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OSHA Focuses on Safety of Oil Spill Responders

On May 3, OSHA Administrator David Michaels was on site in Louisiana with a team of hazardous materials professionals to lead an effort ensuring that cleanup workers responding to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico receive necessary protections.

An explosion and fire at the BP-controlled Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon drilling rig occurred approximately 41 miles offshore Louisiana on April 20. Of the 126 crew onboard the rig, 115 were evacuated and 11 are missing and presumed dead. Now, the resulting oil spill is reaching the coast and raising concerns over environmental and public health risks.

According to BP, more than 2,500 personnel are involved in the response effort, and preparations are being made for a protection and cleaning effort on the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Potential Hazards

According to OSHA, cleanup workers can face potential hazards from oil byproducts, dispersants, detergents and degreasers. Drowning, heat illness and falls also pose hazards, as can encounters with insects, snakes and other wild species native to the impacted areas. OSHA is consulting with BP, as well as federal agency partners, to ensure that workers receive appropriate training and protective equipment.

“Oil spill cleanup workers are on the front lines attacking this disaster,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “It is our top priority to ensure that this is done as effectively, efficiently and safely as possible.”

In addition to meeting with OSHA staff and BP officials, Michaels is engaging with the Coast Guard, EPA, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Louisiana state officials. OSHA staff have been on the ground in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to evaluate the training and protections that will be put into place for workers.

“Our job is to work proactively so that measures are taken to ensure the safety of cleanup workers,” said Michaels. “OSHA will monitor training, observe clean-up efforts and provide whatever assistance is needed to BP and its contractors.”

OSHA is distributing guides for cleanup workers and developing those guides in Vietnamese and Spanish. OSHA also has established a Web site to provide hazard awareness material for all involved in the cleanup activities. The site will be updated with new information as the situation warrants.

OSHA will apply the lessons it learned during its experience in the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill as well as post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts.

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