Crews still working in flood-ravaged Sandy areas of the East Coast may be in more danger than they realize. Even weeks after the storms impact, workers are still clearing away mold-covered building materials and wading through flood homes and businesses. Many of the workers are facing these hazardous conditions without the proper protective gear necessary to safeguard their health.
Extra crews have been brought in to the flooded areas to assist in the cleanup efforts. The Housing Authority in New York asked union partners to assist first but the union officials refused due to the lack of training and protective gear. As a result, an outside company, Belchor, was hired on to help.
The federal agency overseeing worker safety during Hurricane Sandy cleanup stated these additional crews were not ‘properly suited up for the jobs they were performing’. OSHA representatives said they were working to address the issues. OSHA teams have been inspecting cleanup sites in Brooklyn and Queens. Their investigations have yielded staggering statistics that one in three workers are working unprotected in hazardous conditions.
Local day workers are preferred when hiring to keep people working but without the proper training these workers are in dangerous situations. The workers themselves said they feel ‘let down’ by the lack of protection and training to get the job done. They are being paid well in many situations but employers are not providing the cleanup education and gear necessary for safety. Waterproof boots and disposable body suits are lacking. Some workers are dealing with dangerous chemicals only wearing paper masks.
The Housing Authority is dealing with 400 buildings affected by Hurricane Sandy. More than 80,000 residents live in those buildings. The flood waters contained sewage and petroleum which entered residential basements, contaminating already dangerous areas. Workers need to be properly trained to remediate these conditions in order for residents to return safely.