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OSHA Issues Coronavirus Guidance for Oil and Gas Industry

Nearly six months after health officials confirmed community transmission of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance to protect oil and gas workers from the potentially deadly pathogen.

Oilfield Workers Face “Moderate” Coronavirus Risk

According to the agency, these workers face a “moderate risk” from COVID-19 when engaged in tasks that require frequent close contact (within 6 feet) with coworkers, contractors, customers, or the general public. They’re more likely to be exposed to the novel coronavirus in high-traffic areas, such as control rooms, trailers, and doghouses, and while traveling within or between facilities in shared vehicles.
OSHA is advising oil and gas employers to remain alert to changing conditions, and implement infection prevention measures accordingly. The agency also recommends that these employers:

  • Defer work requiring close contact with others, if that work can be postponed.
  • Configure communal work environments so that workers are spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Stagger workers’ arrival, break, and departure times.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation in work areas to help minimize potential exposure.
  • Implement other appropriate engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, including use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Encourage workers to wear face coverings to prevent the potential spread of the virus.

OSHA Criticized for Lax COVID-19 Policies

The energy industry has lost approximately 50,000 drilling and refining jobs since March due to coronavirus shutdowns and collapsing oil prices. Outbreaks have stricken processing plants and refineries, as well as oilfields and offshore drilling rigs.
Large outbreaks have also been reported at meat processing plants, warehouses, nursing homes, and other workplaces around the country. While OSHA has received more than 6,000 complaints of unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, the agency has faced criticism for lax guidance and a lack of enforcement mechanisms.
According to The New York Times, OSHA had issued just one coronavirus-related citation as of June 21st, to a Georgia nursing home that failed to report employee hospitalizations within 24 hours.
OSHA oversight and enforcement had already fallen off dramatically in the Trump era, with the agency performing about 5,000 fewer inspections per year compared to previous presidential administrations. OSHA currently has just 860 inspectors to cover the entire nation, about 240 fewer than it had in 1975.
“Millions of workers are terrified of going into jobs every day where they are not adequately protected from the coronavirus,” David Michaels, a former OSHA head who served during the Obama administration, recently told The Washington Post. “Thousands of workers have complained to OSHA, and OSHA has told them they’re on their own.”

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