August 31, 2010
Oil spill workers are on the front lines of the nation's response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Depending on their jobs, these workers can face hazards from heat, falls, drowning, fatigue, loud noise, sharp objects, as well as bites from insects, snakes, and other wild species native to the Gulf Coast area. Workers may also face exposure to crude oil, oil constituents and byproducts, dispersants, cleaning products and other chemicals being used in the cleanup process. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is providing proactive, vigorous leadership to fully evaluate each of these risks and ensure that BP meets its obligation to protect workers.
OSHA is working as part of the coordinated federal response which includes the U.S. Coast Guard and other government agencies that deal with health and the environment to monitor the health and safe hazards facing workers involved in the oil spill response. We are evaluating BP's efforts and looking to see that BP puts in place all of the precautions needed to protect workers from the hazards associated with their cleanup work.
Monitoring Chemical Exposures
Potential health effects from inhaling chemicals such as oil, weathered oil, oil dispersants, cleaning agents, and others are an ongoing concern that OSHA is continuing to monitor, assess and characterize. (Read our frequently asked questions on health hazards and protections, including information on respirators and other personal protective equipment.)
Aside from those workers on ships directly adjacent to the leak who are exposed to fresh oil, most of the cleanup workers are exposed to weathered oil, where the toxic volatile substances have evaporated.
To ensure that workers are not exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, OSHA reviewed the BP monitoring data and has brought in a team of industrial hygienists to conduct its own independent air monitoring both on shore and on the cleanup vessels. OSHA is characterizing worker exposures in each job task so that workers can receive necessary protections from air contaminants. The Agency has developed a sampling protocol and strategy and has taken samples resulting in over 5,731 exposure assessments. Additionally, OSHA is posting our sampling results with clear information about where the samples were collected and what jobs the workers were doing when they were monitored.
OSHA is also looking at BP's sample data and sampling information gathered by other agencies, including NIOSH and EPA. We are making sure that all of our sample results are similar and that OSHA is not missing anything that might indicate a problem for workers.
OSHA is also analyzing the "soup" of crude oil, oil by-products, dispersants, and any other material to determine what hazards the mixture might present workers as they respond to and cleanup the oil spill.
Protecting Workers from Chemical Exposures
OSHA is aggressively monitoring BP and its contractors to ensure that they comply with worker safety and health protections, including providing required personal protective equipment (PPE) to all workers involved in the clean up. OSHA has required BP to provide protective gloves, boots, and where appropriate, coveralls to all workers involved in the clean up operations. OSHA has staff on the ground evaluating whether the equipment is properly used by workers.
OSHA is aware that reports of health symptoms experienced by some workers have raised concern about short and long-tern health effects of the oil products and dispersants. OSHA and NIOSH continue to investigate these reports and recently published Interim Guidance for Protecting Deepwater Horizon Response Workers and Volunteers. The guidance lists the types of chemicals and other hazards workers face while doing different jobs. It recommends that workers on vessels involved in source-control and burning oil, as well as workers who are pressure washing oily PPE and other equipment, use respirators for certain situations:
Health Effects Follow-up
OSHA is working closely with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to investigate the causes of health effects suffered by workers. NIOSH is conducting Health Hazard Evaluations to determine the causes of worker illnesses (including an investigation into the recent incident where seven fishermen were sent to the hospital). NIOSH is also assembling a roster of workers who are participating in the response effort that will help in assessing respiratory hazards from exposure to oil or other substances present in the cleanup operations.
OSHA is also working with ASPR and NIOSH to establish a long-term health surveillance program for the workers involved in this event.
All workers involved in the oil spill response and cleanup have the right to a safe workplace just as they would in any other job. They are also protected if they are fired or in any way retaliated against for raising safety concerns to an employer, participating in safety and health activities or exercising their rights under the Act. Workers may file a complaint with OSHA if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or there are serious hazards. OSHA keeps worker information confidential.
If workers think their work is unsafe of if they are unsure, they should have been instructed to STOP and ASK their supervisor. They can also call OSHA at 1-800-321- OSHA (6742). TTY 1-877-889-5627.
For more information, visit OSHA's oil spill cleanup response Web page: http://www.osha.gov/oilspills/index.html
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