Oil Cleanup Safety : How to Get Started

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George Davis
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The requests for topics on Oil Cleanup Safety materials have been overwhelming since the BP Disaster.  We thought it would be helpful to provide a basic overview of oil cleanup safety, where to get started and what the requirements are.

First off, it’s important to remember that the gulf oil cleanup is a massive coordinated effort that cannot possibly be perfect.  In addition to the dangers of exposure to crude oil, chemical additives, dispersants and cleaning chemicals, workers are forced to deal with all the standard job-site hazards such as sharp objects, falls, drowning, wildlife and heat exhaustion in the dizzying gulf summer.  We do know that OSHA is taking this seriously, however.  Some quick facts provided by OSHA :

  • OSHA Currently has more than 2,000 federal employees overseeing the efforts of 25,000 workers and 5,000+ boats.
  • OSHA is working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH ) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to ensure that appropriate training is provided to workers that BP is hiring to help cleanup the oil. Emphasis is placed on ensuring workers were trained in a language and vocabulary they understand. OSHA, along with NIEHS, continues to monitor this program. In response to recently received information, OSHA is in the process of increasing the training requirement for crews on vessels engaged in offshore oil recovery
  • OSHA personnel were deployed to the Gulf the week of April 26th. Since then OSHA personnel have been deployed to all 17 staging areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. OSHA staff is on the ground monitoring worker safety and health and assessing whether BP is providing appropriate worker safety and health protections. In coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, OSHA staff also board near-shore vessels doing booming, skimming operations, and in situ burning operations, and are stationed on offshore vessels for longer periods.
  • Every day OSHA has over 146 professionals protecting workers throughout the Gulf Region, 25 of whom are assigned solely to the Oil Response Clean up. OSHA staff is in the field and on boats to make sure BP is protecting cleanup workers from health and safety hazards. In addition, OSHA’s Health Response Team (from Salt Lake City) arrived in Louisiana on May 6th to provide technical support (for worker exposure monitoring) to OSHA response site personnel.
  • OSHA staff have made over 1000 site visits, covering the vessels of opportunity, staging areas, decontamination, distribution, and deployment sites.
  • When OSHA finds safety problems on site visits or learns about them from workers, it brings them to the attention of BP and makes sure they are corrected. OSHA also raises its concerns through the Unified Command so they are addressed across the entire response area. OSHA is ensuring that workers are provided, free of charge, appropriate personal protective equipment such as boots, gloves and other protective equipment as needed.

If you would like to get involved with oil spill cleanup, or have lost your employment due to the oil spill, we highly recommend visiting the CareerOneStop website, which is a great comprehensive resource and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.  Access by clicking the links below :

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Texas

OSHA’s golden rule : Your employer is responsible for training you in the hazards of your job in a language that you understand BEFORE YOU BEGIN WORK.  They are responsible for determining the amount and length of training based on your job duties and hazards.

OSHA’s basic training fact sheet states :

  • If you are doing work that does NOT involve materials contaminated by the spill, you must receive a 1.5 hour training session
  • If you ARE doing work cleaning up anything contaminated by the spill, you must receive a minimum of 4 hours of training which are supervised by people with more than 40 hours of Hazardous Operations training.
  • The company or contractor you work for is also responsible for establishing safe work practices and giving you the personal protective equipment you need to do your job safely.
  • They are also responsible for developing a health and safety site plan and sharing it with you.  The plan should have information about all the job site hazards and requirements for working safely.

Resources and Links :

  • OSHA’s most recent update on the oil spill cleanup efforts (6/17/10)
  • NIEHS Oil Spill Cleanup Initiative : Safety Awareness for Cleanup Workers (English | Spanish)
  • NIEHS Oil Spill Safety Awareness Poster (English | Spanish)
  • OSHA Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Fact Sheet
  • ATDSR Fact Sheet for Fuel Oils
  • EPA Fact Sheet : Response to Oil Spills

We’d like to hear your thoughts and opinions!  Please share with us via email or by submitting a comment on the blog.

You must be trained on the hazards of your job in a language that you understand. You must be
trained before you begin oil spill response and clean-up work. Your employer must determine the type
and length of training you will need. Training is based on your job duties and the job’s hazards.
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