Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2012-117, 2012 Dec; :1-18
Following the unprecedented federal response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a review of the Institute’s response activities. The purpose of this report is to evaluate those response activities, and in light of knowledge gained, identify ways to improve our response in the future. This report is organized by first providing information on NIOSH response activities, followed by several sections containing lessons-learned information, and ending in a discussion about next steps. Occupational safety and health experts from NIOSH arrived on site in response to the oil spill on May 3, 2010, at the invitation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as part of the federal interagency effort to anticipate and address the occupational safety and health needs of containment and cleanup response workers on the Gulf Coast. The unprecedented circumstances and magnitude of the disaster posed numerous challenges for NIOSH. NIOSH staff deployed to multiple locations in the five-state Gulf region; coordinated cross-agency and interagency operations in Atlanta, GA, and Washington, DC; supported other agencies’ missions as subject matter experts; and provided technical and administrative support from NIOSH divisions, labs, and offices located throughout the country. This effort was a large activation of NIOSH personnel, cumulatively resulting in deployment of 106 staff into the field and involving close to 250 staff in total. NIOSH successfully and rapidly performed multiple activities to protect worker safety and health in the Gulf, as highlighted below: 1) For the first time during an event, developed a voluntary roster of workers to obtain a record of workers who participated in the containment and cleanup, creating a mechanism for locating and contacting them about possible work-related symptoms of illness or injury; 2) Rapidly conducted health hazard evaluations associated with reported illnesses among workers involved in the Gulf response. These health hazard evaluation activities included assessments of complex exposures to heat, physical stress, fatigue, psychosocial and work organization factors, and toxic chemical and physical agents in numerous work tasks on the water and on the shore; 3) Partnered with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Department of Labor to develop interim guidance for Protecting Deepwater Horizon response Workers and Volunteers; 4) Worked with OSHA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (HHS/ASPR), the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (HHS/SAMHSA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (HHS/NIH/NIEHS), and the U.S. Coast Guard to provide the Unified Area Command (UAC) and other federal and state partners, BP, and workers guidance and communication/educational materials for protecting response workers; 5) Conducted health surveillance by analyzing injury and illness data to increase understanding and awareness of the risks associated with Gulf oil response work; 6) Designed, gathered materials and equipment, and began laboratory animal acute toxicity studies on the dispersant, crude oil, and dispersant/crude oil mixtures. While NIOSH views its participation in the oil spill response as highly successful, a review and assessment of response activities and outcomes can identify gaps, issues, and problems that can point to revisions in processes and procedures that can improve future responses. Lessons-learned in response to this disaster, as outlined below, included those related to general deployment issues, rostering activities, health hazard evaluations, technical guidance and communications, health surveillance activities, toxicity testing, and other health assessment efforts.