NIOSH Alert Highlights Rescue and Recovery Workers' Danger

Responding to the Aug. 1 collapse of an interstate highway bridge in Minneapolis, NIOSH released an alert that highlights the rigors of rescue and recovery operations and the need to protect those workers from hazards. Generally, NIOSH says, rescue and recovery operations involving work among structural debris and in or under water can pose risks for physical injuries, heat stress, infection, and other hazards.

Preventing work-related injuries and illnesses at rescue and recovery sites involves strategic planning to anticipate potential hazards and strategic management of operations based on conditions at the site. Because disaster sites pose a multitude of health and safety concerns, an accurate assessment of all hazards may not be possible because they may not be immediately obvious or identifiable.

Often, rescue personnel must select protective measures based on limited information. In addition to the hazards of direct exposure, workers are also subject to dangers posed by the unstable physical environment, the stress of working in protective clothing, and the emotional trauma of the situation.

As a rule, NIOHS added, strategic measures to manage potential occupational hazards at rescue and recovery sites should include:

  1. Development of a work plan for operations and periodic review and updating of the plan as more information about site conditions is obtained.
  2. Development of a site safety checklist that assigns responsibilities for safety management and describes needed safety and health duties.
  3. Designating a field team leader and developing a checklist to help the leader oversee the preparation, training, and deployment of volunteers; enforce site control; enforce the buddy system; and notify the site safety officer or supervisor of unsafe conditions.
  4. Identification and management of potential hazards from debris and unstable work surfaces, noise, respirable dust, heat stress, confined spaces, chemical exposures, traumatic stress, electricity, carbon monoxide, contaminated water, and other hazards that may exist at the emergency site.

More NIOSH information and resources on emergency response are available at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emres/natural.html or toll-free at 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

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