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Liveblog: Hearing on Oil Rig and Cleanup Worker Health and Safety (Updated with Video)

Today the House EdLabor Committee, chaired by Rep. George Miller, is hosting a hearing called “Worker Health and Safety from the Oil Rig to Shoreline.” The hearing will explore what protections are in place for oil rig workers, what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and how to protect cleanup workers in the Gulf Coast for BP’s oil disaster.

I’m watching the live stream from the House committee website.

UPDATE: the hearing is over, but the live stream crashed before I could finish the liveblog. ūüôĀ you can watch the hearing in full at this link. I’ve also embedded the opening statements next to my liveblog of each person. For the Q&A, you’ll have to watch the link above.

Liveblog, witness list, and videos below.

Witness list:

Rear Admiral Kevin Cook
Director of Prevention Policy for Marine Safety, Security, and Stewardship
U.S. Coast Guard
Washington, D.C.

Dr. John Howard
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, D.C.

David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor

Mr. Doug Slitor
Acting Chief of the Office of Offshore Regulatory Programs
Offshore Energy and Minerals Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement
U.S. Department of the Interior, Herndon, Va.

George Miller is giving his opening remarks; you can read those¬†in full here (PDF). Here’s what Miller says he hopes to get at today:

Has responsibility for worker safety been diffused amongst various agencies, with no minimum standard for ensuring worker safety protection?
If agencies other than OSHA regulate worker safety, should their rules be at least as effective as OSHA’s where they overlap?
Do OCS workers covered by MMS and Coast Guard regulations have adequate whistleblower protections?
Is there a need for independent safety regulators, so that an agency that is responsible for leasing and revenue collection is not also responsible for worker safety and environmental protection?
Is there a better structure to ensure worker safety protections from process safety hazards?
Are the agencies in charge of the spill response sufficiently coordinating their efforts?

Rep. Kline, ranking member, said in his opening statements that like after Katrina, we don’t know how to adequately protect workers and need to make sure response workers have every protection available.

First witness up for opening statements: Read Admiral Cook of the Coast Guard. Cook basically gives an overview of the history of Coast Guard cooperation with federal agencies to “avoid duplication of efforts.” (Watch Cook’s statement:)

Next up, new MMS director Doug Slitor. Says MMS had “general safety standards” to ensure worker safety. Giving overview of safety equipment and standards required on oil rigs. Says in 2002 change was made for Coast Guard to authorize MMS to conduct safety inspections.Since 2003, conducted 4000 “partial to complete” safety inspections. Public reports only required for “serious injuries” on oil rigs.¬†Civil penalties considered for cases, or refered to Insp General for criminal charges. “For operators displaying chonric poor performance, MMS can put” the operator “on probation.” [So why did BP, with 700+ huge violations, not make this cut?]¬†Watch Slitor’s statement:

Now it’s OSHA’s David Michaels. Like the others, he starts off mentioning the 11 workers killed in the explosion. “Good jobs are safe jobs.” OSHA has no authority more than 3 miles off shore to enforce any regulations. Focusing remarks on cleanup operations.

OSHA first deployed to Gulf April 26, present at all 17 staging areas. 146 people assigned from OSHA to Gulf, 25 assigned to cleanup. On the beaches and boats. Crude oil, byproducts, dispersants are among risks. OSHA notifies BP when they find a problem, expect it to be “promptly addressed,” then follow up.

OSHA ensuring BP providing free of charge training and proper equipment. Found this process to be effective, haen’t issued citations or penalties but not afraid to use it. Says big problem is actually heat, given heavy clothing they must wear.

OSHA and NIOSH reviewing BP’s monitoring data, brought in team of hygienists. OSHA observing and characterizing exposures to determine what protection necessary. Establishing health surveillance program.¬†Distributed¬†50k safety info packets.

Finally, Dr. Howard of NIOSH/CDC. ID’d 14,000 workers to reach them, going to sites and training facilities to stay in touch. Also set up website. Encouraging people to report symptoms to employers and state health officials. CDC has data from 60 poison control centers, majority of calls from recovery workers.¬†Watch Howard’s statement:

All the opening statements are available here. Now for the questioning.

