Oil Spill Cleanup Training at USF

OSHA classes in Wesley Chapel stress safety, whether you are cleaning up an oil spill or a minor mess.

By Barbara Melendez

USF.edu News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (June 23, 2010) –  Artie Bayandrian, a trainer in the University of South Florida Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) safety training program, is taken aback by scenes of reporters, photographers and average people handling globs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill – even with protective gloves.


 A news photo of beachgoers in the water and on the sand calmly watching crews in protective hazmat suits checking the shoreline struck him in particular. For him, just the presence of the crews is a warning to people to exercise greater caution, or just plain stay away. 


“The workers are wearing those suits for a very good reason,” he said. And he should know: Bayandrian trains workers in why and how to use the various clothing, masks, boots, gloves and breathing equipment required to keep them safe. 


“You can’t just expect to wear rubber gloves or diving suits and be safe. Crude oil contains benzene and other agents that are extremely toxic,” Bayandrian said, pointing out that with the oil spill, we all face varying levels of danger. 


“At the site of the leak, oil is in its most toxic state. As it moves, many of the toxins evaporate, but not all.” 


Bayandrian follows the rule that workers must start by being fully protected against the worst possible case before going near any hazardous material. If conditions warrant stepping the protection down, that’s fine. But, he says, it’s better to find out what you don’t need than to wish you had been better protected after contact. 


“We perform initial evaluations, air monitoring and sample tests, then make adjustments. And so we may drop to a lesser classification, from needing A protective gear to a B or C level.” 


Not all oil is the same.


“The oil found in oil fields differs from oil found under water. The minerals are different, the exact properties are different, so we collect and test samples,” he explained. “There are instant acute affects from touching contaminated materials, but there are so many affects that are chronic. You may be exposed today and not realize the effects for six months or six years. We just don’t fully know how bad exposure can be, so we don’t like to take chances with workers’ future well-being. From 9/11 people are now coming down with medical conditions.”


Even as the Deepwater Horizon oil leak started developing into a monumental disaster, some of the nation’s leading experts in worker safety, like Bayandrian, were helping businesses prepare for the waves of crude oil headed to U.S. shores. 


Based at USF’s OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC), trainers and consultants began teaching safety officers and others in Gulf of Mexico communities how to clean up the massive hazardous mess.


“It is very important for us to be ahead of the curve on this. We have already trained people from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as well as Florida,” OTIEC Program Manager Bob Nesbit said. “Everyone should have a disaster recovery plan – even before imminent threats, but when you know something like oil is headed your way, you have to get ready well before it arrives.


“Anyone faced with having to directly handle or supervise oil cleanup operations couldn’t ask for better preparation than what we offer,” Nesbit said. “Our trainers are highly experienced and dedicated to protecting workers from the expected and the unexpected.” 


Teams from the OTIEC office immediately go to every disaster area to assess, monitor, take samples and train individual people and those who train others to the point where they’re qualified to help out. Part of USF’s College of Public Health, OTIEC’s home base is a facility in Wesley Chapel. 


Nesbit, connected with OSHA offices in eight states, has been at the forefront of OSHA training for more than a decade. 


“We (OTIEC) took the lead in developing the first “Train the Trainer” course in the OSHA Maritime Safety Standards,” Nesbit said.  “We worked with the Gulf Coast Maritime Alliance and the Mobile (Alabama) area office of OSHA to develop it.”


The course materials are being used at education centers throughout the nation for basic 10- and 30-hour maritime hazard awareness classes.  This office also developed the first online courses for teaching the OSHA General Industry Standards (29 CFR 1910) and the OSHA Construction Industry Standards (29 CFR 1926). 


With worker safety as their guiding principle, Nesbit and his staff continually fine-tune the information to keep up with state-of-the-art safety measures and equipment – much of which was influenced by what was learned from the World Trade Center bombing. 


Thirty-eight different courses address the various aspects of worker safety, from regulations to planning, and awareness to hands-on management. Many are geared to people who work in construction and healthcare, but basic office ergonomics present safety considerations as well. 


Classes show exactly what to do step-by-step. Students learn how to use special protective gear and function at what is referred to as a “hot site” so that safety and efficiency are kept at the forefront of all operations. The training focuses on the four exposures to extremely and highly health-hazardous materials: inhalation, absorption through the skin, ingestion and injection (via cuts.).


Students in a typical class come from a variety of backgrounds and different parts of the country, and hold job titles such as “risk consultant” and “safety officer,” or they can be owners of businesses that specialize in safety. In some cases, they will be out helping with cleanup efforts, but more often will have the task of training workers and training other trainers at their workplaces, multiplying the impact of what they’re learning.     


