The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sent a letter to U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen requesting his help in communicating the agency’s “growing concern over significant deficiencies in BP’s oil response operations related to worker safety.” In the letter, David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said that the oil giant’s failures to adequately protect workers involved in the oil spill cleanup efforts pose “potentially grave consequences” for their health.

Some Gulf Coast fishermen now on BP’s payroll as oil spill cleanup and containment workers have started to go public about the health problems they say have been plaguing them since oil and natural gas began erupting from the Deepwater Horizon‘s uncapped well six week ago.

BP has denied the workers face serious threats to their health, based on unreleased results of air quality tests. Last week, BP CEO Tony Hayward said that those fishermen who have gotten sick likely had a case of food poisoning.

Michaels said that OSHA has “repeatedly raised concerns with on-scene BP officials as well as BP corporate leadership,” but that the company has done nothing to seriously and systematically address the agency’s concerns.

Michaels added that his agency’s field representatives have witnessed “numerous deficiencies at several work sites and staging areas throughout the Gulf Coast region,” and stressed that these problems were not isolated incidents.

Another source of “grave concern and frustration on OSHA’s part,” as Michaels put it, was that BP has not been sharing critical health an safety information relating to the exposure and injuries of its cleanup workers.

According to OSHA, the most distressing issues that need to be addressed immediately are:

  • Deficient site controls: OSHA says that training sites are not properly secured to protect workers from potentially angry and violent individuals, and that many of the workers do not have the proper training to deal with contaminated work areas and toxic materials.”In fact, the Agency found over 800 personnel at one of the Biloxi sites without the required training,” Michaels said, warning that the disorganization and vulnerabilities of the operations would grow alongside the oil spill.
  • Heat stress: OSHA said that deadly heat stroke is a concern for workers because BP hasn’t provided proper shade and hydration for workers exposed for hours to hot temperatures and direct sunlight. The agency said that several heat-related injuries are reported every day. On Dauphin Island, Alabama, six workers suffered symptoms of heat stroke and one was hospitalized.
  • Hazardous weather: BP has repeatedly requested that BP have a plan for protecting workers against thunderstorms and lightning strikes, but has not seen one yet. This issue mirrors BP’s failure to submit adequate, serious environmental and worker safety plans before the Deepwater Horizon began its exploratory drilling.
  • Withholding key health and safety information: “BP’s delay in producing the documentation, plans, and data associated with a viable safety and health program for this incident is extremely disconcerting,” the letter states. Michaels also asserts that BP consistently fails to provide OSHA with critical information relating to worker health and safety
  • Lack of authority: OSHA says that the individual BP put in charge of cleanup workers “does not appear to operate with the full support of the company, nor does he seem to have the authority necessary for the job which he has been tasked.” Michaels requests that someone with the proper authority and support take over the cleanup efforts.

Read the OSHA letter.

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