News & Events

Responding to Disasters

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2005 Edition

RI Committee on Occupational Safety & Health

Having received inquiries regarding hazards and worker safety associated with cleanup and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast storm we note some brief general guidance.

Only those properly trained, equipped should be deployed. The variety of potential hazards are staggering: include electrocution from power lines and recovery equipment, dangers using heavy equipment and chainsaws, carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators, an extraordinary range of biological hazards from animal vector to water pollution, and personal security as well. In addition the vaccine/ immune status of responders should be reviewed through interaction with CDC.

Other priorities for safety include insect controls, waste disposal, bloodborne precautions and hygiene. All these issues should be reviewed prior to transit and reviewed once again on arrival at the disaster site. And they should be addressed in an agency’s comprehensive safety plan. If an agency has no such plan then question their readiness for participating.

A key for any responder is to understand the local Incident Command System which is the common disaster management system that designates who does what when and how. (A key component of the ICS is to address and assess responder safety for responder safety improves when roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and understood.)

ICS is part of a matrix of management polices imbedded in the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS is a core set of concepts, principles, terminology and organizational processes to ensure effective, efficient, and collaborative disaster management especially when there are multi-jurisdictions.



Fact sheets on issues and hazards relating to recovery and cleanup efforts following hurricanes are available on the OSHA’s Natural Disaster Recovery page:

Specific Information on hazards and safely clean-up after a hurricane is available from several OSHA to help workers who are involved in recovery and restoration efforts. Keeping Workers Safe During Clean Up and Recovery Operations Following Hurricanes

And Centers for Disease Control address the full range of health and safety issues:

Disaster Site Worker Training

The overall response and cleanup may go on for some time. As a result of problems associated with the cleanup to the WTC event in NYC federal OSHA has assisted in the development of a safety training course for disaster site workers (e.g. utility, demolition, debris removal, or heavy equipment operation).

OSHA has proposed this Disaster Site Worker Course as part of the National Response Plan. Training deals with the safety and health hazards of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive agents that maybe encountered at any disaster site. It highlights the importance of respiratory and other personal protective equipment, of proper decontamination procedures; it
explains safety practices imbedded in the Incident Command System and alerts workers to traumatic incident stress that can result when working in disaster conditions.


RI Committee on Occupational Safety & Health
741 Westminster St.
Providence, RI 02903