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Coast Guard Photos Show Spill Workers Without Protective Gear

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires oil cleanup workers to wear gloves, rubber boots and other safety equipment, but Coast Guard pictures from Texas show the rules aren't always followed. OSHA says it is addressing the problem.

There's something missing in the Coast Guard's latest PR photos of oil spill cleanup workers: protective gear.

No fewer than three items required for beach cleaning operations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- coveralls, rubber boots and, in one case, gloves -- are absent in pictures of workers cleaning potentially oiled debris from beaches in Galveston, Texas, on Sunday.

The photos, first noted by a Facebook group that advocates health protections for cleanup workers, were taken by a Coast Guard petty officer and posted to the agency's Visual Information Gallery. A caption describes the workers as "contractors working to clean the beaches in Galveston."

Cindy Coe, the southeast regional director for OSHA, said that the protective equipment shown in one of the photographs was inadequate and that she had instructed her staff to address the problem.

"We'll get that corrected," Coe said. "They are tracking down the contractors of those individuals."

Coe said that concerns about heat stress had led OSHA to accept long pants and T-shirts for beach cleanup workers instead of the coveralls described in agency guidelines, but that the lack of gloves and proper footwear was unacceptable.

Frank Hearl, the chief of staff for the government's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said that gloves, boots and protective clothing were all necessary for working with potentially oil-coated materials. Hearl said he hadn't seen the photos and didn't want to comment on them specifically, but said generally that while there's a trade-off between protective equipment and keeping workers cool enough, there are other ways of managing heat stress, such as providing rest breaks to workers and ensuring adequate hydration.

"There's a tension between the two things, and you have to deal with both," Hearl said.

We contacted the Coast Guard this morning to ask about the photos and find out which contractor was in charge of the site, but haven't yet gotten a response. We'll let you know when we hear more.

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