Tornadoes swept through the Southern United States up into New York on April 27 and 28, 2011, taking more than 300 lives and leveling hundreds of homes and businesses. As property owners begin to clear out the rubble, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided information to help workers stay safe during the cleanup effort.
Governors in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi issued emergency declarations for parts of their states. Deaths were reported in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia. Flooded roads and other damage occurred from Texas to New York.
Cleaning up after the storms poses its own dangers. Workers will face floodwater, mold, animals and insects, downed power lines and contaminated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
OSHA offers tips and factsheets on its website at www.osha.gov/OshDoc/flood-tornado-recovery.html#guides to help employers protect disaster site workers. Fact sheets cover topics such as chain saw safety, decontamination, heat stress, working safely around electricity and generators, tree trimming and removal, and more. Activity sheets list hazards and controls for floodwater removal, building assessment, utility restoration, demolition, debris management, community support and public health services.
During disasters, OSHA noted, employees might be asked to work longer hours during cleanup efforts. The physical, mental and emotional strain of dealing with a disaster in their personal and professional lives can lead to increased stress and fatigue. While there is no safety regulation governing extended unusual work shifts, OSHA recommended that companies ask workers to work more shifts with regular eight-hour breaks in between rather than long shifts with no breaks.
The U.S. Department of Labor used Twitter (@USDOL) to disseminate safety advice quickly to employers, using the hashtag #OSHA.
Beth Mirza is senior editor for HR News. She can be reached at Beth.Mirza@shrm.org.
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Managing Through Emergency and Disaster, SHRM Online Toolkit, December 2010
What is the best way to plan for disasters that may affect our business? SHRM Online HR Q&A, September 2010
Planning for a Crisis? Exercise Is Key, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, October 2009