Hurricane Cleanup: Labor Dep urges guarding against Irene cleanup hazards

US Labor Department’s OSHA and North Carolina’s OSH urge recovery workers and public to guard against hazards during Hurricane Irene cleanup. Here are what some of those hazards can be.

As residents of North Carolina recover from damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Division of North Carolina’s Department of Labor urge workers and members of the public engaged in hurricane cleanup activities to be aware of the hazards they might encounter and the steps they should take to protect themselves.

“Recovery work should not put you in the hospital,” said Cindy Coe, administrator of OSHA’s Atlanta Regional Office. “Hurricane recovery work involves a wide range of safety and health hazards, which can be minimized by knowledge, safe work practices and personal protective equipment. Federal OSHA and North Carolina OSH want to make certain that no casualties result from cleanup operations.”

Cleanup work can involve restoring electricity, communications, water and sewer services; demolition activities; removal of floodwater from structures; entry into flooded areas; cleaning up debris; tree trimming; structural, roadway, bridge, and dam and levee repair; use of cranes, aerial lifts and other heavy equipment; hazardous waste operations; and emergency response activities.

Inherent hazards may include illness from exposure to contaminated water or food, exposure or heat stress, downed electrical wires, carbon monoxide and electrical hazards from portable generators, fall and “struck-by” hazards from tree trimming or working at heights, being caught in unprotected excavations or confined spaces, burns, lacerations, musculoskeletal injuries, being struck by traffic or heavy equipment, and drowning from being caught in moving water or while removing water from flooded structures.

Protective measures should involve evaluating the work area for all hazards; task-specific hazard exposure monitoring; utilizing engineering or work practice controls to mitigate hazards; using personal protective equipment; assuming all power lines are live; following proper hygiene procedures; using portable generators, saws, ladders, vehicles and other equipment correctly; and utilizing proper precautions for traffic work zones.

OSHA maintains a comprehensive website – http://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/hurricane/index.html – on keeping disaster site workers safe during hurricane cleanup and recovery operations. Federal OSHA is responsible for federal, postal and maritime workplaces in North Carolina, and its North Carolina Area Office may be reached at 919-790-8096, with more information online at http://www.osha.gov/oshdir/nc.html. North Carolina OSH is responsible for enforcing safety and health standards for most private and public sector workplaces in the state. It can be reached at 800-625-2267, and more information is available at http://www.nclabor.com/osha/osh.htm.

Additionally, a checklist of activities to be undertaken before, during and after a hurricane is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at http://www.ready.gov/america/beinformed/hurricanes.html.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

Written by Michael D’Aquino and Michael Wald
U.S. Department of Labor

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