Occupational Health News Roundup

Before BP’s name was linked in everyone’s mind to the Gulf oil disaster, the company was infamous for its unsafe Texas City refinery, where a March 2005 explosion killed 15 workers and injured 170. In September 2005, OSHA cited BP for $21 million, and BP paid the fine and entered into an agreement with OSHA under which the company would identify and correct safety problems. But when OSHA conducted a follow-up investigation in 2009, it found that the company “failed to live up to several extremely important terms of that agreement.” OSHA issued failure-to-abate citations to the tune of $50.6 million, plus $30.7 million for 439 new willful violations it identified.

The newsworthy event last week was BP’s agreement with OSHA to go ahead and pay all of the $50.6 million and to immediately start improving safety at the Texas City refinery, including an investment of at least $500 million on safety efforts. The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reports:

BP had originally disputed almost all of the 709 violations found by OSHA during the 2009 inspections. But under the agreement announced Thursday, the company accepted the 270 citations for failing to fix problems as promised in the previous settlement.

… Under the agreement, BP agreed to have the head of the Texas City refinery meet monthly with the top regional OSHA official and to begin performing safety reviews of the equipment at the facility, one of the nation’s largest refineries, according to set schedules. The company also agreed to have independent monitors verify its progress in meeting its safety commitments and to include the United Steelworkers union, which represents the hourly workers at Texas City, in the safety process.

The maximum penalties OSHA is allowed to issue are still pathetically low dollar figures, but BP’s commitment to fix safety problems – starting immediately – and have its progress verified will benefit the workers at this facility.

In other news:


New York Times: The Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs are handling on a case-by-case basis claims from soldiers who say their health problems are linked to burn pits on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the burn pits in Iraq have shut down after Congress passed legislation requiring that further use of them be justified.

Associated Press: The Army has acknowledged that it incorrectly dismissed many soldiers for having a personality disorder, when their mental health problems were more likely due to traumatic stress. The number of soldiers given new designations of personality disorder has dropped dramatically, but advocates also want the Army to review the diagnoses given in the past.

Washington Times: Tens of thousands of Chinese workers die in workplace disasters each year – in large part because the country relies on local authorities to enforce national workplace-safety regulations.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: As part of an effort to address the problem of inadequate permissible exposure limits, OSHA seeks public input to help the agency identify chemicals on which to focus their efforts.

EHS Today: The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is encouraging employers to adopt Workplace Health Promotion programs, noting that such programs can reduce absenteeism and demonstrate substantial returns on investment.