Storm and tornado cleanup work can involve hazards related to restoring electricity, communications, and water and sewer services. Other hazards relate to demolition activities, cleaning up debris, tree trimming, structural, roadway and bridge repair, hazardous waste operations and emergency response activities.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a comprehensive website on keeping disaster site workers safe during tornado and storm cleanup and recovery operations.
This is because in the last 1/2 weeks a series of severe storms has been raging through parts of the Midwest, South and Eastern United States. As residents recover from these events, OSHA urges recovery workers, employers and the public to be aware of the hazards they can encounter and take necessary steps to stay safe.
“Recovery and cleanup work should not put you in the hospital emergency room. OSHA is on the ground in affected areas providing compliance assistance,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Storm recovery efforts expose workers to a wide range of hazards, which can be mitigated by Safe Work Practices and Personal Protective equipment (PPE)“
In addition, areas affected by flooding have unique cleanup challenges, including: dam and levee repair, removal of floodwater from structures and repairing downed electrical wires in standing water. Workers and residents taking defensive action to protect structures or evacuate severely impacted areas may encounter numerous hazards, such as rapidly rising streams and moving water. OSHA has a variety of resources on flood preparedness and response detailing how to stay safe during floods and subsequent cleanup.
Only workers provided with the proper training, equipment and experience should conduct cleanup activities. Protective measures should involve: evaluating the work area for all hazards, employing engineering or work practice controls to mitigate hazards, using personal protective equipment, assuming that all power lines are live, properly using portable generators, saws, ladders, vehicles and other equipment and paying attention to safety precautions for traffic work zones.
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.