The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday said workers hired by BP PLC to clean up spilled oil don’t need respirators, despite complaints from employees about side effects from repeated exposure to toxic fumes.  The comparisons to the Exxon Valdez disaster just keep coming.  There were significant health issues for the cleanup workers recruited to battle the Alaskan spill.

The government feels that oil spill cleanup workers are receiving “minimal” exposure to airborne toxins and thus don’t need to wear respirators, But, OSHA will require that BP provide other protective items such as protective clothing.  However, the media have reported that BP has failed to provide some of its workers with gloves, suits or any other type of protective gear.

OSHA’s announcement comes despite repeated complaints from oil spill cleanup workers and demands from members of Congress that BP provide respirators for workers.   The exposure levels to toxins that could harm cleanup workers changes daily depending upon tide and weather conditions and the success of containment efforts. Crude oil is a hazard that can irritate the skin or eyes.  In addition to the crude oil, however, workers are being exposed to what some experts say are dangerous dispersant chemicals such as Corexit.

The cleanup workers have complained of the following side effects of toxic exposure after working in or near waters contaminated by the oil spill:

  • nausea
  • shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • respiratory problems
  • severe headaches

Other potential health problems that can and most likely will arise during the Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup efforts include:

  • heat illness
  • dehydration
  • fatigue
  • wildlife accidents such as bites
  • more traditional slip and falls due to slick surfaces
  • severe weather issues
  • lack of proper training

Since BP has an awful record with regard to workplace safety, the oil spill cleanup crewmembers and congressmen are correct to keep a close eye on BP’s oil spill response efforts.  OSHA has worked closely with BP to monitor working conditions; and not surprisingly, BP feels the Unified Command has dealt with all relevant safety concerns.


Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers Partner Matthew D. Shaffer represents several Deepwater Horizon crewmembers and their families for claims for personal injuries received in the oil rig explosion.  Mr. Shaffer has over 45 years of experience handling toxic exposure cases for workers exposed to a variety of toxic substances during the course and scope of their employment.  The exposure cases at issue here against BP and related entities will require the expertise of a lawyer experienced in dealing with Jones Act claims and related general maritime law.  To make certain your claims are handled well, please contact SMSH today.