Keeping Workers Safe During Gulf Shore Cleanup

Now in its third month, the Gulf Coast oil spill has created many safety hazards for wildlife and for people involved in cleanup efforts. Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the state’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance, urges employers and employees helping out with the oil spill to take extra precautions during these efforts.

The April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill released crude oil from the explosion of an off-shore drilling rig. During an oil spill cleanup, workers may encounter many types of crude oil—including fresh and weathered—which contain carcinogenic volatile aromatic compounds, such as benzene, toluene and naphthalene. The heavy and medium parts of the weathered oil are generally the focus of any cleanup.

“We commend these workers who are involved in the oil spill cleanup in the Gulf,” said Ron Wright, president of Texas Mutual. “But we also hope that they continue this process with their own safety in mind. It’s a job that presents many hazards, and we want to be sure they are aware of on-the-job dangers.”

Being aware of potential safety hazards will help workers know what to watch for during the cleanup process. There are a number of hazards employees and employers should be aware of during shoreline and vessel operations, including:

  • Heat stress
  • Sunburn and sun poisoning
  • Skin and eye irritation or rashes from contact with “weathered oil”
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Being hit by earthmoving equipment
  • Bites from snakes, fire ants, mosquitoes, rodents and alligators
  • Noise
  • Lightning and severe weather
  • Drowning

Because of the potential dangers posed by oil spill response and cleanup, it is important for workers to also receive the proper equipment and training for each job they will be expected to perform.

The following are examples of safe work practices and personal protective equipment that should be provided to each worker:

  • Workers should be trained for each duty they are expected to perform, and in a language they understand.
  • Rest breaks should be provided throughout a work shift to help control heat stress.
  • Buckets, brushes, water and soap should be available, along with instructions about how to clean oily protective equipment before removing it.
  • For jobs that involve contact with oil, such as removing debris along the shoreline, employers need to provide workers with work gloves.
  • For jobs involving oil-contaminated debris and those involving contact with oil or other chemicals, employers need to provide additional protective equipment, such as oil- or chemical-resistant gloves, boots and overalls.
  • For jobs involving work on vessels, docks or other areas with potential drowning hazards, employers need to provide life jackets.

“Worker safety has always been our top priority, and we know that education on safety hazards and proper practices are a part of that,” said Wright. “It’s a tough job that not a lot of people will line up for, but these workers have. We all owe them our sincere gratitude for their cleanup efforts.”

For more information about safety practices related to an oil spill, click here.

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