The potential for an emergency situation to occur during an oil spill cleanup is large. To work in cleanup, you must be trained on the hazards of your job in a language that you understand. You must be trained before you begin oil spill response and cleanup work.
If an emergency occurs, notify your supervisor, safety officer or incident commander about all injuries and hazardous material exposures sustained at the site. Your employer's Health and Safety Plan will describe the emergency procedures to be followed.
It's important that you work in a proactive manner with safety always being top priority. Be sure to do the following:
For more safety information regarding oil spill cleanups, please click here for an article from our partner, HSE Press Journal.
One of the most serious health hazards facing cleanup workers is heat stress. The risk from the heat and humidity is exacerbated by the long days worked and the protective equipment required.
Heat injury is caused when the body’s ability to deal with heat is overwhelmed. Heat stress varies in severity but is common, serious and can be deadly. The good news is that it can be prevented.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments. Heat rash usually appears on the neck, upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts and in elbow creases. The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment. Keep skin dry, use powders, not creams or ointments.
Heat exhaustion is the body's response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating. Make sure that someone stays with the worker until help arrives. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and get help immediately.
Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise above 104 °F within 10 to 15 minutes. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. "Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.
Heat Syncope is a fainting or near fainting episode or dizziness that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or lying position. Factors that may contribute to heat syncope include dehydration. Workers with heat syncope should sit or lie down in a cool place when they begin to feel symptoms, and slowly drink water or electrolyte drink. If they have fainted, then call 911, notify their supervisor and make arrangements for evaluation by EMS or medical personnel to eliminate other causes.
Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours. Workers with heat cramps should replace fluid loss by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g. sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.
Where does the heat come from that causes our bodies to overheat?
Working outdoors, especially in hot and humid weather, being in the sun, and doing hard physical work is something we have to take seriously.
It is most important that you take steps to help prevent heat stress and injury by doing the following:
The work/rest cycle is one of several protective controls to decrease overall heat stress. It may not be mandatory if other controls such as air-conditioned rest areas or ice vests are in use and are sufficient to keep worker’s body temperatures normal for the individual. Work/Rest cycles assume the resting place available to workers is shaded, but otherwise at the same ambient temperature as the work area.
During the rest period workers should remove protective clothing not required in the rest area to enhance their opportunity to cool. Important points:
Make sure you take extra care if you have any additional risk factors:
The color of your urine can help you tell if you are drinking enough water.
Experiencing fatigue during an oil spill cleanup can also be a factor in your overall health. Make sure you pace yourself, especially when working long shifts and many days in a row. Here are some other important factors to remember:
Respiratory protection must be worn whenever you are working in a hazardous atmosphere. The appropriate respirator will depend on the contaminant(s) to which you are exposed and the protection factor (PF) required. Here are a few examples:
Single-strap dust masks (figure 1) must not be used to protect from hazardous atmospheres. However, they may be useful in providing comfort from pollen or other allergens.
Half-face respirators (figure 2) can be used for protection against most vapors, acid gases, dust or welding fumes. Cartridges/filters must match contaminant(s) and be changed periodically.
Full-face respirators (figure 3) are more protective than half-face respirators. They can also be used for protection against most vapors, acid gases, dust or welding fumes. The face-shield protects face and eyes from irritants and contaminants. Cartridges/filters must match contaminant(s) and be changed periodically.
A Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (figure 4) is used for entry and escape from atmospheres that are considered immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) or oxygen deficient. They use their own air tank.
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