NIC Welcomes OSHA To The Gulf – But Do Mariners?

John Konrad
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June 11, 2010

OSHA Standards StickerIn the testimony of Steven Tink, BP head of Health, Safety and the Environment, gCaptain was critical of his wide knowledge of OSHA regulations, regualtions that currently do not apply to vessels offshore, compared to his lack of knowledge on maritime and major emergency management topics. gCaptain wrote:

A direct line of management, regardless of competency of bosses in marine operations, is better than BP’s structure of responsibility and authority in which Mr. Tink, HS&E leader for BP operations in the Gulf, was unable to clearly define during his testimony. In answering questions it was clear Mr. Tink had no knowledge of marine or general emergency management but rather was an expert in “Occupational Health”. Mr. Tink mentioned OSHA regulations, which don’t apply offshore, but did not display knowledge of ISM, ISPS or the myriad of other codes that do apply to vessels.

gCaptain is confident of BP’s in-house experience as an owner and operator of tankers and other marine vessels but these people did not testify and it is unclear who is responsible AND COMPETENT in planning and monitoring marine emergencies. Mr. Tink described spreadsheets, diagrams and advance computers that crunch injury data but made no mention of a program that records ABS deficiencies, USCG comments, BP Marine Audit reports, Marine incidents and other clues to problems in these areas.

With concerns for hand safety trumping that of larger risks like fires, explosions and sinking… we question at what level OSHA’s regulations should be considered in the operation of deepwater vessels. But ultimately the choice is not ours. In a press release today the USCG tells us:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard Federal on Scene Coordinator for the BP Deepwater Horizon response and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday the signing of a memorandum of understanding concerning worker safety and health issues related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico.

The MOU solidifies the close working relationship between the Coast Guard and OSHA and establishes a specific mechanism for coordination between the Deepwater Horizon FOSC and OSHA. OSHA and the FOSC recognize the importance of close cooperation among all agencies that have responsibilities during the oil cleanup efforts. The MOU furthers joint efforts to monitor compliance with safety standards and to protect workers.

“We are actively collaborating with the FOSC and the Coast Guard to ensure the protection of workers involved in the oil spill cleanup,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Health and Safety Administration David Michaels. “OSHA staff is on the ground proactively monitoring worker safety and health. Our staff is on the beaches, at the staging areas and on the boats to make sure BP is protecting clean up workers from safety and health hazards.”

“From the beginning of our response to this tragic event, we have placed preservation of life and safety at the top of our list of priorities,” said Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson, Federal on Scene Coordinator for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. “My signature on this MOU reasserts our commitment to the safety of the more than 24,000 people who are working to mitigate the threat from this catastrophic oil spill.”

The Federal On Scene Coordinator and OSHA will share relevant information to promote worksite safety in the Deepwater Horizon Response, including information provided by workers, local government officials or any other person.

OSHA has the authority to conduct safety and health inspections to ensure employees are being protected and to determine if the worksite is in compliance with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated under the OSH Act and its general duty clause. The MOU provides the means for OSHA to notify the FOSC when it intends to take enforcement action against BP, BP’s contractors, or any other employer engaged in response activities.

Click here to view or download the memorandum of understanding.

It is not gCaptain’s hope that we avoid occupational health concerns only that they do not reach a level of regulation that distract mariners from the broader risks of life at sea. A focus on occupational health rather than major emergency management was an imporatnat cause in the chain of events that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon and hopefully the lessons learned can help the offshore community refocus its safety efforts. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the direction regulators are heading.

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