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What Happens When You Call OSHA, White House


Before we tell about the fun we had today phoning OSHA, sweet OSHA, we wanted to mention our recent and more enjoyable phone experience with Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 400,000-member grassroots organization that is behind the “BP Makes Me Sick” campaign. Adam explained the Gulf Coast cleanup workers’ predicament as follows:

“At least 4 times now Keith Olbermann has focused on the issue of Gulf Coast cleanup workers who want to wear respirators as they deal with these toxins that are in the water, but BP is denying them the ability to do it and threatening to fire these workers if they do. The main reason that has been identified is that BP does not want images out there of people wearing respirators because that feeds the fact that they’ve exposed lots of toxins into the water and they’re trying to make this not seem like an environmental disaster or at least mitigate it as much as possible. So what we’re doing is forming this local-national coalition, asking the government to demand that BP allow the cleanup workers to wear respirators on the job . . .”

Dialing Through BP’s Perception Management

So today we did as Adam asked, and as we’ve urged our good readers to do: We phoned (and re-phoned) the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the White House to say Won’t you please make BP be humane and let the workers in 100-degree heat breathe through respirators instead of being forced to “go commando” at the risk of being fired, inhaling those toxic crude oil fumes and Corexit dispersant chemicals because BP doesn’t want bad publicity? (Something like that. You get the drift . . . )

(Now, the following narrative doesn’t mean it’s complicated to call—this is just what happens when you keep asking questions . . . It’s really pretty simple.)

First we called the OSHA number 202-693-2000 given by the BP Makes Me Sick web site. A nice receptionist said yes, she’s been getting a lot of BP respirator-denial calls at this number, but the number that people should call instead is 800-222-1222: there’s a comment line where you can leave a message. But no, that 800 number led to a poison-in-the-workplace prevention office in New York City. The guy there, also friendly, said I guess you should call NIOSH—but the number he gave had been changed to a new number, 1-800-CDC-INFO, that would have required going through a Byzantine phone tree, definitely not the place to register a complaint about Gulf Coast worker safety. So we called back at the original number (202-693-2000) and told the nice receptionist what happened. Maybe this number here is the correct one after all? She said (reluctantly), Well, I can take your name and number . . . So we gave her name, number and URL. Thus, we verified by personal experience that the right number is 202-693-2000. She also gave us the fax number for the head of OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary: 202-693-1659.

Then we called the White House comment line (202-456-1111), and we learned something about fax numbers. After being on hold about 3 minutes (not a problem; we know the president’s busy) a rather cheerful volunteer answered. He wrote down the message, sounded sympathetic, saying, “right, I hear you.” Then he said something interesting: On this comment line we kind of take the pulse of the nation, and anything with detail in it like your comment is really more effective if you fax it in a note to the president. That number is 202-456-2461. That’ll get more attention, he said.

Then we clicked on the tracking page to record our calls so the Progressive Change Campaign Committee can track results. Quick as 1-2-3.

So, it’s fun, it’s challenging, and with just a few calls you can help protect the BP cleanup workers’ health. Be nice, be concise (other lines are ringing), and say thank you. Their job isn’t as hellish as the cleanup workers’ grueling conditions, but neither is it easy.

And here’s a link for contacting BP. Again, let’s mind our manners. The person answering the phone was probably not in the boardroom when decisions were made to cut corners.


Read these ProPublica & PBS reports:

Coast Guard Photos Show Spill Workers Without Protective Gear

Former Valdez Cleanup Worker Warns of Toxic Dangers in the Gulf

Wildlife Suffer as Oil Spill Spreads (photographs)

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