BP Cleanup Workers

BP Cleanup Workers in Grand Isle, Louisiana (Michael Whitney/Firedoglake)

Earlier this month, Rep. Carolyn Maloney – one of the members of Congress who fought to protect 9/11 cleanup workers, and who is continuing that advocacy for workers cleaning up BP’s oil disaster – called on OSHA to explain how it would enforce the government’s respirator guidelines. Maloney also pressed the agency in charge of worker health and safety for more details on how it’s protecting workers in the Gulf.

From Maloney’s letter:

Today, I find myself deeply concerned that the unprecedented size, complexity, and duration of the BP oil spill cleanup operation may mean that the risks of long term exposure to the many hazards the cleanup workers face are underestimated.  In your testimony, you noted that those risks include, but are not limited to, exposure to and inhalation of the fumes from crude oil, oil byproducts, dispersants, cleaning chemicals and the smoke from burn-off efforts at sea. [...]

I have reviewed the NIOSH-OSHA Interim Guidance report for protecting oil spill cleanup and response workers and value the recommendations and precautions outlined in this report.  I am glad to see that these recommendations include when respirators are needed by location and hazard as well as what type of respirator should be worn.  However, I could not find a clear indication of what OSHA will do to enforce the use of respirators.

This brings me to the purpose of this letter. I request from you the following information:

  • How will OSHA enforce the use of respirators and other protective clothing in those conditions that require cleanup workers to wear them?
  • Given that a simple shift in the wind can alter whether or not cleanup workers require a respirator mask, how is OSHA ensuring timely and adequate monitoring of conditions and hazards across the vast expanse of the spill?
  • What scientific and systemic efforts has OSHA undertaken to balance the very serious concerns of heat exhaustion with the need to wear personal protective equipment, including respirators, in the appropriate risk environments?
  • Do you have a “Safety-Whistleblower Hotline”? A well publicized “800” number where workers can report safety lapses?
  • Are the oversight resources of 25 inspectors currently available to OSHA adequate for the task at hand?
  • What steps is OSHA taking to ensure reports and data of health concerns are collected in a centralized place?
  • In assessing exposure to such a high risk environment, one that has never before been encountered on such a scale, are you fully confident that you have accounted for the true long term risks to cleanup workers health?

Maloney sent her letter on July 8 (I’ve been meaning to hit this for a while); I’ve asked to see if OSHA has responded, and will update when I hear.