Miller: Learned lessons from Katrina and 9/11 that people got sick from toxic wastesites. In 1969, OSHA responsibilities delegated to Coast Guard. Then CG delegates to MMS.

Admiral Cook: CG does initial inspection of fixed oil rigs, then MMS follows up.

Miller: What about for mobile units?

Cook: CG does on site. MMS also has inspection functions.

Miller: So both are doing inspections. Delineated, not both doing same thing.

Cook: Share training activities.

Miller: CG is lead agency then.

Miller: Where are whistleblower rights protected?

Cook: Operationally, if we get a complaint, we protect identity of person and follow up. Don’t know about statute.

Miller: Michaels, there’s whistleblower protection in OSHA, yes?

Michaels: yes.

Milller: No retatliation in that stature.

Michaels: In theory, yes.

Miller: MMS guy, what about whistleblowers

Stitlor, MMS: Issued memo to oil companies.

Miller: No place where people know their rights, right?

Stitlor: No, not for whistleblower protection.

Miller: This is an inherently dangerous workplace. Question if worker has protection to say “stop” in face of danger is very serious problem if that doesn’t exist by right in the law. We just went through horrible mine accident; even with whistleblower protections, people were stilll threatend. Here, ¬†we see a lot of cost cutting and corner cutting, this is a disaster for workers if concerns arent explicit in the law.

Miller: Cook, you’re looking at process safety management? Or Slitor? I don’t know which of you takes responsibility. [HA, problem identified.] Where’d you get these standards?

Slitor: American Petroleum Institute developed safety standards with us. In use for 15 years. Voluntary program, moving to make it a requirement. Have discussed with OSHA, after Deepwater Horizon. OSHA contacted us to get understanding of our reglations. This safety process rules are critical. Stunning that we don’t have one in place for rigs.

Rep. Kline takes over, asks about OSHA responsibility for offshore.

Michaels , OSHA: ¬†says no one has asked OSHA to take over, OSHA hasn’t asked to take over. We don’t have resources to do so. We’d need a great deal more staff to closely inspect refineries we alrtady have responsibility for, let alone offshore. Our fines don’t have much effect, $7k is last expense. Companis see OSHA fines as cost of doing business. Would need to look at fines to hav a impact.

Kline, referencing OSHA memo from May 25 about BP deficiencies. Asks to explain.

Michaels: Saw problems at staging areas. Security issues, heat problems. Didn’t se line of authority in BP or local officials. Didn’t see resources to deal with problems as operation expanded. But have since been pleased with response from Thad Allen and BP.

Cook: Thad Allen ultimately responsible for worker safety on the scene.

Rep. Kline: News reports say boats ready, but boats were stopped because of lack of inspection by CG. But Michaels says OSHA on the boats. Not sure who’s in charge. How are you balancing response to disaster and responding to demands of people on the Coast, and safety of workers? Who’s doing what to whom?

Cook: Sense of urgency. Want to do right thing for envitonment, dont want to put anyone in harm’s way. Media reports said some barges had vacuum equipment, going to be used in ocean, but were not used. Number of cases where we do behind the scenes work, not seen by media that we did to make sure boats were safe.

Kline: Confused about OSHA/ CG role.

Miller: We need precertification of private boats to not waste time when there’s a disaster. Precerts can get boats out right away. Need to do it before oil is in the water.

Lynn Woolsey: Who’s in charge? So many elements, so many questions about who’s in charge of what area. Thinking we need umbrella agency and lead agency for each part of response. Just throwing it out there. To Cook and Slitor: how many times did each of your agencies inspect that particular site? Come up with anything suspicious?

Cook: CG inspecting Deepwater Horzion every year since 2001. Validated info provided by flag state (Marshall Islands). Only two deficiencies in that time. MMS “takes care of production aspects” in drilling. “Had good safety record” on Deepwater Horizon.

Slitor: Our experience was similar. Don’t know how many inspections, but supposed to do it as close to every 30 days as possible. Over last 2-3 inspections, did not have any incidents.

Michaels: OSHA would look for compliance with certain rules. How OSHA goes about it wouldn’t be sufficient. If employer tells us, it’s safe because few injuries. On night before explosion, BP gave plaque for no loss time injuries in 7 years. Would have to look at how handle incidents, how respond to problems, but OSHA wouldnt have done it sufficiently. Both for rigs and refineries.

