There seem to be many instances of oil spills and hazardous material scares in the news lately. These have been exposing corporations' lack of preparation and training skills.
The government organization responsible for reviewing such issues is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They've been playing an important role in these recent events.
What Does OSHA Do?
OSHA's purpose is to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths from work-related events. OSHA does this by setting and enforcing workplace standards for safety and health.
While it's true that spills or fires can occur in almost any facility, it's important that employees receive training about what to do in a hazardous spill situation. OSHA defines and provides certifications for different levels of training and is also responsible for reviewing accidents after they occur.
A few of the spills and fires that occurred in recent months are described below.
Age Refining, Inc.
AGE Refining, Inc. manufactures, refines and markets jet fuel, diesel and other specialized fuel. The US Department of Defense is one of its main buyers. In May, a fire started close to a dozen fuel tanks in the company's plant in San Antonio Texas. Each tank held hundreds of thousands of gallons of jet fuel, which is extremely explosive. AGE Refining hasn't reopened since the fire.
OSHA is investigating. While AGE Refining initially claimed the fire was accidental, it won't address the cause of the fire until OSHA's report is submitted. The report can take up to six months.
Luckily, there were only a few minor injuries and no public safety concerns, even though in a nearby pond 40 fish turned up dead.
British Petroleum (BP) is a multinational oil company and the fourth largest company in the world. It seems the company didn't properly train their employees in case of emergencies.
A recent explosion caused an oil spill from a BP offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. This catastrophe has been called the worst oil spill in US history. Efforts to manage the spill have been unsuccessful so far.
Meanwhile, oil continues to wash ashore while workers are trying to contain the damage. During the attempted cleanups, BP has been deeply criticized because it has scrambled to get the necessary OSHA certificates and trainings only after the spill occurred. The company has been attacked for their lack of preparedness for such emergencies and for wasting valuable time.
ICP Industries, LLC
ICP Industries is another company in San Antonio, Texas receiving negative attention in the media. This company provides service to industrial engine power cylinders and other types of cylinders.
The Company is located 1,000 feet away from an elementary school and has been accused of operating without the proper zoning requirements for heavy industrial uses.
Worried residents held a public meeting on May 26 to address the zoning issue. These residents are especially fearful because the company suffered an explosion in 2006 where chromic acid blasted into the air. The city now needs to make a decision on the company's zoning permit.
Scuba Clean Inc.
Scuba Clean Inc. is a family business that cleans boats. It has recently been accused of various safety violations. OSHA has fined the company more than $200,000. The company has been accused of not properly training their divers and not adhering to other rules such as sending accompanying divers with continuous visual contact and using air hoses not rated for diving.
However, the company explains that the OSHA standards and guidelines they've been accused of violating don't apply to their company. They argue that OSHA standards typically apply to commercial diving operations like deepwater oil rigs, but shouldn't apply to their divers, who usually don't go past 5 feet underwater. The owners of the company imply that the involvement was arbitrary and unnecessary and only as a result of a complaint by a disgruntled employee who's been fired.
Type of Training OSHA Provides
OSHA's training certificates should be acquired before a spill or other emergency occurs and as part of a company's training to employees. Not every worker needs the same amount of training and the type and level of training depends on how close he or she will be to a spill and what role they will have once a spill has occurred.
OHSA requires companies to train their workers to the highest level of responsibility and exposure assigned to them. For more information about OSHA's different level of certificates and response programs, please refer to OSHA's web site.
As these spills and fires seem to occur regularly, it's important for workers to get the necessary training to work with such hazardous materials. Proper training and certification can make cleanup efforts smoother and safer, and avoid negative publicity and wasting precious time after an emergency has occurred.
As an employer, it's your responsibility to follow these rules. Be sure to post the necessary signs and to train and prepare your workers for hazards that might occur.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can OSHA be sued for not forcing companies to get the proper training?
- Will OSHA representatives have to testify before Congress during the hearings related to the BP oil spill?
- Does OSHA inspect facilities to make sure they comply with their rules?