When one thinks about the BP oil spill, what comes to mind? The initial explosion, which killed 11 employees; the ecological affects; the economic affects? Many Americans sole concern was to get it cleaned up and ensure it never happened again, but what about making sure the tragedy didn’t increase in size? That was OSHA’s primary concern when it deployed OSHA personnel to all staging areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The OSHA staff were on the ground and in boats to make sure BP was protecting cleanup workers from health and safety hazards.
OSHA created an Oil Spill Response and began working along side the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal organizations to ensure BP was implementing every precaution necessary to protect cleanup workers. OSHA‘s goal was to make sure that the operations were conducted as effectively, efficiently and safely as possible, according to David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary.
OSHA placed a great deal of emphasis on training cleanup workers. The workers had to be trained on hazards of the job and complete a number of training requirements prior to beginning oil spill response cleanup work. Additionally, OSHA completed thousands of on-site checks and air-quality tests to ensure the safety of all workers on and off the coast.
With the help of other federal agencies, OSHA was able to protect workers beyond their own standards. According to Michaels, “OSHA identified no exposures that exceeded any of the most recent, lowest and most protective occupational exposure limits for hazardous chemicals set by organizations such as NIOSH, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and the American Industrial Hygiene Association.”
OSHA also insisted on stringent measures to protect cleanup workers from the heat. Throughout the cleanup process OSHA personnel immediately identified any deficiencies in BP’s heat stress program and demanded solutions. Michaels believes that without the OSHA personnel there to enforce these requirements, many workers could have suffered from heat related ailments including death.
“The BP oil spill was a disaster. The initial fire took the lives of 11 workers,” said Michaels. “There was no way to recover this tragic loss. However, by working together and focusing on a high level of protection for the cleanup workers, we (OSHA) prevented this disaster from taking any more lives.”