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Gulf Oil Cleanup Hazardous for Health of Workers

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is on site on the Gulf coast to ensure that workers cleaning up the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon disaster receive necessary training and protections from the hazards of the work.

Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, traveled to Louisiana on May 2nd with a team of experienced hazardous material professionals to lead the effort to ensure that the cleanup is done promptly, effectively and safely.

"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."

Workers involved in the oil spill cleanup may face potential hazards from contact with crude oil, oil byproducts, dispersants, detergents and degreasers. They may experience skin irritation and dermatitis from getting the "weathered" oil on the skin or in the eyes. There may also be hazards from inhaling the oil droplets and oily particles put into the air during cleanup operations. They may also encounter dangerous working conditions such as heat or foul weather, working near water and in swamps, using boats, walking on slippery or uneven surfaces, being bitten by wildlife (insects, rodents, and reptiles), and using heavy equipment.

Workers involved at the oil spill cleanup sites are covered by OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (1910.120 and 1926.65). This standard requires that employers provide workers with protective equipment and special training by specially trained personnel who have received extensive training.

Any workers involved in the actual cleanup must receive a minimum four hours of training about the hazards on site and any hazards involved in the cleanup procedure. Workers have the right to be trained about the hazards they may face and how to protect themselves from harm. BP must provide the training. Employers must provide workers with personal protective equipment such as oil-resistant gloves, boots, coveralls and safety glasses appropriate for the job. OSHA personnel are in place 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 in a press release. "OSHA will monitor training, observe clean-up efforts and provide whatever assistance is needed to BP and its contractors."

OSHA also has established a website to provide hazard awareness material for all involved in the cleanup activities will update the site with new information as the situation warrants.