Here is what will be driving worker health safety conversations this week:
OSHA UPS THE ANTE
The Severe Violators Enforcement Program directive went into effect last Friday, as the agency shows again enforcement policy is easier to shape than standard-setting.
The SVEP focuses on employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards. SVEP actions include increased inspections, such as mandatory follow-up inspections of a workplace found in violation and inspections of other worksites of the same company where similar hazards or deficiencies may be present.
Targeted will be employers who have demonstrated recalcitrance or indifference to compliance by committing willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe situation; in industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; exposing workers to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all egregious enforcement actions.
OSHA CHIEF MICHAELS TREKS UP THE HILL (AGAIN)
Dr. Michaels is getting his exercise visiting Capitol Hill for numerous hearings. The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, June 23 at 10 am to examine how worker health and safety is regulated and enforced by various parties from oil rigs themselves to post-accident cleanup operations.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, U.S. Department of Labor is scheduled to testify.
ARE CLEANUP WORKERS SAFE?
Two NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program industrial hygiene teams continue to conduct worker exposure monitoring for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including total hydrocarbons and specific VOCs identified on screening samples.
Sampling is also being done to look for carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, benzene soluble particulates, diesel exhaust, and propylene glycol (a component of dispersant). The medical team is continuing to administer health symptom surveys to off-shore response workers and investigating the feasibility of distributing additional surveys through boat docks, decontamination areas, and safety officers.
HHE Program medical staff have identified a need for worker education materials about heat stress, hand washing, and hygiene and is facilitating the provision of public health posters for a camp for contracted on-shore and near-shore workers.
CONSULTING ETHICS CREATE CLEANUP CONTROVERSY
Greenwire reports the private contractor hired by BP PLC as the primary monitor of offshore workers in the Gulf of Mexico â€” the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH) â€” has a vested interest in finding a clean bill of health to satisfy its corporate employer, according to pollution prevention specialists.
"It's essentially the fox guarding the chicken coop," said Nicholas Cheremisinoff, a former Exxon chemical engineer who now consults on pollution prevention.
"There is a huge incentive for them to under-report" the size of the spill, Cheremisinoff added, and "the same thing applies on the health and safety side."
Said another toxicologist: "They're paid to say everything's OK. Their work product is, basically, they find the least protective rules and regulations and rely on those."
John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told Greenwire he wants to see a "centralized, coordinated, transparent database" of health data on Gulf workers.
"Not only government-collected data, but private contractors," Howard said.
According to the Greenwire dispatch, a spokeswoman for the Joint Incident Command Center in New Orleans asserted that government plays a role in "a checks and balances system" for worker monitoring but did not provide more details on that system.
NO SURPRISE: BP WORKERS DON’T TRUST HQ
A 2007 survey of BP workers and contractors found that three out of four workers surveyed said that "BP's maintenance program was still not aligned with BP's business priorities," according to a recently published report by ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarten.
"Six years after a scathing 2001 internal review of BP's Alaska operations found the company wasn't maintaining safety equipment and faced 'a fundamental lack of trust' among workers, a follow up study said BP had made little headway in addressing those concerns," Lustgarten writes.