Rescue workers and emergency responders never know what type of hazards they may face, depending on the particular type of disaster that occurs. We began listing general precautions that they should take in Part I of this article. Although we know that they are prepared for all types of emergencies, we want to share this information in hopes that it will be of assistance.
Rescue workers and emergency responders will more than likely be exposed to blood or body fluids, or pathogens from sewer system breakage. It is very important that they wear gloves, other protective clothing, and respiratory protection. Decontamination of workers and equipment (P.P.E.), before leaving the site is very important to prevent adverse health effects, contain any hazards to the site, and prevent secondary contamination of off-site facilities (e.g., fire stations, or workers’ homes) or additional equipment, such as ambulances. Slips, trips and fall hazards from holes or protruding rebar may exist. Fall protection equipment, with lifelines tied off to suitable anchorage points (e.g., bucket trucks) should be used whenever possible. Hardhats should be worn when working around unstable structures where there is a potential for secondary collapse. Also, there could be types of over-hanging debris that could fall on workers.
In Part I, the use of respiratory protection was mentioned. N-95 or greater respiratory protection is acceptable for most activities with dust exposure, including silica and cement dust. Use full-face respirators with P-100 organic vapor-acid gas combination cartridges if airborne contaminants are causing eye irritation.
Workers should be monitored for signs of heat/cold stress, such as altered vital signs, confusion, excessive sweating, and fatigue. Work schedules should be adjusted to rotate personnel, and additional workers should be added to work teams. Everyone should refrain from food and beverages in areas exposed to toxic materials.
Because so many disasters have already occurred this year, it is important to know that when large-scale disasters overwhelm State and local assets, the National Response Framework (NRF) Worker Safety and Health Support Annex can provide technical assistance needed to help protect Federal, State, Tribal, and local organizations’ response and recovery workers. According to OSHA, depending on the scope, complexity, and hazards associated with the incident services of the NRF include the following:
- Identifying and assessing worker health and safety hazards present at the site and in the environment.
- Assessing the resources needed to protect workers and identifying sources available to meet those needs.
- Providing technical expertise in industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health, structural collapse engineering, safety engineering, radiation safety, biological and chemical agent response, and occupational medicine.
- Managing the creation and implementation of a site-specific health and safety plan (HASP).
- Monitoring and managing worker safety and health hazards through on-site identification, evaluation, analysis, and mitigation, including personal exposure monitoring.
- Providing assistance with developing, implementing, and monitoring the personal protective equipment (PPE) program, including the selection, use and decontamination of PPE.
- Coordinating the collection and management of exposure and accident/injury data to identify trends and facilitate data sharing.
- Coordinating and providing incident-specific response and recovery worker training.
- Assisting with the development and distribution of educational materials on preventing and mitigating hazards.
Although we wish that this year’s disasters were over, it is only May, and there are seven months left in this year. We know that thunderstorm season is here, as well as flooding disasters, with hurricane season not too far behind. We owe our thanks to those emergency workers who stand by, prepared to serve whenever and wherever needed.