Shortened training OK’d for oil spill volunteers

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 10:35pm
  • News

By Karen Nelson McClatchy Newspapers

BILOXI, Miss. — The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday that his agency and three others have given their blessing to a condensed, four-hour training program for volunteers who want to deal with oil-contamination cleanup.

Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor over OSHA, said the agencies worked with BP all day Monday in Houma, La., applying lessons they learned from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11 to come up with the best training program for this spill.

“We’re very pleased,” he said.

He said BP wants “to go ahead and immediately start training, and we agree.”

BP spokesman Andrew Van Chau said the next step is for BP to secure instructors to conduct the training and set up training sites. Then they will begin pulling names from the thousands who have volunteered to help with cleanup, should oil reach the Mississippi barrier islands and the Coast.

Van Chau said they will take those who called the BP volunteer hotline and also names from other databases where volunteers and groups have registered, including names passed along from the Ocean Springs, Miss., basic safety training sessions over the weekend.

“Once classes are set up, folks will get a specific invitation,” Van Chau said. He said the best avenue for an individual to volunteer would be to call the BP hot line.

Michaels said the role of OSHA was to make sure the response is prompt, effective and safe.

He also said it doesn’t appear there will be a risk of inhaling volatile, toxic chemicals from the spill if it reaches shore.

He said wave action in the gulf has churned the oil and the sun has helped break it to get rid of dangerous fumes.

He added, however, that BP will continue constant monitoring of air quality.

Agencies working with OSHA and BP on training were the EPA, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the CDC.

Coast residents attending workshops over the weekend complained that BP wasn’t set up to receive help from qualified volunteers. But an OSHA spokesman said Monday that adequate hazardous materials training and protection is foremost. He said that both hired workers and volunteers will undergo the training and BP hopes to train and hire workers displaced by the spill.