NIOSH Evaluates Health Effects of BP Oil Spill Response Workers

In June and July 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluated potential exposures and health effects of workers involved in Deepwater Horizon response activities due to the BP oil spill. The evaluation included onshore wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation workers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

NIOSH investigators assessed site factors and surveyed workers to collect information on demographics, job duties, occupational exposure to oil or other agents, and health symptoms experienced. Birds were the most common type of wildlife being cleaned and rehabilitated at the centers.

For nearly all health outcomes, more injuries and symptoms were reported among wildlife cleaning workers than among a comparison group. Among the most commonly reported health conditions, scrapes and cuts were reported by two-thirds of workers and itchy or red skin or rash were reported by nearly one-half. Occupational factors unique to wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation likely contributed to the health conditions reported. These factors included: skin contact with oil on the wildlife and in cleaning water; skin exposure to detergents and cleaners; persistent wet skin; and frequent handling and awkward lifting and moving of wildlife and cages.

An occupational health concern common among all Deepwater Horizon response workers was heat stress from work in a hot and humid environment. NIOSH recommended continuing heat stress management plans and use of protective equipment to minimize skin and mucus membrane contact with oil and oil-contaminated water, measures to reduce ergonomic hazards, housekeeping to prevent slippery surfaces, and encouraging workers to report and seek care for health concerns and injuries.

NIOSH’s interim report concerning wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation workers may be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/pdfs/interim_report_5.pdf.

To read more about NIOSH’s recommendations for protecting response workers at wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation centers responding to the oil spill, please see: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/oilspillresponse/protecting/.

NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation reports may be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/default.html.

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