A group of over 30 organizations is calling for protection for oil and gas workers and residents of the surrounding communities from the coronavirus. These concerns were outlined in a letter to the Interior Department, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Coast Guard, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In the letter, the coalition asked for public reports on coronavirus testing and infection rates at oil and gas refineries to be given monthly.
Also, the coalition of organizations noted the high risk of contracting the virus for oil and gas workers, citing that “working on site, sleeping, and eating in tight quarters” can endanger those in the offshore industry. The letter also mentioned the risk factor for residents of nearby communities, particularly communities comprised of indigenous peoples, low income populations, and people of color.
In addition to monthly public reporting, the coalition requested in the letter that the Department of the Interior, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Department require companies in the oil and gas industry to develop, publish, and implement detailed health and safety response plans designed to minimize risk and potential exposure to the coronavirus.
The Dangers of Coronavirus in the Workplace
The coalition cited cases of coronavirus popping up in oil and gas facilities in various cities around the world. At the time of the letter’s release, 30 oil and gas workers had tested positive in Equatorial Guinea. And a remote tar sands site in Alberta Canada that relies heavily on fly-in workers had over 1,000 employees test positive for the virus, and was later found to be responsible for coronavirus spreading to 4 other provinces as well as for an outbreak in Saskatchewan.
Furthermore, BP oil workers in both the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska tested positive for COVID-19, and 202 people working at Pemex in Mexico died from the virus. At least eighteen cases were linked to a natural gas project in Mozambique, and in Brazil, 1400 oil and gas workers were confirmed to have contracted coronavirus while on an offshore oil platform.
Who is Affected?
Noting the “well-documented COVID-19 risks faced by oil and gas industry workers and the communities with which they interact,” the coalition then requested that the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Department start to investigate and report on coronavirus testing and infection rates amongst onshore and offshore oil and gas workers within national jurisdiction.
They also requested that these groups implement coronavirus response plans to protect both oil and gas workers and residents living in close proximity to oil and gas sites, and that they monitor and report on said plans’ implementation and progress regularly. They want to make sure that these companies are doing everything they can to mitigate the risk of employees contracting this deadly virus, from reducing the amount of people onsite at any given time, providing personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and testing kits, and allowing for a more socially-distanced workplace environment.
In addition, the coalition wanted to secure OSHA’s definition of work-related exposures, saying that they wanted more clarity on what specifically counts as a “work-related” exposure. Currently, the outline suggests that employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if the case is work-related; the groups are requesting that the exposures to COVID-19 be defined as “work-related” when two or more workers are infected.
The coalition is made up of thirty-three environmental groups, including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Responsible Drilling Alliance, to name a few. While these groups have long been advocating for oil and gas workers as well as people affected by environmental issues such as nearby land and water contamination, the coronavirus has brought new challenges.
The risk of contracting the virus is not the only safety issue at hand. The Associated Press reported that thousands of oil and gas facilities won permission to stop monitoring for hazardous emissions and otherwise bypass rules implemented to protect public health because of the coronavirus outbreak. The coalition cited this report in their letter, noting that the decision to roll back these safety regulations is putting oil and gas workers as well as those living in close proximity to oil and gas sites not only at risk of contracting the virus, but being exposed to hazardous waste as well.
If you or a loved one have been injured while working at an oil and gas facility – whether onshore or offshore – it’s important that you make sure that your rights are protected. Contact our Workplace Injury Lawyers today for a free case consultation by calling 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.