“We teach the basics of setting up a program for workers with all the procedures necessary for correct handling of exposure, from creating a command center, to entering the hot zone and how to rescue workers if necessary, what equipment is needed from simple respirators to full Class A suits,” said Bayandrian. He has over 30 years of experience working as a site safety officer and in hot zone cleanups in situations where stopping or controlling hazardous conditions had to be accomplished and now works for OTIEC as a consultant through his company National Safety Compliance Service.


OTIEC’s preparation courses are designed for people involved in disaster site work, while a specialized train-the-trainer set of classes are for those who want to become disaster site worker trainers. 


 “We typically teach people – from both the public and private sectors – involved in hurricane recovery work,” Nesbit said. “We look at the hazards associated with cleaning up debris, things like temporary roof repairs, dealing with downed power lines, fallen trees, portable power generators, safe use of chainsaws, heat stress, fatigue and numerous other topics related to disaster site work.  Now we’re emphasizing an oil spill component.” 


The lectures, exercises and hands-on exercises in OTIEC’s 40-hour Hazwoper (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard) class teach trainers and supervisors how to recognize, evaluate and handle matters at hazardous waste sites. In a recent HAZWOPR class, staff from major construction and consulting companies such as Safety Dynamics, Business Outsourcing Support and Services (BOSS), the Safety Guys and Balfour Beatty Construction, built upon knowledge they’ve gained through previous OSHA training to reach a higher level of proficiency. 


“People in this class are really professional,” Bayandrian said. “They want to be safe and be the best by adding to what they know. Suits are improving, as are the various kinds of breathing apparatus and respirators, and there’s an improvement in attitude. Employers are working more with safety programs and everyone is taking safety more seriously these days.” 


OSHA makes sure the workers are safe wherever they find themselves. Nesbit’s colleague Charlene Vespi concentrates on businesses in Florida. As associate director and program manager of USF Safety Florida’s consultation program, she and her staff provide free help to evaluate and prevent hazardous conditions that can cause injury and illness. 


“Anyone can call us or visit us online and request a consultation,” Vespi said, “It’s as easy as that. Taking precautions ultimately protects everyone, individual workers and the business itself.”


Raymond Nel works for Safety Guys, LLC, a major safety consulting business and meets with OSHA regularly. He knows the importance of being “ready to respond.”


“I’m focused on being able to broaden the competency of my people,” Nel said. “We work all over the world, so we’re constantly needing lots of people to train the trainers and produce large numbers of people to go out and meet the needs of people in disaster areas.”


Nesbit values this community of safety workers and the impact they are having by sharing what they’ve learned. 


“We are proud of this program,” Nesbit said. “We constantly tweak it by incorporating everything we learn that can improve it in any way. Ultimately our goal is to protect workers and keep injuries to the barest minimum. Every worker who is not injured and turned into a worker’s compensation claim protects them and the economy overall. Sidelined workers don’t help build the nation’s economic strength. We need all our workers healthy and it’s only possible when they put safety first.”


That’s where training and the right equipment come into play. While the hazmat suits look kind of cool, there’s nothing glamorous about wearing them. They are designed for safety before comfort. Seamless, they require taping at the points where there are potential problems – at wrists and around ankles – where boots meet pants legs and sleeves meet gloves. 


Configurations range from all-in-one suits, to others with separate hoods and masks plus breathing equipment of various kinds. They get hot and uncomfortable. Getting in and out of and using the different types of gloves, boots, suits, respirators, masks and air tanks is not as easy as one might imagine. It often takes help from others to get dressed. Once inside, heat and exhaustion can add to the stress of the work involved.     


 “Workers experience physical and psychological stress in the suits,” Bayandrian added.  “Before wearing them, they have to be tested for pre-existing conditions, medical problems, breathing problems. And they are subjected to medical evaluations, pulmonary tests, blood and urine sampling before and after exposure.”


After exposure – though protected – the wearers have to shower and dispose of the water used as it too becomes hazardous waste. The suits themselves and any garments worn inside them have to be cleaned separately from all other items. They and the water used to clean them are likewise considered unsafe.


Bayandrian said always thoroughly clean hands even if they’re protected by latex or rubber gloves. Still, without protective gear of one’s own, he recommends staying away from anything that looks suspect. Oil is a hazardous chemical and presents its own set of problems in all forms.


 “If people notice what looks like oil spill contamination, they should notify authorities and be the eyes out there, but let the people who are experienced and protected lead the way in cleaning up.”


To learn more about the importance of OSHA standards and their impact on worker safety, visit www.osha.gov . Oil spill cleanup guidelines are posted on the OSHA website: http://www.usfsafetyflorida.com/http://osha.gov/oilspills/index.html and USF OTIEC distributes copies of the handbook. The next 40-hour HAZPOWR classes are being given June 21-25 and July 12-16. For more information, visit http://www.usfoticenter.org/.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.