Definitions: Hazardous Duty Pay can be defined as an increase in an employee’s normal salary as compensation for the performance of hazardous duty or work that involves extreme physical hardship and – or – exposure to high levels of danger that may cause illness or death.
Hazardous Duty can be defined as work that causes extreme physical discomfort and distress which is not adequately alleviated by protective devices and is deemed to impose a physical hardship.
In 1966 when the U.S. government first intervened on behalf of Americans and directed the tobacco industry to place warning labels on packs of cigarettes stating, “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health”, the move was largely applauded by a newly health conscious nation that had always suspected that cigarette smoking was bad for one’s health. In doing so, the government under the leadership of then president Lyndon B. Johnson, promulgated that corporations, – in this case the tobacco industry – had a moral responsibility to inform Americans of any health risks that were associated with it’s product(s).
In 2011 BP in its effort to clean up the largest oil spill in U.S. history, – an environmental catastrophe that the oil giant is legally responsible for, – has hired thousands of workers to burn oil trapped in fire resistant oil booms, mop up oil in marshes, pickup oil tar balls along beaches and man sea vessels that skim the floating oil right off the top of the Gulf’s waters. Although the amount of money that is paid to the workers for their work is not made public, it can be certain that whatever the amount is, the money earned will not cover the costs of the health care burden that the BP employee unknowingly may inherit / incur with the job.
What makes the job so perilous to the health of BP’s cleanup crews is their constant exposure to a deadly cocktail of poisons that consists of dangerous methane fumes, benzene, hydrogen sulfide, toxic gases, and millions of gallons of highly toxic dispersants. Regardless of the amount of time that the employee spends in the vicinity of these poisons, just being exposed to the toxins on a regular basis greatly increases their risk of inflicting irreversible damage to their health.
The fact that almost all the oil cleanup workers from the 1989 Alaska Exxon Valdez oil spill have died prematurely, – based upon the average lifespan of an American – should give our government and the current workers in the Gulf something to think about.
The average life expectancy for an Exxon Valdez oil spill worker according to a CNN report is 51 years. That figure is far below the average American lifespan of 78.2 years.
Some fishermen who have been hired by BP to clean up the gulf oil spill say they have become ill after working long hours near waters fouled with oil and dispersants. Concerned by reports of illnesses that are believed to be related to the oil cleanup effort, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking the agency’s help in providing medical treatment, especially in Plaquemines Parish, a southern region where many fishermen live.
Melancon said he expected BP to fund the clinics, but his spokesperson said the company had not responded to his request for financial assistance in maintaining a viable health clinic for sick workers.
With all the secrecy that surrounds BP oil cleanup operations, including the company’s past dissemination of false information pertaining to oil spill estimations and given National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen’s inexperience in dealing with the complexities of procedures related to a gigantic oil spill cleanup, shouldn’t the general public and in particular BP cleanup workers be leery of BP’s commitment to properly informing their employees of the hidden health dangers that comes with the job of cleaning up toxic chemicals? Or is the threat of future medical lawsuits the catalyst for BP’s lack of transparency?
From the beginning, there were reports that were being leaked by BP workers that when cleanup efforts initially began BP did not allow them to wear respirators as they cleaned beaches of tar balls and marshes that were covered in slimy crude, respirators that protected workers lungs from breathing in toxic fumes.
The question that should be asked is if these reports are true, then why would BP deny workers the opportunity to protect themselves? Again, speculation revolves around BP’s ill-conceived long-term plan of distancing itself from future lawsuits…lawsuits that may expose further culpability and ultimately require BP to pay an infinite amount of money in damages to plaintiffs.
Although BP is not twisting the arms of individuals to clean up our Gulf”s waters, beaches and marshes, is it not the “American Way” to inform Americans of potential dangers that may exist at work? There are laws that require employers to protect their employees at work from known hazards and given the morbid stats of past workers who cleaned up the oil spill in Alaska, it only stands to reason that BP should thoroughly explain to potential employees during their initial hiring process both the known and the perceived dangers of handling and being in the vicinity of toxic chemicals.
As with the combat soldier that is paid extra money for risking life and limb in combat, shouldn’t the BP employee be paid extra money / hazardous duty pay for risking life for cleaning up their employer’s bio-hazard mess? Inquiring minds want to know. Sound off.
Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless and Good Fishing.