Lizzie Grossman has a nice post over at The Pump Handle highlighting how the National Contingency Plan for major oil spills has significant gaps, which left government agencies and cleanup workers in the Gulf scrambling to figure out the right training programs and the best ways to protect workers' health and safety in the days, weeks, and months following the BP spill.
But, as Lizzie points out, one of the most powerful advocates for fixing the NCP -- the National Spill Commission -- has left the issue of cleanup workers' by the wayside:
Occupational health issues for responders are simply not the focus of the Commission's review: OSHA is only mentioned twice in the body of the report. The role of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the response is not described at all, nor is the health impacts roster maintained by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. The body of the report mentions neither the National Institutes of Health nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Tens of thousands of people participated in cleanup efforts last summer. Despite the sweltering heat and some areas overrun with heavy equipment, no workers died and injury and illness rates were relatively low. Long-term health impacts of cleanup work will be more difficult to measure. But OSHA, NIEHS, and NIOSH deserve recognition for their work.
In September, we published a white paper with five recommendations for fixing the NCP, based in large part on good policies enacted in the aftermath of the spill:
Our government ought to work not just to try to prevent the next disaster from happening, but also to be as prepared as possible for if it does. Reforming the National Contingency Plan on worker safety issues is a needed step in that direction.