Minorities See Little Green in BP Oil Spill Jobs

Already hit hard by the Gulf disaster, blacks and Asians have not benefited from the money flow in the cleanup effort.

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–On June 23: “Worker placed hand on exposed pipe, which had rough edges and cut worker’s left hand; laceration on palm.”

–On June 20: “Worker was found lying on ground next to chair; was unresponsive; regained consciousness 10 minutes later; dehydration.”

–On June 18: “While pressure-washing the deck, water pierced worker’s boot, causing a burn/puncture wound to left foot.”

–On June 2: “Worker engaged a hydraulic rope winch and his fingers got caught between the rope and the spool. Left fifth finger last joint amputated except for small amount of skin.”

Cases like these makes you wonder why the workers weren’t supplied with thick enough gloves and boots to prevent these accidents, or why there isn’t a supply of water on hand to prevent dehydration. On June 14, there were four cases of “fatigue, drowsiness, fainting; diagnosed as carbon monoxide poisoning” — yet, in a call with environmental justice leaders, a representative from OSHA said they are not recommending respirators.

Just last week, OSHA assistant secretary David Michaels expressed concerns that the workers haven’t been getting proper training: “Employees hired to be supervisors in the onshore and marine cleanup are required to receive extensive training. A rigorous program is required under OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operation and Emergency Response Standard.” At issue is the fact that oil spill workers have been getting only four hours of training, as opposed to the 40-hour “HAZWOPER” training — to which Michaels is referring — required for this kind of work. Interestingly enough, the New Orleans-based Deep South Center for Environmental Justice has already been offering this training for years — with a focus on young minorities who are normally excluded from the workforce. Along with the United Steelworkers, the Deep South Center has provided hazardous material training and jobs in times of disaster, as they did after Hurricane Katrina when they created the “A Safe Way Back Home” program.

During a recent meeting of the Deep South Center held at Dillard University, a black college in New Orleans, director Beverly Wright said, “We know from our history that four hours is not adequate for the best kind of training. They need to know about protective equipment and safety. Are they developing training exclusively for the fishermen? If we ever get supplemental funding, a lot of that should be targeted for the fishermen.”

Wright comes from a long line of women who have advocated for environmental and worker safety: Pam Dashiell, Wilma Subra, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley and Alice Hamilton to name a few — these are women who have been at the forefront, not in the margins.