Oil Spill Response Stretched NIOSH's Resources

Nearly 20 percent of its staffers were involved somehow in the response after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and 106 staffers were deployed in the field for three months.

A new report from NIOSH shows the strain it experienced from its unprecedented response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that followed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion. Almost 20 percent of the agency's staffers were involved in some way in the response, including 106 people deployed in the field for three months.

The report says NIOSH took charge of a rostering process for response workers to ensure they could be contacted for real-time health surveillance; the initial estimate was 3,600 to 10,000 forms would be returned, but the final number of collected forms was 55,000. And because some workers had completed their training before rostering was incorporated into the training regimen, NIOSH staffers had to deploy across the staging areas to conduct rostering, it says. That produced a key lesson stated in the report: Begin worker rostering immediately and develop mechanisms to encourage workers to complete the forms. (While a web-based roster input system was developed, only 162 forms were submitted using it. A final report detailing the workers' demographics is complete and available here.)

It says NIOSH "is not organized or resourced for emergency response assistance on a level of the magnitude required for DWH Response without diverting time, personnel, and resources from its ongoing research programs and projects."

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