New NIOSH Report Details Deepwater Horizon Responder Demographics

Dec. 23, 2011
When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, thousands of on- and off-shore workers responded to assist with cleanup duties. In a new report, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released demographic information regarding these response workers, including job responsibilities, use of personal protective equipment, distribution of workers and more.

NIOSH developed a roster to create a record of those who participated in the Deepwater Horizon Response activities, to collect information on the nature of their projected work assignments and the training they received and to create a mechanism for contacting workers about possible work-related symptoms of illness or injury during and after the response.

Key results of the "Deepwater Horizon Roster Summary Report" include:

· Only a small proportion of the response workers were previously unemployed.
· Rostered workers' states of residence largely were along the Gulf Coast.
· Forty-two percent of response workers had received some hazardous materials training.
· Sixty-six percent of workers responded that their job tasks would potentially involve exposure to oil or oily substances.
· Eighty-one percent of workers expected to use personal protective equipment such as gloves to protect their skin; 85 percent expected to use eye protection; and 32 percent expected to use respiratory protection.

NIOSH obtained this prospective information from workers through a survey at the time of training, at work locations or through a secured Web site. The work from which this summary report was drawn marks the first time that NIOSH has developed a prospective, centralized roster of workers for a response event of this magnitude.

"As a lesson learned from previous emergency responses, we knew that rostering would be vital for having an authoritative record of individuals' names, job duties, contact information, and other data that could be applied by occupational safety and health professionals to both immediate and long-term uses," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "We appreciate the participation by the responders and the support of our federal partners during the response in enabling us to compile this record."

Since the survey was prospective – asking for information generally before the responder being surveyed had started his or her response duties – the report does not cover conditions encountered by the individual once he or she had started work, such as exposure to heat, potential injury hazards, or oil. NIOSH's health hazard evaluations conducted during the response provide information from that perspective.

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