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OSHA Activities during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Hazards Associated with Oil Cleanup Operations

Exposure to any of these hazards depends on what you are actually doing and where you are working. For example, heat stress is a real concern for all outdoor activities because the weather is hot and humid. If you are pulling in oil-covered booms, then contact with weathered oil, drowning, and back injuries are also concerns.

More information and resources are available for these hazards

See also RestoreTheGulf, the official Federal Portal for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill Response and Recovery

Gulf Operations PPE Matrix

Version 1.8

Local OSHA Offices

  • Alabama - Mobile Area Office, (251) 441-6131
  • Florida - Ft. Lauderdale Area Office, (954) 424-0242 Jacksonville Area Office (904) 231-2895 Tampa Area Office, (813) 626-1177
  • Louisiana - Baton Rouge Area Office, (225) 298-5458
  • Mississippi - Jackson Area Office, (601) 965-4606

Boat and Vessel Safety

  • Safety & Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (OSHA/NIEHS)
    • Vehicle and Boat Use
      • Make sure your vehicle or boat is working properly.
      • Obey all traffic laws.
      • Drive defensively.
      • Be prepared for delays.
      • Watch for vehicles, flaggers, and overloaded vehicles.
      • BOATING – be careful when working over and near the water. Wear a life jacket or personal floatation device when working near water.
  • Deck Barge Safety (OSHA)

Crude Oil

  • Safety and Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (OSHA/NIEHS)
    • Health Risks of Weathered Crude Oil
      • Potential dermatitis hazard from skin contact.
      • Inhaling oil droplets/oily particles put into the air during cleanup operations can be irritating to eyes, nose, throat and lungs
      • Evaporation that occurs during the first 24 to 48 hours after the spill greatly reduces inhalation hazards from the toxic volatile components, such as benzene. Note: Even if air sampling shows no detectable levels or very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), there still my be health effects present
  • Tarballs Fact Sheet (NOAA)
    • What are tarballs
    • How long will tarballs remain sticky?
    • Are tarballs hazardous to your health?
    • Tarballs bits and pieces
    • Reporting
  • Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH): ToxFAQs (ATSDR)
    • What are total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH)?
    • What happens to total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) when they enter the environment?
    • How might I be exposed to total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH)?
    • How can total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) affect my health?
    • How likely are total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) to cause cancer?
    • Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH)?
    • Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?


  • Oil Spill Dispersant (COEXIST ®EC9500A and EC9527A) Information for Health Professionals (CDC)
    • Skin Contamination. Frequent or prolonged contact with product may cause defatting and drying of the skin, leading to discomfort and dermatitis. Skin contact may aggravate an existing dermatological condition. Immediately wash with soap and water.
    • Ocular Exposure. Prolonged ocular exposure can result in irritation. No permanent damage is likely to occur. The immediate treatment is to flush the eye with water for 15 minutes.
    • Ingestion Exposure. Ingestion can cause chemical pneumonitis if the ingested dispersants are aspirated into the lungs (due to vomiting). This is due to the petroleum distillates and aromatic solvents. To treat individuals exposed via ingestion, do not induce vomiting as this may lead to aspiration of the mixture into the lung. If conscious, wash out mouth and give water to drink.
    • Inhalation Exposure. Repeated or prolonged exposure may irritate the respiratory tract. Remove patient to fresh air and provide oxygen support if needed.
  • Reducing Occupational Exposures while Working with Dispersants During the Gulf Oil Spill Response (CDC)
    • To prevent harmful respiratory and dermal health effects NIOSH recommends reducing worker exposures to 2-butoxyethanol, petroleum distillates and similar cleaning agents in dispersants. Workers can be protected by taking the following steps:
      • Mix and load dispersants in well ventilated areas.
      • Use automated spraying systems to apply dispersants when available.
      • Remain upwind of the mists that are generated if spray systems are manned.
      • Wear nitrile gloves during mixing, loading, or spraying of dispersants to prevent skin irritation.
      • Wear protective eyewear when mixing, loading, or spraying dispersants.
      • Wash hands and any other body parts exposed to dispersants thoroughly with soap and water.
      • If personal air monitoring indicates the above steps are not effective at reducing exposures below applicable OELs (occupational exposure limites), then respiratory protection would be needed. Respirators should be used as part of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that includes proper selection, training, and maintenance. The NIOSH respirator topic page at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/respirators/ provides information for safety and health officers who are designated to establish and conduct such programs.


