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Vol. 74/No. 30      August 9, 2010

Oil bosses disregarded
work safety on Gulf rig
(feature article)
In the weeks and days before the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, interviews with workers and internal documents show a lack of attention to safety, a fear of reporting problems, and an atmosphere of drilling for oil no matter the risk.

The blast killed 11 workers and unleashed three months of gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP leased the oil rig from Transocean, which employs a large share of the workers on board.

In a survey commissioned by Transocean in the weeks before the explosion, workers said they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.” The report, obtained by the New York Times, says that workers also thought “drilling priorities [were] taking precedence over planned maintenance.”

Twenty-six components and systems on the rig were in “bad” or “poor” condition, according to the survey. Crucial elements of the blowout preventer, including safety valves, had not been properly inspected for 10 years, despite rules requiring inspection every three to five years. Workers report they were scared to say anything about the safety problems. “The company is always using fear tactics,” said one.

Mike Williams, chief engineer technician on the Deepwater Horizon, testified before federal hearings conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Coast Guard. He said the fire and gas leak alarm systems had been in the “inhibited” mode for at least a year before the April explosion. In answer to his repeated complaints about disabled warning systems, Williams said that he was told, “They did not want people to wake up at 3:00 a.m. due to false alarm.”

The computers used to monitor and control the drilling operations froze intermittently and one of the panels that controlled the blowout preventer had been placed in bypass mode to work around a malfunction.

“From day one, he deemed this the well from hell,” said Natalie Roshto of her husband Shane Roshto, a 22-year-old worker who died in the explosion. “I don’t think we need to make any more safety rules. I think they need to be implemented harder for our men who work out there.”  
Cleanup workers protest
While BP appears to have capped the well for the meantime, workers involved in the ongoing cleanup effort continue to face harsh working conditions.

“We worked out there for 30-something days before they even let us know that we had to have protective equipment,” Jarred Bourgeois told a New Orleans television station. From the end of April to mid-July, the federal government reported 571 incidents of illness and 757 injuries related to the oil spill cleanup. Two workers have died and dozens have been taken to the hospital.

On July 16, Kenneth Feinberg, the federal official in charge of administering BP’s $20 billion oil-spill fund, told a town hall meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi, that those being paid for work on the cleanup would have their wages deducted from any settlement they receive. The fund is intended to compensate fishermen, shrimpers, and others who are out of work because of the oil spill.

Tuget Nguyen, one of the thousands of jobless workers because much of the Gulf is closed to fishing, said, “I am furious about this… . It’s not fair.” The amount BP is paying fishermen to rent their boats is far below what they make during a regular season.

A group of fishermen who are working on the cleanup in Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, have gone on strike because of unacceptable living conditions and lack of pay. “We’re on strike, so we’re not going to work,” said Jules Dag, a fisherman for 50 years.

Workers are protesting the fact that BP is housing them in “flotels,” shipping containers stacked on top of each other on a barge, powered by generators. Each container holds 12 bunks. One worker compared the accommodations to prison.

Dag said some workers have been forced to accept the conditions because they have not been paid. “Forty days, we ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.
Related articles:
4 killed in Pennsylvania as bosses ignore safety  
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