Woolsey: had employees been able to speak out, they would have been able to point out danger, yes?

Michaels: Absolutely.

Rep. Mike Castle: Some knowledge that what happened on rig wasn’t working,with oil and gas elements evident.

Slitor: Know similar things from newspapers, need to wait to get results from accident investigation before we comment on media reports.

Castle: if a shutoff device is in place, how would worker or inspetor know if it’s functio. ning or not?

Slitor: Operator needs to conduct tests of BOP and pressure tests to see if it can hold pressure of formation.

Castle: when was last test perfomed?

Slitor: Don’t know, but should be every 14 days.

Castle: And it’s a self test. No report of problems?

Slitor: inspect operators’ testing records to make sure htey’ve done all tests. frequencies vary, but supposed to do them regularly.

[nothing really interesting, just rehashed stuff the last couple minutes.]

Rep. Dale Kildee: was there a proper focus…

And the livestream just cut off. Will see if it gets back online….

CommunityFDL Main Blog

Liveblog: Hearing on Oil Rig and Cleanup Worker Health and Safety

(photo: PNASH)

Today, the House EdLabor Committee, chaired by Rep. George Miller, is hosting a hearing called “Worker Health and Safety from the Oil Rig to Shoreline.” The hearing will explore what protections are in place for oil rig workers, what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and how to protect cleanup workers in the Gulf Coast for BP’s oil disaster.

I’m watching the live stream from the House committee website.

Witness list:

Rear Admiral Kevin Cook
Director of Prevention Policy for Marine Safety, Security, and Stewardship
U.S. Coast Guard
Washington, D.C.

Dr. John Howard
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, D.C.

David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor

Mr. Doug Slitor
Acting Chief of the Office of Offshore Regulatory Programs
Offshore Energy and Minerals Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement
U.S. Department of the Interior, Herndon, Va.

George Miller is giving his opening remarks; you can read those in full here (PDF). Here’s what Miller says he hopes to get at today:

Has responsibility for worker safety been diffused amongst various agencies, with no minimum standard for ensuring worker safety protection?
If agencies other than OSHA regulate worker safety, should their rules be at least as effective as OSHA’s where they overlap?
Do OCS workers covered by MMS and Coast Guard regulations have adequate whistleblower protections?
Is there a need for independent safety regulators, so that an agency that is responsible for leasing and revenue collection is not also responsible for worker safety and environmental protection?
Is there a better structure to ensure worker safety protections from process safety hazards?
Are the agencies in charge of the spill response sufficiently coordinating their efforts?

Rep. Kline, ranking member, said in his opening statements that like after Katrina, we don’t know how to adequately protect workers and need to make sure response workers have every protection available.

First witness up for opening statements: Read Admiral Cook of the Coast Guard. Cook basically gives an overview of the history of Coast Guard cooperation with federal agencies to “avoid duplication of efforts.”

Next up, new MMS director Doug Slitor. Says MMS had “general safety standards” to ensure worker safety. Giving overview of safety equipment and standards required on oil rigs. Says in 2002 change was made for Coast Guard to authorize MMS to conduct safety inspections. Since 2003, conducted 4000 “partial to complete” safety inspections. Public reports only required for “serious injuries” on oil rigs. Civil penalties considered for cases, or refered to Insp General for criminal charges. “For operators displaying chonric poor performance, MMS can put” the operator “on probation.” [So why did BP, with 700+ huge violations, not make this cut?]

Now it’s OSHA’s David Michaels. Like the others, he starts off mentioning the 11 workers killed in the explosion. “Good jobs are safe jobs.” OSHA has no authority more than 3 miles off shore to enforce any regulations. Focusing remarks on cleanup operations.

OSHA first deployed to Gulf April 26, present at all 17 staging areas. 146 people assigned from OSHA to Gulf, 25 assigned to cleanup. On the beaches and boats. Crude oil, byproducts, dispersants are among risks. OSHA notifies BP when they find a problem, expect it to be “promptly addressed,” then follow up. (more…)

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Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.

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