Solar, wind, and fossil fuel power generation operations harbor an amazing variety of significant occupational health hazards. These chemical, biological, and physical hazards range from the obvious to the abstruse, and from the routine to the rare. This paper discusses the importance of anticipating and characterizing all occupational health hazards, and reinforces this premise through illustrations of a sampling of these hazards. A summary of relevant pending proposed and recently finalized U.S. regulatory changes that could impact occupational health hazard characterization, control, and communication in the power generation industry is also provided.
The risk faced by employees in the power industry is a function of the hazards present and the level of exposure to those hazards. An organized, systematic method of exposure and risk assessment is the key to being able to control these risks through a successful, effective occupational health and industrial hygiene program. The use of this systematic method, known as "Qualitative Exposure Assessment" (or QEA), to characterize workplace exposures to chemical, physical and biological agents, is the solid foundation of this process. Initial qualitative exposure assessments typically involve a site visit by an industrial hygienist who will interview personnel and examine work areas for hazards, controls, work activities, and chemicals. This initial assessment represents a mere "snapshot in time", is performed within a limited timeframe, and depends heavily on information provided by employees, limited observations, and the skills and experience of the person performing the assessment. As such, this initial assessment tends to be somewhat limited in its comprehensiveness. Complicating matters, after completion of the initial assessment, operations, materials, equipment and conditions are ever evolving and highly subject to change. To insure a sustainable hazard control program, a continuous improvement cycle must inextricably woven into the QEA process. To this end, effective hazard reporting systems, scheduled periodic reassessment of hazards, and implementation of management of change processes are key components.