OSHA Holds Fast to Flame-Resistant Clothing Policy for Oil and Gas Workers

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By Greg Hellman  


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not revise its requirement that workers on oil-drilling rigs wear flame-resistant clothing, the agency told a Louisiana congressman in a letter posted May 4 on the agency's website.

The issue stems from a 2010 OSHA memo to its regional administrators and state plan designees directing workers performing oil and gas well drilling, servicing, and production-related operations to wear flame-resistant and fire-retardant clothing to protect the workers against flash fires.

Industry representatives have met with agency representatives and members of Congress in an effort to revise the policy, which they have said is costly, unnecessary, and a circumvention of the formal rulemaking process (41 OSHR 832, 9/29/11).

In an Aug. 1, 2011, letter to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, Rep. Jeffrey Landry (R-La.) requested that OSHA “immediately address the negative effects that burdensome regulations,” such as personal protective equipment requirements, have on small businesses in his Gulf of Mexico district.

Landry wrote that the requirement is not only expensive, costing a worker $50 for one set of clothing, but it also exposes those workers to heat illness.

“This industry was devastated by President Obama's offshore drilling moratorium and is still seeing the harmful economic effects of this unconstitutional moratorium today,” he wrote. “And while I work tirelessly to put the hardworking men and women in this industry back to work, I take a backseat to no one in protecting their safety.”

Clothing Called Last Resort.

In his response to Landry's letter, Michaels offered no indication in the letter the agency would reconsider its policy.

OSHA's welding, cutting, and brazing standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.252) requires flame-resistant clothing for workers exposed to flash fires, Michaels wrote.

He also said that if oil and gas drillers implement engineering or administrative controls to eliminate the risk of flash fires, those employers would not have to provide their workers with flame-resistant clothing.

To address possible heat stress risks posed by the clothing, Michaels urged employers to provide outfits made of lightweight, breathable fabrics, implement work/rest cycles, and allow their workers to drink cold liquids.

“We understand and share your concern that protecting workers' health and lives on the job not interfere with the efforts we are making to ensure that businesses and jobs in this country grow and thrive on a level playing field,” he wrote.

By Greg Hellman  

A copy of Landry's letter to Michaels is available at http://pub.bna.com/ptcj/Landryletter.pdf.

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