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OSHA Holds Firm on PPE Requirement

Monday, May 14, 2012

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Federal safety officials have nixed a congressman’s request to ease up on requirements that oil and gas workers wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry (R-LA) had asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last summer to rescind its mandate that oil and gas drilling workers wear fire-retardant clothing.

 Eleven BP workers died and 16 were injured in the April 2010 explosion and fire aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon.

 US Coast Guard

Eleven BP workers died and 16 were injured in the April 2010 explosion and fire aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon off the Louisiana coast. Rep. Jeff Landry, whose district is near the site, asked OSHA to drop PPE requirements for such workers.

“I do not support overly burdensome regulations which make their jobs harder, while doing little to protect their safety,” Landry, a first-term congressman, wrote in August to Dr. David Michaels, the OSHA administrator.

“In this vein, I am concerned about OSHA’s regulations forcing welders to wear fire-retardant clothing (FRC) to protect themselves from inflammation.”

Worker Cost Cited

Landry said the protective gear had caused heat exhaustion in “many workers” and “cost each worker $50 for one set.”

(In fact, since 2008, employers—not workers—must provide and pay for PPE required to comply with OSHA standards.)

Landry’s letter was prompted by a 2010 OSHA memo clarifying the requirement that employers provide flame-retardant clothing for workers in “oil and gas well drilling, servicing, and production-related operations.”

OSHA said it was issuing the clarification to “resolve” the “inconsistent use” of PPE “among drilling contractors, well servicing contractors, and oil and gas companies that employ thousands of workers in these operations.”

Flash Fire Dangers

The agency noted the ongoing danger of flash fires in such operations, adding: “The use of FRC greatly improves the chance of a worker surviving and regaining quality of life after a flash fire. FRC can significantly reduce both the extent and severity of burn injuries to the body.”

One month after that memo, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and burned off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and injuring 16. Landry’s district was hardest hit by the disaster and ensuing oil spill.

(“Where I come from,” Landry has said, “most people are married to the oil-and-gas industry.”)

‘Bureaucratic Agencies’

“I understand fire protection is important for worker safety,” Landry wrote to Michaels. “However, there must be a better way we can ensure their safety. It is many of these regulations administered by bureaucratic agencies like OSHA that are making job growth weak and the work environment unsafe.”

Landry added: “I respectfully request for you to consider the FRC regulation and its effects on workers and find a better solution to keep them safe.

“We cannot continue to place the burden on the backs of our small business workers. They are the lifeblood of the American economy.”

‘Jobs and Job Safety’

Michaels’ response, made in January but released only recently, does not openly reject Landry’s request but firmly restates and defends the standard, which he says has saved lives and prevented injuries.

Michaels notes that if employers used administrative and engineering controls to reduce workers’ risk, “there would be no requirement for an employer to provide and ensure the use of PPE designed to protect against these hazards.”

Michaels acknowledges the concern about heat stress and advises that employers “provide light weight breathable fabrics and allow employees to drink cold liquids, such as water and other electrolyte replenishing drinks.”

Finally, he reminds Landry that employers are responsible for providing the equipment and ensuring that it is used properly. Employers that need help complying should take advantage of OSHA’s free On-site Consultation Program, says Michaels.

“We understand and share your concern that protecting workers' health and lives on the job not interfere with the efforts we are making to ensure that businesses and jobs in this country grow and thrive on a level playing field,” Michaels writes.

On the other hand, he adds: “OSHA has proven over the past 40 years that we can have both jobs and job safety.”


Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; OSHA; Personal protective equipment; Regulations

Comment from James Johnson, (5/15/2012, 9:53 AM)

This has nothing to do with safety. If it did OSHA would be concerned with the number of workers suffering heat exhaustion. This is just another case of crucifiction of the oil industry. All the Congressman asked is that they seek a alternative and they respond as would be expected, saying we know safety and ignoring the request.

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (5/15/2012, 10:45 AM)

James, that's not the read I got from the response: "Michaels notes that if employers used administrative and engineering controls to reduce workers’ risk, 'there would be no requirement for an employer to provide and ensure the use of PPE designed to protect against these hazards.' " Sure, FRC is warm and contributes to heat exhaustion, but, if controls cannot be put in place to mitigate the need, then the additional heat from FRC can be dealt with using proper heat management techniques (this very newsletter had an article on the OHSA reminding folks on how to manage heat stress in just the last couple days). I do not see this as a crucification of the oil industry and I do not read the attitude you are implying in Michael's response. Before you condemn me for this view, let me state openly that I'm in area where the oil industry lives with global condemnation and vilification and the industry has extensive PPE requirements that go far beyond just wearing FRC.

Comment from Jeremi Day, (5/15/2012, 12:22 PM)

Mr. Halliwell, as I respect your response, I did have a slight problem with your wording. FRC's aren't "warm" in Texas in July & August. They are UN-BEARABLY SCORCHING, DANGEROUSLY HOT! Anyone who says they're "warm" has never worked near a 12" steam line in August wearing a set of FRC coveralls, Tyvek suit, Respirator, and a Hard Hat just to Brush and Roll a 20' piece of 4" pipe. To James, I think the problem does not lie with OSHA. I think it's great that there is an agency there to protect workers from hazards. BUT, Facilities need to have the authority and common sense to be able to distinguish between what is safe and what will cause further hazards. Just like many other areas within the industry, a little common sense goes a long way.

