Throughout the cleanup work following Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, OSHA has been diligently monitoring the safety and health of those involved in the cleaning process. Key issues for the agency involves the availability of personal protective equipment for hired workers and the proper training to avoid injury and illness working with contaminated materials.
OSHA had implemented a health risk assessment which includes an evaluation of storm-affected areas. Specialized teams were sent out into the field to perform site characterizations of flooded areas. The greatest concern is the residual effects of the flood waters which reached record high levels in New York and New Jersey. The contaminated areas are now putting cleanup crews at risk for medical issues and OSHA is closing monitoring the situation. Crews are exposed to airborne contaminants and toxic materials as they continue to clear away debris ruined by flood waters. The surge during the storm enabled many contaminants to get into the water and the same substances were left behind in affected areas including sewage and petroleum.
Any sites already known to be contaminated were not included in the recent assessment including spills at local oil refineries. OSHA has instructed employers to conduct ongoing assessments of site conditions before starting work each day and to ensure all health and safety control are up to OSHA standards for employee safety.
The agency will continue to monitor the effects on the health of cleanup workers in the area. Many of the workers are day workers hired to removed contaminated materials and clean away storm debris. However there have been ongoing reports that day workers were not properly protected from contaminates because employers have run out of basic safety gear including face masks and disposable clothing.