Severe Weather and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill:
Health and Safety for Onshore Emergency Responders
How can operations in response to severe weather be affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?
The high winds associated with severe weather (including hurricanes and tropical storms) may distribute spilled oil over a wider area. Storm surges may carry oil into the coastline and inland as far as the surge reaches. Debris resulting from a hurricane may be contaminated by oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident. (For more information, see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's factsheet Hurricanes and the Oil Spill*)
Hurricane responders, such as damage assessors, urban search and rescue teams, debris management contractors, and local fire, police and emergency medical personnel, may come in contact with the deposited oil. Responders need to be aware of their surroundings and, if weathered oil is present, take proper precautions.
What Hazards is the Weathered Oil Likely to Present?
The oil that may be deposited inland by the storm surge is likely to be weathered oil, meaning that any lighter and more acutely toxic components of the crude oil have evaporated. Weathered oil on bare skin can cause rashes.
What Actions Should be Taken to Protect Workers from Weathered Oil?
It is likely that most emergency responders will not need to come in contact with weathered oil. For operations where contact with weathered oil can be avoided, there is no need for additional training and equipment. However, if the operation involves contact with weathered oil (such as cleaning up oil-contaminated debris), employers will need to provide training on the hazards of the operation prior to beginning work.* In addition, the proper personal protective equipment (e.g., boots and gloves) will also need to be provided.
Workers who do not have the necessary training and equipment should avoid contact with the weathered oil.
* For more information, see OSHA's guidance for cleaning up weathered oil and for general protection information on hazards associated with the response to severe weather, see OSHA’s Hurricane Preparedness and Response website.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Department of Labor www.osha.gov
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