  • Working Aboard Vessels - Drowning Hazards (OSHA)
    • 29 CFR 1918.105(b)(1): Other protective measures - Personal flotation devices (PFDs). "The employer shall provide and require the wearing of PFDs for each employee engaged in work in which the employee might fall into the water."29 CFR 1918.105(b)(3): Other protective measures - Personal flotation devices (PFDs). "Personal flotation devices shall be maintained in safe condition and shall be considered unserviceable when damaged in a manner that affects buoyancy or fastening capability."
  • Working in Proximity to Water (New York State Department of Transportation)
    • OSHA Construction Industry Standards (1926) state: employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowing exists, shall be provided a Coast Guard-approved PDF.
  • Use of Personal Flotation Devices and Lifesaving Skiff (OSHA Interpretation)
    • 29 CFR 1926.106(a) states: Employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket of buoyant work vests.
    • Title 29 CFR 1926.106(d) states: At least one lifesaving skiff shall be immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.

Emergency Response and Shoreline Cleanup

Ergonomic Stresses


  • Safety & Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (OSHA/NIEHS)
    • Pace yourself, especially when working long shifts and many days in a row and take frequent rest breaks.
    • Watch out for each other. Use the buddy system on your crews, especially in remote locations. Coworkers may not notice a hazard nearby or behind.
    • Be conscious of those around you. Responders who are exhausted, feeling stressed or even temporarily distracted may place themselves and others at risk.
    • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible: regular eating and sleeping are crucial.
    • Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids such as water or sports drinks.
    • Decon prior to eating, drinking, or smoking.
    • Whenever possible, take breaks away from the cleanup area. Eat and drink in the cleanest area available.
    • Recognize and accept what you cannot change—the chain of command, organizational structure, waiting, equipment failures, etc.
    • Many cleanup workers will be from the affected communities. Give yourself permission to feel rotten: You are in a difficult situation.
    • Recurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks are normal—do not try to fight them. They will decrease over time.
    • Communicate with your loved ones at home as frequently as possible.
  • Extended/Unusual Work Shifts Guide (OSHA)
  • Guidance for Managing Worker Fatigue During Disaster Operations U.S. National Response Team

Heat Stress

  • QuickCard™ / Vietnamese (OSHA)
    • What is Heat Stress: When the body is unable to cool itself by sweating, several heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress or heat exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur, and can result in death.
    • Factors leading to Heat Stress: High temperature and humidity; direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical condition; some medicines; and inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.
    • Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion: Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting; Weakness and moist skin; Mood changes such as irritability or confusion; Upset stomach or vomiting.
    • Symptoms of Heat Stroke: Dry, hot skin with no sweating; Mental confusion or losing consciousness; Seizures or convulsions.
    • Preventing Heat Stress: Know signs/symptoms of heat-related illnesses; monitor yourself and coworkers; Block out direct sun or other heat sources; Use cooling fans/air-conditioning; rest regularly; Drink lots of water; about 1 cup every 15 minutes; Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes; Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or heavy meals.
    • What to Do for Heat-Related Illness: Call 911 (or local emergency number) at once.
    • While waiting for help to arrive: Move the worker to a cool, shaded area; Loosen or remove heavy clothing; Provide cool drinking water; Fan and mist the person with water.
    • Other Resources:
  • Protecting Workers from Effects of Heat Fact Sheet (OSHA)
    • Factors leading to heat stress.
    • What kind of heat disorders and health effects are possible and how should they be treated?
      • Heat Stroke
      • Heat Exhaustion
      • Heat Cramps
      • Heat Rashes
    • Administrative or work practice controls to offset heat effects

      • Acclimatize workers
      • Replace fluids
      • Reduce the physical demands
      • Provide recovery areas
      • Reschedule hot jobs
      • Monitor workers
    • What personal protective equipment is effective in minimizing heat stress?

