Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hurricane Katrina contractor prohibits near-shore employees from respirator use at work.

I inspected properties for a Katrina contractor along the coast of Mississippi from late 2009 through July 9th, 2010. I did not work directly with oil, though I was sent to work in severely oil-affected areas of Alabama. Much of my work took place on Hwy 90/Beach Blvd between Bay St. Louis and Gulfport, MS. Across the street, cleanup workers walked the shore each day, passing children in the water. Following the gulf spill, I received no contact from my company addressing field safety. I informed my supervisor of reports by experienced toxicologists detailing the deteriorating health conditions in coastal communities. I asked him why I had not heard anything from the safety department. He said I was “paranoid” and wearing respirators on the coast would cause “panic”. On Monday, July 12th, I called in sick. That afternoon, my supervisor called me to ask if I still had concerns about working on the coast. I replied, “Yes,” then asked about the availability of other work should he continue to insist I not wear a respirator under these conditions. He said he would try to find office work for me amidst layoffs. I phoned in sick again on Tuesday morning. That afternoon, a Human Resources executive called, demanding I report for a physical. I declined. That evening, I received a message from her that I was not to report to the coast. Wednesday morning, I called to find out where to report. After leaving messages with my supervisor and the HR executive, I received a call from a project manager. He informed me that my respirator concerns were “run up the chain of command” in the safety department, but that wearing one on the coast was prohibited. He told me to return to my assignment on the coast. Thursday morning, July 15th, 2010, my supervisor confirmed the company’s position that I was to immediately report to the coast for work without wearing a respirator, or resign. I verbally resigned.

Tim Soileau

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