Disaster Response and Worker Safety
As more details emerge on workplace safety abuses in Michigan after the Enbridge oil spill, a new report by the Center for Progressive Reform argues the government’s disaster response plans put too little emphasis on worker safety.
The central problem is with accountability, because oil spills are often cleaned up by contractors and sub-contractors. The report found the government’s disaster response plans “consistently pass responsibility for ensuring worker safety down the line” to sub-contractors who do not fulfill their safety obligations.
“But as they pass the buck, they never establish mechanisms for ensuring accountability at the next level for worker safety and health,” according to the report. “The final entities, the oil companies’ subcontractors, have failed to fill in the gap, a lapse that regulators have not seen fit to correct.”
In the Enbridge oil spill, our sister publication, the Michigan Messenger, found that sub-contractor Hallmark Industrial hired undocumented workers and forced them to work in reportedly unsafe conditions. (Hallmark was fired after workplace problems came to light.)
Hallmark was a subcontractor for Garner Environmental, which also was contracted with BP to clean up the Gulf oil spill. Hallmark CEO Phillip Hallmark told the Michigan Messenger his company was involved with the Gulf clean-up, but BP said they “do not believe” Hallmark was a sub-contractor for them.
The report found that in the Gulf many workers began clean-up without proper training or instruction and were exposed to unsafe conditions. The report urged the government to create better plans to ensure future clean-up efforts are done more saefly and with better oversight.
Congress already has its eye on the problem in Michigan’s oil spill. The House Transportation Committee will hold hearings tomorrow that will include discussion about undocumented workers and safety conditions.