OSHA Official Testifies before Senate Subcommittee about Worker Safety in Energy Production

Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, calling discussion of safety for energy workers a “necessary conversation.”

The issue of safety in the nation’s energy production industries “has most recently been brought to the public’s attention in the most tragic way possible, with deaths of 11 workers and injuries to 17 others as the result of the April 20th explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform,” Barab testified.

He noted the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred even as OSHA continues to deal with the ramifications of the 2005 fire and explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others, and as the agency helps its Washington State Plan partners investigate the April explosion at a Tesoro refinery that killed seven workers.

“What have we learned from these tragic events?” Barab asked. “Certainly we have learned that in our nation’s energy producing industry, the status quo is not working. In the past 4 months alone, at least 58 workers have died in explosions, fires and collapses at refineries, coal mines, an oil drilling rig and a natural-gas-fired power plant construction site.”

He noted that not all of these tragedies are within OSHA’s jurisdiction; the Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling facility, technically a “vessel” and not subject to OSHA requirements. Mine safety is within the purview of MSHA, OSHA’s sister agency. “Nevertheless,” he added, “the toll of worker deaths and injuries on the job is sounding an alarm about a major problem throughout the energy industries – a problem that OSHA must help address.”

“Secretary Hilda Solis’ vision for the Department of Labor is “good jobs for everyone,” Barab testified. “Good jobs are safe jobs, and we must do more to ensure that all of our nation’s workers, including those in the energy industries, can go home safely when their work is done.”

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