One of the consequences of a hurricane like Sandy, which brought widespread destruction (estimated at $65.6 billion, behind only Hurricane Katrina in economic impact) and misery in the northeastern United States in late October 2012, is an update of readiness and response protocols, including those that keep response personnel healthy and safe while performing their duties. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal watchdog for workplace safety, has done just that with a new OSHA fact sheet that emphasizes the employer’s responsibility to provide its employees with proper personal protective equipment and the necessary training to use that equipment correctly and safely.
In Sandy’s wake, OSHA has carried out over 7,000 briefings with an estimated 45,000 workers and employers involved in recovery and cleanup work in areas affected by the hurricane. The briefings complement the OSHA training required of America’s workers to protect their safety and health while on the job.
According to Robert Kulick, the OSHA regional administrator in New York, one of the two states that suffered a hammer blow from the storm, workers called in response to a storm and its aftermath are exposed to hazards to their health and safety and, therefore, should be adequately protected from them. The updated fact sheet, he explained, presents the different personal protective equipment (PPE) and the work situations where this equipment is not only appropriate but also required. The OSHA fact sheet is available for download here.
Removing or mitigating hazards require employers to do the following:
- Evaluate the site and operation to determine existing and potential dangers based on site conditions
- Implement the correct controls to shield their employees from those dangers
- Educate their workers to identify work hazards and take appropriate precautions
OSHA noted that engineering measures are the preferred controls against hazards, but pointed out that PPE, the control of last resort, may be the only practical control method in certain cases. For this reason the agency is advocating better training in and awareness of the use of PPE. OSHA said that because all PPE has limitations, workers must be trained to recognize them so they can use PPE correctly and effectively. Among the things that workers must know when using PPE are: how to put it on, how to remove it, how to store it, how to take care of it, and when to replace it.
A basic safety assemblage for cleanup duties typically, includes safety goggles, hard hat, steel-toed work boots, reflective vest, and gloves. Additional equipment may be added, depending on the work situation –
- When the cleanup activity is in wet environment, impervious gloves and boots are used.
- When the environment holds a threat of harmful gases, appropriate respiratory protection becomes necessary.
- When in noisy environment, hearing protection is added.
- When working over six feet above ground, fall protection is needed.
In addition, OSHA emphasized the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation in lessening the impact of contaminants and the spread of disease. Critical to hygiene is hand washing or, in the absence of water, hand sanitizing.
Additional OSHA fact sheets, resources and guidance can be accessed at OSHA’s Hurricane Sandy website. OSHA also is directing interested parties to the National Institute for Environmental Safety and Health website for complementary information on safety and health protection in extreme weather.