The New York City Central Labor Council, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Long Island Federation of Labor have put together a fact sheet regarding the prevention of injuries and illnesses which may result during hurricane cleanup activities.
Workers and volunteers are at risk to a variety of hazards that affect their safety and overall health. Toxic substances are a large concern in the wake of the devastating hurricane as cleanup workers are facing exposure to asbestos, silica, lead, bacteria, mold, and other biological hazards stemming from the destruction of buildings, sewer systems, and the displacement of debris.
Experts are advising that such large-scale emergencies in the past have proven a lack of response when it comes to the safety concerns of first responders and cleanup workers. As a result, such as during the disaster at the World Trade Center, many workers developed sicknesses and medical conditions related to clean up efforts.
The Fact Sheet is meant to warn workers and volunteers about the potential safety risks involved in their work that may not be considered previously. One area of concern is the storm water present which may be contaminated with backed up sewage. It is critical for qualified workers to properly remove contaminated sewage materials and for those working in the vicinity of these materials to protect themselves from exposure to the contaminants.
Under the guidelines of OSHA, employees are entitled to a safe workplace free of hazards. Employers are responsible for providing proper training, personal protective gear, and other necessary equipment in accordance with OSHA laws. Employers should be advising their workers about the specific concerns for health and safety involved in cleaning up displaced debris and flooded areas. Workers are also advised about the importance of reporting hazardous conditions directly to OSHA.