Michaels Identifies Oil Spill Cleanup Safety Concerns, BP Response Deficiencies

In a May 25 memo to Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Gulf Coast oil spill, OSHA administrator David Michaels expressed concern “over significant deficiencies in BP’s oil spill response operations related to worker safety” and outlined problem areas ranging from inadequate site control practices to heat stress risks and more.

“These deficiencies present potentially grave consequences for the workers currently involved in the cleanup, and will become increasingly acute as more oil hits the shore, more workers are involved and the complexity of the response increases,” he wrote.

According to Michaels, “BP has not addressed many of the serious problems in a systematic way” and these issues “appear to be indicative of a general systemic failure on BP’s part, to ensure the safety and health of those responding to this disaster.”

While observing work sites throughout the region, Michaels said that OSHA representatives identified insufficient site control practices; heat stress exposure risks; inadequate plans for inclement weather; roadblocks to obtaining BP’s health and safety information or data; and inadequate BP management of workplace safety issues.

In the memo, Michaels stressed that “…unless BP takes immediate steps to provide clear direction and oversight to its incident command system for safety, OSHA will need to use its authority to move into enforcement mode in order to ensure the safety of clean-up workers.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 4 that Michaels said that OSHA will not require workers to wear respirators during their oil spill cleanup efforts.

In a June 4 message to company shareholders, BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward said: “Everyone at BP is heartbroken by this event, by the loss of life and by the damage to the environment and to the livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast. It should not have happened and we are bound and determined to learn every lesson to try and ensure it never happens again.”

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