Howard testifies on oil cleanup worker safety

NIOSH Director John Howard on Tuesday testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the health effects oil spill cleanup workers face.

Howard said the long-term, chronic health effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cannot be fully understood due to a lack of studies into large spills around populated areas.

However, he said acute health problems associated with oil spills are known and can be guarded against. Although much of the media and stakeholder attention concerning cleanup worker safety has focused on whether or not respirators are necessary, Howard said heat stress was the most serious issue to workers so far, and conducting nighttime work to minimize the risk is being considered.

Respirator use depends on the type of cleanup, Howard said, adding that NIOSH and OSHA currently are developing recommendations for various scenarios.

In related news, OSHA last week announced it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Coast Guard's Federal On-Scene Coordinator. The MOU establishes a means of coordination between OSHA and the FOSC to monitor compliance with safety standards and protect workers.

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