9 percent from the year before.
- Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder signs a bill into law that allows self-driving vehicles on the state's roads.
- DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg releases the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, which shows fentanyl-related overdose deaths are rising fast, and warns again that "opioids such as heroin and fentanyl -- and diverted prescription pain pills -- are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate." He calls the situation "a public health crisis of historic proportions."
- EPA, implementing the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), identifies the first 10 chemicals for which it will complete risk evaluations. Methylene chloride and asbestos are among those first 10.
- Voters in four states approve measures permitting recreational use of marijuana. California's Proposition 64 passes by a 56-44 majority with more than 4.9 million votes in favor, and voters in Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine also approve measures legalizing recreational use. In Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota, medical marijuana measures are passed, but the recreational marijuana initiative in Arizona is defeated.
- A study published in CDC's MMWR estimates that 2,606 cases of acute occupational pesticide-related illness and injury were identified in 12 states (California, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington) during 2007-2011.
- OSHA loses an important federal appeals court case Sept. 23 when a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rules unanimously that the agency had not properly changed the retail facilities exemption in its Process Safety Management (PSM) standard following the explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013. Fifteen people died in the explosion, 12 of whom were firefighters trying to quench the fire at the West Fertilizer Company when 30 tons of stored ammonium nitrate exploded.
- The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issues a final rule to establish consistent emergency preparedness requirements for health care providers participating in Medicare and Medicaid, stating that the regulation will increase patients' safety during emergencies and ensure more coordinated response to natural and man-made disasters.
- The Federal Aviation Administration implements the first operational rules for routine non-hobbyist use of drones, with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx calling the rules "our latest step toward transforming aviation and society with this technology in very profound ways."
- With concern about the Zika virus rising in Florida, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides $2.6 million to DiaSorin Group to further develop a Zika virus test and makes a separate award to OraSure Technologies, Inc. to advance that company's rapid Zika tests.
- The Mine Safety and Health Administration reports that a recent sampling of respirable coal dust shows that phase II of its rule reducing the permissible exposure limit to the dust is having a "significantly positive" impact, with approximately 99 percent of the dust samples collected from April 1 to June 30 in compliance with the agency's standards.
- BP on July 14 announces its total liabilities from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will be $61.6 billion -- $44.0 billion after taxes.
- In what may have been his final speech as assistant secretary of OSHA before attendees of an ASSE annual conference, Dr. David Michaels spells out several regulatory initiatives he says the agency will undertake during his final months in the job, including raising OSHA's civil penalties to account for inflation, effective in August: Serious and other-than-serious violation penalties, then at $7,000, will rise to $12,471; willful and repeat, then at $70,000, will rise to $124,709; and failure to abate, then at $7,000 per day, will increase to $12,741 per day.
- The U.S. Supreme Court limits drunk driving tests, ruling that police must obtain search warrants before requiring drivers to submit to blood tests.
- The American Medical Association adopts a policy June 14 that declares gun violence is "a public health crisis" requiring a public health response and announces it will lobby Congress to lift its ban on gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lobbying resolution is adopted at the Annual Meeting of AMA's House of Delegates.
- The World Health Organization declares the end of the largest-ever outbreak of Ebola virus, saying it killed at least 11,310 people in the three most-affected countries.
- The U.S. Postal Service releases data showing 6,549 of its employees were attacked by dogs in 2015 and that four Texas cities ranked in the top 10 among U.S. cities for dog attacks. USPS Safety Director Linda DeCarlo also announces two new safety initiatives May 11 at a news conference in Houston, where postal employees suffered 77 attacks, more than any other city in 2015.
- The Joint Commission announces May 13 that it will follow suit with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and adopt the National Fire Protection Association's 101 Life Safety code, effective July 5, 2016.
- Ahead of 2016's Worker's Memorial Day, the National Safety Council says unintentional injuries in the workplace have reached their highest level since 2008. "Every single worker should make it home, safe and sound, to their family every night," says John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute and EHS and Sustainability at the council. "Clearly we are not doing enough to ensure that happens. On Worker's Memorial Day we need to remember those we have lost and renew our commitment to safety so we can save lives and reverse this trend."
- Sissy Perry, a safety specialist for Airgas, becomes the 1,500th graduate of the Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP) course offered by the International Safety Equipment Association, which had launched QSSP 20 years earlier with the the former Safety Equipment Distributors Association.
- The Alaska Volcano Observatory issues an aviation red warning March 28 because of the eruption of Pavlof Volcano located about 592 miles southwest of Anchorage. The volcano's ash plume extends more than 400 miles to the northeast over the interior of Alaska, and SIGMET warning messages issued by the National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit indicate the maximum ash cloud altitude is 37,000 feet above sea level.
- U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels announce OSHA's long-awaited silica rule. The rule will cut the permissible exposure limit for silica dust to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day -- a limit two to five times lower than the existing PEL.
- Five people are appointed to a technical working group that will review New York City's existing crane safety policies and recommend improvements, following a Feb. 5 crane collapse that killed one person. The committee is to propose additional best practices and regulations to make crane operations in the city the safest in the world, according to the mayor's office.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports Feb. 15 that its satellites aided in the rescues of 250 people in 2015 from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters.
- The U.S. Chemical Safety Board releases its comprehensive final report on the April 17, 2013, West Fertilizer fire and explosion in West, Texas, at a Jan. 28 public meeting in Waco. The report contains several recommendations for OSHA, EPA, and other organizations, including the International Code Council, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Texas Commission on Fire Protection.
- NHTSA launches a "Safe Cars Save Lives" public service campaign to urge U.S. consumers to check for open recalls at least twice a year and get their vehicles fixed as soon as parts are available. The reason is simple: There were 51 million vehicles recalled nationwide in 2015 and an average of 25 percent of recalled vehicles are not repaired.