Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be set on fire
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 April 2010 11.57 BST
The US coastguard is considering setting fire to oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico to prevent the slick from reaching shore after an explosion on a drilling rig last week.
Robot submarines have so far failed to shut off the flow more than 1,500 metres below where the Deepwater Horizon was wrecked. Eleven workers are missing, presumed dead, and the cause of the explosion 50 miles off the Louisiana coast has not been determined.
Coastguard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said that if the decision was made to go ahead the oil would be trapped in special containment booms and set on fire. The burn could be started today.
"If we don't secure this well, this could be one of the most significant oil spills in US history," Landry said.
A similar burn off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993 eliminated at least half the captured oil.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said birds and mammals were more likely to escape a burning area of the ocean than an oil slick. Birds might be disoriented by smoke plumes, but would be at much greater risk from oil in the water.
On the downside, burning the oil creates air pollution and some experts say the effect on marine life is unclear.
Ed Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University who is studying the oil spill, questioned whether burning would be successful.
"It can be effective in calm water, not much wind, in a protected area," he said. "When you're out in the middle of the ocean, with wave actions, and currents, pushing you around, it's not easy."
Last night the oil was about 20 miles off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, the closest it has been to land, but it is not expected to reach the coast before Friday, if at all.
Hotel owners, fishermen and restaurateurs are keeping anxious watch as the slick spreads towards delicate wetlands, oyster beds and pristine white beaches.
In Washington, the Obama administration launched a full investigation, with authorities saying they would devote every available resource to the inquiry.
The last major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters, the Ixtoc I, blew up, releasing 530million litres of oil. It took until March 1980 to cap the well, and the oil contaminated US waters and the Texas shore.
"In the worst-case scenario, this could also last months," said Richard Haut, a senior research scientist at the Houston Advanced Research Centre.
Thousands of birds such as egrets and brown pelicans are nesting on barrier islands close to the rig's wreckage. If they are affected, rescuers would need to reach their remote islands, wash them down and release them back into the wild.
Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said cleaning up brown pelican chicks after a modest spill in Louisiana in 2005 was a major undertaking.
"Just about any petroleum can cause problems for birds because they lose their waterproofing, and that's what keeps them dry and warm," he said. "It's a really difficult time, and we're close to the peak of migration."
The spill also threatens billions of fish eggs and larvae.
If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. The Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in US history, leaked 50 million litres into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.
BP said it would begin the drilling a relief well by tomorrow even if crews could shut off oil leaking from the underground pipe. A spokesman, Robert Wine, said the drilling would take up to three months.
In Pensacola, Florida, the easternmost point likely to be affected, beachgoers and business owners kept watch.
Sal Pinzone, general manager of the fishing pier, arrives at work at 5.30am every day to watch the sun rise over the famous white-sand beach.
"We are all worried," he said. "If the spill does hit the beaches along the Gulf, it will shut down everything."
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Toronto window washer saved by fall arrest system
April 13, 2010
TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)
A window cleaner was saved by his fall arrest system after an equipment malfunction caused him to fall 19 storeys from a Toronto building.
On April 2 at about 2:45 pm, the worker employed by Premium Window Cleaning Ltd was on the roof of a 33-storey building preparing to use a bosun's chair to descend the side of the building, confirms Bruce Skeaff, a spokesman from Ontario's Ministry of Labour (MoL). At that point, the bosun's chair - a seat connected to a suspended line - became unhooked from the rope and fell away.
"The worker was left hanging from the ledge and lost grip with his hands and went into a freefall to the 15th floor," says Skeaff. "That's when the fall arrest system kicked in and the rope-grab locked." The worker suffered rope burns to his hands and was taken to St Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
The ministry was unable to disclose how long the worker was suspended in his harness, but Skeaff reports that the company has been issued a stop work order for not having a written emergency rescue procedure in place related to the fall arrest system. Part of the MoL investigation will focus on how the bosun's chair malfunctioned, Skeaff adds.
While the worker was saved in this case, falls from elevations represent a significant hazard. Information from the MoL website reports that one-quarter of all workplace fatalities are the result of falls, and the danger was made more apparent by the events of Christmas Eve last year. Five construction workers were working on scaffolding on the 13th storey of a Toronto building when "the scaffolding, known as a swing stage, separated in the middle and the workers fell to the ground below" (COHSN, January 11, 2010). Four of the workers died at the scene and the fifth suffered critical injuries.
In response to that tragedy, the MoL issued a hazard alert detailing safety procedures for suspended platform work, including proper training; use of fall arrest systems; proper design, construction, use and maintenance of the equipment; and inspections by competent workers and supervisors.
Suspended platforms, such as bosun's chairs, should not be mistaken for fall protection, cautions Andrew Sulowski, president of Sulowski Fall Protection Inc, a Toronto-based consulting firm. "[These] are called work-positioning systems," he says, explaining that while they enable window washers to do their job, they do not provide adequate protection from potentially fatal falls.
"The law requires that in addition to the work-positioning system, the window washer is equipped with a fall arrest system, which in this simple case will consist of another rope attached to the roof to a different anchor point," he explains. "That rope will usually have the fall arrester, and between the fall arrester and the harness there will be a lanyard, which is either energy-absorbing or not."
Sulowski suggests that workers should conduct a before-use inspection on their fall arrest systems. The worker should check to see if straps are cut or if there are any "stains of unknown origins" which may cause the usually soft webbing in the fall protection system to become hard and brittle. The worker should also make sure the metal D-ring at the back of the harness is not damaged, he adds.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
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Monday, April 5, 2010
Safety harness saves window washer from death - Toronto
April 02, 2010
Police say a window washer's safety harness saved his life on Friday after he fell 15 storeys while working outside a Front St. condominium as horrified bystanders looked on.
The man was rescued by fire fighters and transported to hospital after falling from the 33rd floor of the 381 Front St. highrise around 2:30 p.m.
He suffered only minor injuries, according to Toronto police, and will be home for the Easter weekend.
The worker’s lifeline saved him from sharing the same fate as the four construction workers who plunged to their deaths on Christmas Eve after the scaffolding that they were working on collapsed.
The four men were wearing safety harnesses but the harnesses were not tied off to a solid structure, said Toronto police Det. Kevin Sedore.
This is the third time in two months that a worker has been injuring by falling from a height, but deadly falls are not infrequent.
A 43-year-old construction worker died after falling from an apartment building near Victoria Park Ave. and Ellesmere Rd. in mid-February, and another worker died after falling 10 meters on the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus a month later.
In January the Ontario government appointed Tony Dean, former head of the Ontario public service, to chair a panel of labour groups and safety experts and recommend changes to Ontario’s worker protection system.
This comes after the revelation that more than 400 construction workers have died in Ontario since 1990.
The Ministry of Labour is investigating Friday’s incident.