Post-Disaster Safety Measures
Emergency response and emergency preparedness should be an integral part of workplace safety measures, especially, for businesses that deal with hazardous chemicals and waste.
Hurricane Irene has slipped out of the news but has left quite a lot of damage in its wake. So far, relief efforts to address the damage caused have been estimated to cost $1.5 Billion. And while the worst may be over, it’ll be a mistake for employers and companies to simply revert back to business as usual.
Workplaces must be properly examined and inspected for hazards that threaten the health and safety of workers. Here are some of the hazards that are commonly found in post-disaster areas:
Industrial Chemicals & Waste
Chemicals that are used in the workplace area may present a hazard to workers when their containers are damaged or when they become exposed to fires or other effects of an accident or disaster. To ensure safety, make sure that all workers are properly trained and that they use personal protective equipment, such as goggles and gloves, when handling chemical containers or when entering areas where chemicals are located. Damaged or leaking containers should only be handled by workers that have been especially trained to handle the chemicals contained in these containers.
Sites dealing with hazardous waste are subject to specific OSHA regulations and are required to provide formal emergency planning and emergency response training to their employees. Locations with significant waste related operations must comply with the full requirements of OSHA's HAZWOPER training regulations.
Unstable Structures, Floors and Stairs
Hurricanes and other disasters can cause extreme damage to buildings and other man-made structures. In many instances, the damage may not be apparent at first glance, and a building may still be standing after the disaster, only to collapse a few days later. Never resume work operations in a building or structure that has just been exposed to a disaster event. Always have a registered architect or engineer inspect the premises before resuming business operations.
Debris and Dust
Hurricanes, earthquakes, and other similar disasters can leave a lot of debris and dust in their wake. In some instances, the dust that accumulates can contain harmful particles such as asbestos and silica. You should therefore be careful when entering dusty environments or when handling dust and debris. As much as possible, do not disturb the dust. Contact trained professionals to remove the dust from your workplace and never allow workers to enter the area so as to prevent the inhalation of dust and other harmful particles or chemicals.
These are just some of the post-disaster hazards that are commonly encountered in the workplace. You may also need to look out for industry-specific hazards that arise from the use of specific work tools such as portable generators and chainsaws. More specific guidelines for hurricane preparedness, response and recovery may be found at OSHA's website.