The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in United States history. The oil spill had severe environmental impacts on the United States Gulf coastline as well as far-reaching effects on the health and safety of first responders. Despite national significance of the oil spill, there is limited information documenting the long-term health and safety experience of this workforce. This study examines the occupational health and safety perspectives of first responders involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.Methods
Six focus group sessions (8–10 participants each) were conducted in May 2017. Firefighters were consented and invited to complete a self-administered questionnaire, followed by a 60 min semi-structured focus group session assessing perceptions of safety and health conditions related to the oil spill event. Focus group audio files were transcribed verbatim and analysed using a general inductive approach to identify emergent themes.Result
Study participants (n=50) were mostly male (98.0%), non-Hispanic (95.3%), white (98.0%), with a mean age of 40.6 years (standard deviation [SD]=9.8), and mean job tenure of 15.3 years (SD=8.2). Among respondents, 56.3% of participants reported direct contact with oil, 36.7% visited a doctor after the oil spill, and 18.8% reported feeling chronic (≥3 months) musculoskeletal pain following recovery efforts. Major themes that emerged included concerns regarding personnel decontamination procedures, heat-related illnesses, ocular disorders, fear of cross-contamination, and unknown long-term health impacts of chemical exposure from the oil spill. Firefighters expressed interest in additional safety training, worksite specific knowledge, and environmental monitoring for necessary protection of their health.Discussion
Exposure to environmental disasters may contribute to long-term health and safety consequences. Improved systemic strategies in pre-disaster recovery planning and response preparedness are needed. The potential improvement of occupational health and safety outcomes with necessary environmental monitoring procedures deserve further study.