The Weekly Reflektion 13/2024

The Norwegian Ocean Industry Authority (Havtil) is asking the companies working in the Norwegian Petroleum industry to pay more attention to people and the role of the working environment. Its main issue for 2024 – don’t forget the working environment! – lays a basis for reflection, discussion,and action.

Are you ensuring the working environment at your facility is not forgotten?

The working environment is not just about the social atmosphere in the workplace and whether people are enjoying working there. The working environment should be safe for people and ensure they are not subjected to physical or mental harm. The responsible company is required to identify any hazards that could affect peoples health and safety and ensure measures to reduce the risk associated with these haxards to an acceptable level are in place. Where there are hazards that cannot be eliminated then personal protection equipment (PPE) must be available and there should be clear instructions for how it is used. An important prerequiste for this is that people understand the risks and why the PPE is important. The effects from some hazards may be experienced immediately, others may have long term effects that might severely disable or kill people later on. The management in the company responsible for the operation at any site are responsibe for the systems in place to protect people. The mangement in the companies that have employees working at the site have also a responsibility to ensure a working environment that does not adversly affect health and safety.

Hawks Nest Tunnel was part of a hydroelectric project in West Virginia in the USA. Kanawha and New River Power Company, a subsidiary of Union Carbide (infamous for Bhopal), diverted the New River to increase power generation at the hydroelectric power station at Alloy, West Virginia. Theconstruction of a 3-mile (4.8 km) tunnel carrying the river under Gauley Mountain was started in March 1930. A dam was constructed immediately below Hawks Nest to divert most of the New River into the tunnel. The work took place during the Great Depression and three thousand men, mostly black, were employed to dig the tunnel. The men worked 12 – 15 hour shifts using drills and dynamite to cut through the sandstone that was mainly composed of silica sand. The men were not given any masks or breathing equipment, although the potential hazards of silica dust were known at the time. Well enough known by the management, who wore masks when visiting the contruction site.

Many of the workers developed silicosis, a debilitating and incurable lung disease caused by silica dust. There were no official statistics for the number of people affected by silicosis. A historical marker at the site indicated 109. A Congressional Hearing estimated the deaths at 476 and other sources range from 700 to 1000 deaths. Many of the people working on the tunnel returned home after the project was completed or left the region for other work making it difficult to get a full overview of the tragedy. Most of the people working on the tunnel were desperate for work during the difficult period of the Great Depression. They were easily exploited and any refusal to accept the terms and condtions was met with dismissal. There were plenty of others to take their place.

Reflekt AS