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (5/16/2012, 11:03 AM)

Jeremi, yes, perhaps I understate it a bit whan I say "warm"...but I have worked in 100 degree heat in tyvek and nomex layers, full face APR respirator, hard hat, boots and booties in buildings without any airflow due to having all systems de-energized. When you have to pour the sweat out of your boots after a short shift, you know you're working hot. The Tyvek is a major contributor to the heat in cases like that (Tyvek doesn't breathe at all while many newer FRC pieces do much, much better)...but there are ways to manage working in those conditions...cooling vests, limiting work time and increasing break time, proper hydration, etc., etc. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are after productivity and heat exhasution / stroke are only a consideration after someone collapses. I do agree with you 100% that commmon sense goes a long way and it is not the OSHA or the FRC regs that are the problem.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (5/16/2012, 1:00 PM)

Since the Volt automobile seems to now start burning on its own, OSHA should now designate that all employees driving a Volt or parking a Volt in their garage also wear a fire retardant suit? Maybe GM is only interested in its profits and not the workers nor the public buying its products. For that matter are soldiers in battle required by to wear fire retardant suits?? Just asking.

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (5/17/2012, 10:31 AM)

Jerry, the Volt doesn't flash fire like vapours on a drill rig so probably no FRC for that...but maybe they will mandate a fire extinguisher in about 10 years when they can work the rule through the process and assuming Chevy is still making the Volt then ;)

Comment from Jeremi Day, (5/17/2012, 12:10 PM)

I agree, Mr. Halliwell. We just need to get these contractors to realize that spending the time and money on a $300.00 cooling vest is much better than causing heat strokes &/or exhaustion. Maybe sometime in the future we will see comprehensive regulations mandating companies to provide this as part of the required PPE. Let's face it. If any of us have a choice between inadequately providing for our families or wearing FRC's in the heat, I think we would all gladly pour sweat out of our boots at the end of the day.

Comment from James Johnson, (5/18/2012, 11:08 AM)

OSHA says "if employers used administrative and engineering controls to reduce workers’ risk, “there would be no requirement for an employer to provide...." So if they know FRC is going to cause heat exhaustion and have adverse affects to worker health, then why does OSHA not address those administrative and engineering controls instead? Administrative and engineering controls seem to make far more sense than impairing and exhausting workers. Something about this does not pass the smell test...

Comment from Anna Jolly, (5/21/2012, 11:49 AM)

Oh my! OSHA is out to get the poor oil industry. Come on, it doesn't take a Congressman to run your safety program. How much did they pay their lobbist to get the Congressman to do this. I bet that would have been more than enough to purchase cooling vests for all their employees. If employers use their heads instead of their Congressment, the safety of workers on their sites would be insured.

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (5/22/2012, 11:00 AM)

James, administrative and engineering controls will be site specific and not something that OSHA can specifically legislate. A worker is fairly easy to mandate PPE for...have the employer look at the hazards and equip the worker some cases and for some activities you set out minimum standards (i.e. you don't play with acid baths in a swim suit, but rather you wear something to resist the acid, right?). If you want to protect the worker by changing the workplace with administrative or engineering controls...that's a lot harder. That acid bath, for could mandate that the company enclose it (engineering control), but then you run into the difficulty of getting whatever needs to be bathed in and out as well as the size of the tank...a small tank may be easy to enclose, but what about the really, really big tanks? If you want to put in an administrative control (i.e. no one goes into the acid bath room, for example), then you need to figure out how to get pieces in and out of the bath and hope that you're not banning people from the entire production floor. That's why OSHA leaves the option out there for employers to use admin or engineeing controls, but mandates ppe for cases where such controls are not practical.

Comment from James Johnson, (5/22/2012, 9:07 PM)

M. Halliwell, you stated it quite clearly - administrative and engineering controls are not something OSHA can mandate, so instead of making recommendations or working with employers to reduce or eliminate the hazards they choose the easy out, which fortunately for them, is another mandate. End of story...

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (5/23/2012, 10:30 AM)

James, I'd be interested in hearing your solution then and I'm sure OSHA would love to hear it too. There are companies out there (and we see examples in the articles of PaintSquare on a regular basis) who choose to put profit or "the easy out" ahead of the safety and lives of their workers. Sure, having OSHA mandate every miniscule aspect of safety is not ideal...even I agree that there are limits as to how far they should be allowed to go...but how else would you motivate employers across the country to look after their employees, regardless of if they are minimum wage laborers or the CEO? They have given employers options...admin controls, engineering controls or, for where the former two are not practical, then worker PPE. It sounds reasonable to me, but if you have a better solution...

Comment from James Johnson, (5/24/2012, 11:05 AM)

As stated above, the EPA was requested by the Congressman to work with the options but they declined to do so and decided on a mandate instead. That does not sound reasonable to me. I worked in the logging and sawmill industry for 20 years and I've worked in the coatings industry for almost 30 years and in all that time I've known very very few employers who were not concerned with worker safety or were more concerned with profits than safety. There have been a few, but they were short lived employers. The world is not a perfect place and never will be and there is no way to regulate it into perfection either. OSHA will never stop all injuries or deaths, so the object should be to find a balance where all do not suffer because of a very few. The story above lacks a lot of information one would need to make a determination, such as what percentage workers are injured or killed in such fires annually. What engineering options are available to reduce or eliminate such fires? Without full information one cannot begin to formulate a real and viable solution.

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