      • Reflective clothing
      • Wetted clothing
      • Water-cooled garments
  • Protecting Yourself in the Sun, (PDF) / Protejase Contra Los Rayos Daninos del Sol, (PDF) (OSHA)
    • Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. The amount of damage from UV exposure depends on the strength of the light, the length of exposure, and whether the skin is protected. There are no safe UV rays or safe suntans.
    • Skin cancer
    • Self-examination
    • Block out UV Rays
      • Cover up
      • Use sunscreen
      • Wear a hat
    • Preventing Skin Cancer
  • Working Outdoors in Warm Climates Fact Sheet (OSHA)
  • Safety and Health Guide (OSHA)

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Personal Protective Equipment Fact Sheet (OSHA)
    • What is personal protective Equipment
    • What are your responsibilities as an employer?
    • What can PPE do to protect workers from hearing loss?
    • Should workers wear PPE to help prevent hand injuries?
    • Why should workers wear PPE to protect the whole body?
    • When should workers wear PPE for respiratory protection
  • Personal Protective Equipment Publication, (OSHA)
    • This guide will help both employers and employees do the following:
      • Understand the types of PPE.
      • Know the basics of conducting a "hazard assessment" of the workplace.
      • Select appropriate PPE for a variety of circumstances.
      • Understand what kind of training is needed in the proper use and care of PPE.
  • Eye and Face Protection eTool (OSHA)
    • Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection. Eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation.

Poisonous Plants

  • Poisonous Plants (NIOSH) Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac release an oil, urushiol, when the leaf or other plant parts are bruised, damaged, or burned. When the oil gets on the skin an allergic reaction, referred to as contact dermatitis, occurs in most exposed people as an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. When exposed to 50 micrograms of urushiol, an amount that is less than one grain of table salt, 80 to 90 percent of adults will develop a rash. The rash, depending upon where it occurs and how broadly it is spread, may significantly impede or prevent a person from working. Although over-the-counter topical medications may relieve symptoms for most people, immediate medical attention may be required for severe reactions, particularly when exposed to the smoke from burning these poisonous plants. Burning these poisonous plants can be very dangerous because the allergens can be inhaled, causing lung irritation… Eastern poison ivy, poison sumac, and Atlantic poison oak can be found all be found in the Gulf states.
  • Safety and Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (OSHA/NIEHS)
    • Learn to recognize poisonous plants: - Poison Ivy; - Poison Oak; Poison Sumac
    • Use gloves and wear long pants when possibly contacting poisonous plants.
    • Rubbing alcohol, if used immediately upon exposure, may remove the oily resin that causes the allergic reaction.
    • Clothes, shoes, and tools may become contaminated by coming in contact with poisonous plants.
    • The allergens from burning poisonous plants can be inhaled, causing lung irritation!

Respiratory Protection

Severe Weather & Oil

Slips, Trips, and Falls

  • Safety & Health Awareness for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers (OSHA/NIEHS)
    • Watch for slips, falls, and trips, especially while walking and working on oil slick surfaces. In a cleanup, many surfaces, including steps, ladder rungs, and boat decks may be slippery from oil.
    • Be careful walking over debris that is covered with water or oil due to increased risk of slips, trips and falls. Be extra careful if you are handling or carrying anything.
  • Preventing Falls Fact Sheet

Snakes, Insects, and Rodents


There are other hazards that workers might face when traveling to and from worksites or when using various equipment for spill response and cleanup operations. OSHA has additional resources related to these hazards, including motor vehicle safety, portable generators, using cranes safely, and confined space safety.

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