Rarely is adequate consideration given to the health and safety of workers engaged in cleaning up after a disaster, and the BP Oil Spill Disaster is no exception. From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers
BP’s foul up is not the first significant oil spill in the nation’s history, nor even the first in the Gulf. The oil companies and government agencies with a stake in guarding against and cleaning up the spills that inevitably accompany oil drilling have had ample opportunity and motivation to devise and hone plans for protecting workers. And yet, thousands of cleanup workers began their work in the Gulf without the training and guidance necessary to ensure their safety in the face of hazardous conditions.
…OSHA and NIOSH eventually settled on policies for training workers and requiring appropriate safety gear. Their response undoubtedly helped limit the risks the workers faced. But the time it took to settle these policies put into sharp focus a significant problem in our nation’s emergency response policies: OSHA and NIOSH had only limited roles in the planning process and in the development of implementing regulations, a failing that badly slowed the government’s response on the worker-safety front. From this “original sin” flowed a number of negative consequences, some of which compromised the health and safety of cleanup workers.
The report also said that the National and Regional Contingency Plans shortchanged the role of worker protection agencies in planning for an oil spill response, leaving no mechanism for enforcing workplace safety.
- Report: Federal Disaster Response Plans Shortchange Worker Safety (propublica.org)