Assessing Worker Exposures
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is working closely with other Federal Agencies in monitoring health and safety hazards facing workers involved in the oil spill response. OSHA has stationed safety and health professionals throughout the Gulf Region who visit worksites every day to evaluate safety of beach cleanup, at staging areas, decontamination, distribution and deployment sites, and on vessels of opportunity.
As part of those efforts, OSHA devised a systematic approach to assess hazards and created a Sampling Strategy to characterize and document hazards of commonly observed work activities. This document identifies three general activity zones and 16 specific tasks. This document also provides a table with chemical and physical characteristics of identified chemicals of concern and any existing Occupational Exposure Limits.
OSHA recognizes that most of its PELs are outdated and inadequate measures of worker safety. In addition, crude oil is a complex mixture of chemical constituents that are not easily addressed by exposure limits for individual substances.
In characterizing worker exposure OSHA instead relies on more up-to-date recommended protective limits set by organizations such as NIOSH, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), and not on the older, less protective PELS. Results of air monitoring are compared to the lowest known Occupational Exposure Limit for the listed contaminant for purposes of risk assessment and protective equipment recommendations.
During surveillance visits, OSHA staff talks to workers and collects observations and information on employers, workers, and the work being performed. OSHA evaluates operations for potential hazards, necessary personal protective equipment, and administrative controls including worker training. Surveillance and sampling data is used by OSHA to validate that controls being used, including administrative (worker training, work/rest schedules, etc.) and personal protective equipment, are adequate.
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