Occupational Health News Roundup

More than three years after the blast at BP’s Texas City refinery killed 15 workers and injured many others, an independent monitor reports that the company has made “substantial progress” in safety at its U.S. refineries, but that it still has many improvements to make. Kristen Hays reports for the Houston Chronicle:

Much of the progress in the last year has involved developing various safety implementation and monitoring plans, process safety reviews, and appointing groups of managers to oversee them. These plans include detailed internal audits of safety and operations at U.S. refineries, programs for training managers in process safety, and ensuring open communication between workers and managers by requiring on- and off-site managers to regularly visit the plants.

However, the report says “more focused attention” is needed in several areas, such as:

• Overtime hours remain so high that they could compromise worker performance despite a revised overtime policy aimed at reducing worker fatigue.

• Refinery management needs to ensure all safety issues are reported to all corporate levels, not just those identified in audits.

• More clarity is needed for roles and responsibilities of process safety support staff outside of refineries.

The Chronicle also provides an update on the litigation related to the blast, and reports that the American Petroleum Institute has updated its guidelines for operating pressure relief systems and other equipment blamed in the explosion. 

In other news:

Washington Post: A psychologist at a Texas veterans’ medical facility encouraged staff members to refrain from diagnosing patients with PTSD, and instead to give them a diagnosis of the less-severe Adjustment Disorder; soldiers with AD are eligible for fewer benefits than those with PTSD.

New Yorker: Researchers are testing the use of virtual-reality therapy for Iraq veterans suffering from PTSD.

Occupational Hazards: At the American Urological Association’s meeting, UC San Francisco researchers reported that they’ve found retired firefighters to have an elevated risk of bladder cancer, probably due to chemical-fume exposure.

Reno Gazette-Journal: In one eight-month span, Kenny Barbosa, Mike Millican, and Curtis Johnson were killed in the Getchell gold mine in Nevada. MSHA cited the mine’s operator for 55 violations – 18 of them “serious and substantial” – between January 2007 and April 2008.

CIDRAP: OSHA has released proposed guidance on workplace stockpiling of respirators and surgical facemasks in preparation for an influenza pandemic. Public comments are due July 8th.