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Two Weeks Later, New Safety Training for Gulf Workers Has Yet to Begin

BP still has not started a longer, more detailed safety course for oil cleanup workers on boats in the Gulf of Mexico. OSHA says it isn't satisfied with the proposed changes yet.

On June 18, David Michaels, director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told us that his agency was working with BP to improve safety training for offshore cleanup workers who may be exposed to crude oil and dispersants. But two weeks after the interview -- in which Michaels said that he expected the new training course to begin within days -- the course has not started and OSHA says it is still reviewing the new curriculum.

Safety trainings for cleanup workers are provided by BP, subject to OSHA's approval. A spokesman for OSHA suggested in a statement that the delay was in part because the agency wasn't satisfied with BP's proposed improvements to the training.

"OSHA will not approve something that is unsatisfactory, and that is why it is currently working with BP on the third draft of the new curriculum," the statement said. "Additionally, implementation of the increased training requirements has taken time as OSHA and NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) have been developing an interim worker health and training guide to assist them with their decision-making and operations in the cleanup. This document has just been finalized."

The training is to increase from four hours to eight hours and will address new subjects including protection from chemical exposure and workers' rights, Michaels told us in our initial interview. The expanded course will be provided to offshore workers in the Vessels of Opportunity program -- which employs local boat operators and crews in cleanup activities -- but not to shoreline responders, who are cleaning the beaches.

Shoreline workers are considered to be at lower risk because by the time oil reaches the beaches it has weathered long enough that it has "lost its most volatile chemicals," Michaels said.

The most recent data from BP and the Louisiana health department show continuing reports of illness by cleanup workers. As we noted last week, BP's statistics showed the number of illnesses among its workers rising from 86 by June 10 to 307 by June 17, a change that the company said came in part from clearing a backlog in its paperwork.

From June 13 to June 26, the Louisiana health department recorded 54 new reports of health problems that those reporting say were related to exposure to pollutants from the oil spill. Unlike those in previous weeks, in which complaints came from both workers and the general population, all of the most recently recorded reports came from cleanup workers.

OSHA says it is working to finalize the new course's contents and start date, and will update us when it has new information. We'll let you know when we hear more.

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